A wonderful thing happened the other day at College Park. A national sports magazine picked the University of Maryland football team to be the very best in the nation, and instead of poor-mouthing his team, and whining and crying about how much added pressure these stupid preseason polls cause -- like 99.9 percent of his fellow coaches would have done -- the head coach of the University of Maryland said he was "delighted and honored" by the selection.
And although six weeks ago, when he heard about it, his first reaction was to shake his head and say to himself, "Oh no! Here comes some added pressure," the other day, when the lights were on and everybody was watching, Bobby Ross posed with the magazine cover and said, "We're excited about it. It's a good thing."
You think Bear would have said that?
You think Bo would have said that?
You think Barry would have said that?
They'd have said something like: "They are so far off. They rank you in the top five, and you know you're not even in the top 20. So I call them 'fiction' magazines. It always amuses me when they seem to know so much about our talent, and they've never even been out here."
In fact, Oklahoma's Barry Switzer, the kill-joy, said exactly that in June, explaining that the worst thing about being ranked preseason No. 1 is that "it creates expectations from the fans."
You've got to love Switzer, don't you? His recruiting budget could purchase half of South America, and he wants the fans to be happy if he goes 6-5.
Ross probably feels that same way, but at least he didn't say so. He didn't run for cover. He called this the "best team" he's had at Maryland. He said the team had "at least a 50-50 chance to win every game," and he had "never been in that position before." He held that cover up there and said he thought of being selected No. 1 as "an opportunity," smiled and said, "There are a lot of people who'd like to be in my shoes."
We can agree on this: Everybody wants to be No. 1 at the end of the season. Nobody really wants it now, since it doesn't mean a thing now, and because it's a burden. It does create pressure. It does paint a target on your back and lets everyone else take aim. "Nos. 10 or 12 are the best numbers to be ranked in the preseason," Notre Dame's Gerry Faust said yesterday. "That way, not everybody's coming after you, and after a few weeks, when it all begins to shake down, then if you're still winning you'll move up and have a chance to wind up as No. 1 in the country."
Sure, that's logical.
But who needs logic at a time like this?
Preseason polls don't count. Fine. But they're the only polls we have now. Sport's put Maryland No. 1. ABC's put Maryland No. 2. Sports Illustrated's put Maryland No. 5. If nothing else, what these polls say is that Maryland has the stuff that dreams are made of. This year, while others ask, "Why?" Maryland can ask, "Why not?"
That's reason to celebrate.
Hang that cover on the weight room wall and let's dance.
And even though the football coach in Bobby Ross "would have been much more relaxed anywhere else in the top 20," he has not transferred that discomfort to his players. To his credit, he has let them exude as the spirit moves them. That was evident at Picture Day when the Maryland players puffed out their chests so far they looked like floats in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Some of them formed a chorale, eagerly filming promotional spots for future use, growling in unison threats like, "Look out Michigan -- We're the Terps of Maryland." Or, "Look out Penn State -- We're the Terps of Maryland." There was a joyful noise emanating from Byrd Stadium, a noise too often muffled by skittish coaches. Perhaps Chuck Faucette, the ignescent linebacker, spoke for all when he shouted, "This is it! I want to be the team people are shooting at. We've never been in this position before, but I like it fine."
Nobody knows now whether Maryland is the best team in the country. But it's certainly not an unreasonable proposition. This is Ross' fourth Maryland team, and the previous three produced records of 8-4, 8-4 and 9-3. They all have been unfailingly fun to watch. Last year's team got sizzling hot halfway through the schedule, winning its last seven -- including that remarkable comeback from 0-31 against Miami -- and scoring 39.6 points per game during that streak.
When they pick you No. 1, they're saying you should go undefeated. When you say you have "a 50-50 chance in every game," you're saying you could. The clues won't be hidden. Three of Maryland's first four opponents -- Boston College, West Virginia and Michigan -- played in bowl games last year. History suggests that the Terrapins' opener may be their most significant hurdle of all, and the largest: It's Penn State. Maryland has lost 27 of 28 games to Penn State, winning only in 1961.
But let's not talk gloom and doom now. Now is for celebrating. Maryland may not be No. 1 once the season starts. But Sport magazine says it is now.
Better to be kings for a day than drones for a lifetime.