A searing 96-degree heat brought a stadium to its knees yesterday afternoon in College Park. It wasn't surprising when Penn State Coach Joe Paterno gave a faint look skyward at game's end, perhaps to salute the sun, the real conquerer of the day.
On the scoreboard, the final total was Penn State 20, the University of Maryland 18. But to the 50,750 in attendance -- some of whom left the stadium early, others of whom left by ambulance -- the final score was Heat 1, Byrd Stadium 0.
By the time the Nittany Lions had their 21st straight victory over the Terrapins and their 28th victory in a 29-game series, it seemed all that was left standing were the goalposts and Penn State's nearly three decades of domination over the transfixed Terrapins.
An official working at the stadium's first aid station said more than 350 fans were treated for heat-related problems at the game, although no serious injuries were reported. Six nurses, who expected to enjoy the game as spectators, were called into action before the opening kickoff.
The university even opened two fire hydrants near the stadium. During the third quarter, the public address announcer made a peculiar announcement: "We remind you, if you're not feeling well, go to either fire hydrant at Ellicott Hall or Cole Field House to feel cool and to feel healthy."
"Some of the elderly people didn't tolerate the heat well. We were afraid of cardiac problems," said Dr. Sacared Bodison, coordinator of sports medicine at the University Center in College Park. "This was absolutely the worst I've ever seen at this stadium. Even I got a little weak-kneed."
Officials at Leland Hospital in nearby Hyattsville said nine fans were brought to the emergency room suffering from heat-related troubles. All were given fluids for replenishment, said Susan Snyder, the hospital's nursing supervisor, and were expected to be released late yesterday.
Players didn't react well to the heat, either. Second-stringers got more playing time than expected. Players often limped off the field, suffering from heat cramps. Two minutes into the game, a Penn State player reportedly passed out. Several minutes later, a teammate was on all fours, throwing up.
Heat 1, Byrd Stadium 0.
One Maryland fan, John Robertson of Columbia, Md., was seen trudging away from the stadium even as the Terrapins were driving for a possible victory. "I gotta get to some air conditioning," he said. "I'll listen to the rest on the radio."
Why is it that funny things always trip the Terrapins when they seem on the verge of beating Penn State? Some preseason polls had Maryland ranked No. 1 in the nation.
Last year, Maryland's special teams couldn't get set in time to allow senior kicker Jess Atkinson the chance to attempt a game-winning 52-yard field goal at Penn State. In the confusion, time expired and Maryland lost, 25-24.
Yesterday, the Terrapins were driving toward a possible game-winning field goal. This would have given a reprieve to junior kicker Ramon Paredes, who had missed a 34-yard attempt early in the fourth quarter and a possible game-turning 51-yarder with 2:27 left.
But Penn State cornerback Lance Hamilton intervened with 38 seconds left. Hamilton stripped running back Alvin Blount of the football after Blount had made a short gain on a pass play, and Penn State recovered on its 24.
After the game, Maryland Coach Bobby Ross said, "The season isn't over . . . What we've got to do is put this behind us."
More than 400 media credentials were issued for the game, the second-most for any Terrapins football game, according to Maryland's sports information director, Jack Zane. In 1957, more than 450 media passes were issued when the just-coronated Queen of England visited the country and wanted to see that sport called football.
The queen saw the Terrapins beat North Carolina, and a slew of society columnists and Western Union operators manned press row. There was no such glamor yesterday.
"I think Maryland is jinxed. They have a history of choking in the clutch," said John Yazurlo, a Penn State graduate from Lorton, as he left Byrd Stadium. "I knew something would happen at the end to Maryland. It always does."
Even Atkinson, who said the only way he could get a ticket to the game was by appearing on a radio halftime show, said, "Maryland did so much not to make this just another Penn State game. If we had tried a field goal at the end and missed, it wouldn't have been so bad. But we fumbled and now it's just like last year when we couldn't get the kick off. There will be the stigma. 'Just another Penn State game.' "
Surely, there will be puffed chests in the Pennsylvania coal mines today and dour looks from College Park to Baltimore's Inner Harbor. But isn't it always this way?
The lasting memories will take on two tones. On the one hand, there will be images of seeing Maryland quarterback Stan Gelbaugh throwing two interceptions and having the Terrapins fell behind, 17-0, only to rally to an 18-17 lead in the third quarter.
On the other hand, though, there will be the image of a member of Maryland's marching band, being assisted on the sideline before the game, having her pulse taken alongside the 600-pound block of ice and huge electric fan the Terrapins placed on their sideline.
The most lasting image? As Penn State fans once again had the honor of counting down the game's final seconds, a Maryland student quietly walked away from Byrd Stadium.
He held a radio to one ear and he walked, bare-chested, through the spray of a fire hydrant. He seemed in a solitary world of horror that only a Maryland fan can know -- and only when the opponent is Penn State.