The fellow from the Peach Bowl selection committee, on hand to invite the Virginia Cavaliers to play in the New Year's Eve classic, brought along a giant chocolate chip cookie, one with a fluffy peach of white icing on its lumpy center. Art Gregory, in his sweet and endearing way, held the gift out to his audience and said he wanted everyone to have a bite.
Across the locker room, sitting alone in a corner, Ron Mattes figured he wasn't hungry. In fact, he felt as if he'd never care to eat again, not after today and especially not after what had happened in the first quarter: he had felt his guts lodge in his throat, and his mind wash over in various shades of gray.
"My arm," he said after the most painful loss of his career, and only a few days after being named all-ACC defensive tackle, "it's shot. A compound fracture. They told me surgery tomorrow. But who knows what after that?"
Mattes broke his arm while scuffling with a Maryland offensive linemen, and after the whistle had blown. "I eased up on him, whoever he was," Mattes said, "and that's when it happened. They say you should never quit. You should always keep going hard. In a game like this, maybe that means after the refs blow the whistle, too."
When Mattes went out, so did the beating heart of Virginia's defense. In order to strengthen the left side, adjustments had to be made. Tom Kilgannon shoved over from right tackle, and settled into a slot that demanded an altogether new approach, with reverse techniques and reads. Scott Matheson, a back-up all season, filled the gaping hole Kilgannon had made.
"We were playing pretty good till I got hurt," Mattes said. "Then, that was it. I really think it might have been a different story if I had lasted. But the dam broke, and they ran wild."
In its 45-34 victory, Maryland rushed for 402 yards against a defense that -- take away the 302 yards gained by Clemson in the season opener -- had allowed an average of 118.8 yards rushing in its last nine games. Again, eliminate Clemson, and the Cavaliers had given up an average of only 12.1 points a game.
"That was a source of pride for us," David Bond, the nose guard, said. "All week, we talked about it. Everybody said, 'Nobody's coming up the middle. No way.' I hate to make excuses, I hate to lose, but when Ron went down, and later, when Tom got hurt, we just gave too much. And we just couldn't stop giving."
Kilgannon missed most of the fourth quarter due to a banged-up knee. "I couldn't tell you what's wrong with it," he said. "But it hurts like hell."
As a result of his departure, Maryland's offense further unleashed the assault. Rick Badanjek ran for 217 yards, Alvin Blount for 104, and each had a long run of 72 yards.
"The thing that bothers me is the long runs," Virginia Coach George Welsh said. "If we make them work for it, maybe we get a sack or they get a penalty. But that's not going to happen with such long runs."
Bond said the defense "gave everything we had. I gave that and more. Whatever's left of me today is still out on the field. Even when we were down by 17, I was not about to give up. I don't think anybody was. We tried, God, we tried . . . Once, a guy ran right through me, I don't know what happened. But he hit me and was gone and I was left there clutching at nothing. That's what I'm feeling now, and it makes me sick."
Bond said the obvious: sweeps, more than anything else, opened up the game for Maryland. "First, they'd hit outside and get you thinking about seeing it again, then they'd take it back inside and just sort of roll," he said. "They were strong, too, some of the strongest guys we've faced all season. Coming into the game, I thought we'd hold them to about 10 points. We were all fired up, and everybody was healthy and ready to go.
"Now, I don't know. It seems like nobody's healthy and we're stuck at second best."
Hoping to upset the tempo of Maryland's offensive machine, Virginia's defense stunted more in the second half, but "it was gambling," Bond said, "and sometimes it hurt us. You can only hope the stunts'll work for you, but when they don't -- well, you saw what happened."
The long runs in the second half all but wrecked Virginia's spirit. Before the game, Virginia was ranked first in scoring defense (16.4 points) in the ACC and second in total defense (326.0 yards). Maryland scored 45 points and gained a remarkable 575 yards offense. Kilgannon said, "I don't know how to understand this. They scored over 40 points? I don't know, give them credit. They're an excellent football team. We just expected to be as excellent, or better."
Mattes, reflecting on the season and trying to find some perspective of what lay ahead, said, "You look back and what do you see? All the hard work it took to get here going down the tubes. It takes everything away. All the steam is gone. And it hurts, even more than my arm hurts right now.
"I've been thinking about the Peach Bowl, but not much, really. It'll be nice to think about later on in the week. Right now, it's just all very frustrating."
Mattes watched from the sideline during the second half, from a vantage point he found "unbelievably difficult. You know you can do it in your heart, but your body's a different thing. I saw some of the guys eating that Peach Bowl cookie, but I'm not in the mood for anything. And I can't say when I will be again."