"Dick (The Rifleman) Shiner was a surprise starter in yesterday's big football game between Maryland and Penn State. More surprised was the Penn State defense, as the blond sophomore from Lebanon, Pa., passed for three first-half touchdowns that brought Maryland a 21-17 victory over the powerful and favored Nittany Lions . . . "

The crowd was 39,000, the game account also reported, largest in Byrd Stadium since the queen of England happened by four years earlier and watched Maryland whip the greatest coach in its history, Jim Tatum, who had fled to North Carolina.

Shiner was one of six splendid sophomores that afternoon. Another was Harry Butsko, who threw the Penn State quarterback for a loss on fourth and goal in the final couple of minutes and allowed Dr. Charles R. Davis and the other Maryland faithful to leave Byrd Stadium euphoric.

That was Nov. 4, 1961. Little did anyone suspect that the debut of such a prolific passer also would be the last shiner the Terrapins put on Penn State.

Until today, perhaps.

Few besides Dodgers fans and Charlie Brown have cried "wait till next year" more longingly than the Terrapins after each of their 20 losses to Penn State over the last 23 autumns. Few ever approached a game and a season with more anticipation than Maryland fans who will pour into Byrd around noon.

Women in their most stylish combinations of red and white are ready; the fellow who once nearly came to blows in a New Orleans restaurant when he was served turtle soup is ready; in his quiet fashion, Davis is especially ready, he being the most loyal and hardy Terrapin of them all.

Davis first bought a season ticket (for $6) in 1930, and has not missed a home game since. That's two stadiums, 16 head coaches and hundreds of players he has survived, not to mention a whole lot of good-natured kidding about the Penn State jinx he dearly would love to see end before the cocktail hour this afternoon.

Maryland played Michigan State in a hurricane in 1944. Davis was there, along with "about 25" others watching a farce that included the wind once grabbing a punt at about the line of scrimmage and sailing it back over the stunned kicker's head.

"Might have been the only time anyone lost yardage on a punt without the other team so much as touching the ball," he guessed. "The wind was blowin' so hard, most of the time it looked like the rain was parallel to the field. I'd checked out some gear at the fire department, but the umbrella got turned inside out long before I got to the game."

A retired veterinarian, Davis turned down an expenses-paid trip to California to judge a dog show because he would have been forced to miss a Maryland home game. A few years ago, he persuaded his granddaughter to postpone her wedding from a Terrapins Saturday to the next day.

She asked what would cause him to break his streak? "Death, maybe," he says he said. "Or being too sick to go."

The Penn State series has gone through his mind like a blue-and-white blur. Whoosh! So many sad times; so few details remain vivid.

Davis was among the astonished in Byrd in 1973, when Penn State broke a 22-22 halftime tie and won by 20 points. From 1967 through 1972, the Lions scored more than 40 points four times, more than 50 points twice and more than 60 points once. The tightest margin of victory was 34.

When the Terrapins often were close to very good in the '70s under Jerry Claiborne, they often were very unlucky against Penn State. How many times does one man intercept a flat pass and run it 79 yards for one touchdown and later intercept a lateral during a kickoff and stroll 21 yards for another? Penn State's Jeff Hite did it against Maryland in 1974.

At 78, Davis is frustrated about the series, though anything but bitter.

"The players want to win as badly as the spectators want 'em to win," he said. "And the coach is trying his best all the time, too, because it's his bread and butter. But the other fellas have just as much right to win as you have."

If every fan were so tolerant, college sports might not be quite so corrupt.

Davis sees Bobby Ross as capable of bringing Maryland its first national championship since his friend Tatum did. Probably, Davis reckons, Tatum voted for him during his successful campaign for mayor of College Park. The coach once confided to him: "Doc, give me the first touchdown and I'll beat anyone in the country."

"Before a game," Davis continued, "Tatum would go to all four corners of the field, throwing up blades of grass at each stop, checking the direction of the wind. He was a stickler for detail."

Davis hopes a celestial conspiracy is afoot, that a coach worthy of mention with Tatum will produce a team and a season worthy of Tatum's best -- and that it all will start rolling today against a classy rival.

When Penn State was similarly excited before the 1977 season, some of its imaginative fans held a practice tailgate party. Although none of that has been reported around College Park, Davis and his wife, Alma, will be no less hopeful when they light in Section 4, Row TT.