When you are Maryland's Stan Gelbaugh or the Naval Academy's Bill Byrne and you have just suffered one of the more publicly inglorious Saturdays of your life, you lie awake for quite a while. You mull two interceptions like Gelbaugh, who thought, "Never again, never again," or you go to the nearest church, like Byrne, who asked forgiveness for three of them.
There perhaps is no one more alone than a college quarterback on the Sunday following a loss, so if you are a church-goer like Byrne, you go to the Naval Academy chapel for services and a little spiritual relief. But it seemed that even the priest felt compelled to discuss Saturday's season-opening 21-19 loss to North Carolina, which, to make things worse, had to be a home game that Byrne's family came all the way from California to see.
The priest said a few simple words about dusting yourself off and starting over again and then, to Byrne's horror and no small embarrassment, mentioned his name in front of all those people, which caused him to shrink down frantically between his parents and think, "My God, I can't even hide in church."
Gelbaugh, a tough-minded senior who started six games last season and is thoroughly unfamiliar with failure, skipped church after Maryland's 20-18 loss to Penn State, the 21st straight to the Nittany Lions, and determined to wreak havoc on Boston College this week. There was but one thing to do with two interceptions and a miserable day of 12-for-28 passing for 137 yards, his worst starting performance at Maryland: forget it completely.
"I can't imagine ever having a game like that again," he said following team meetings yesterday. "I just didn't seem to do anything right. It will never, ever happen again."
Both performances were disappointments in light of the potential of both teams and quarterbacks, and opening-game nerves and expectations played a large part in their troubled Saturdays.
Last year, Gelbaugh had a spectacular debut against Penn State after the injury to Frank Reich, throwing for 308 yards in a 25-24 loss, one that he was expected to remedy. Only slightly less was expected from Byrne, who was returning from a broken leg and had made his first start against North Carolina last year in a 33-30 victory that included a 62-yard touchdown pass with two minutes to go.
"I'm sure I had some nerves," Gelbaugh said. "That was a big, big game. I really wanted to beat them bad, and maybe I got too wrapped up in it . . . Bill was in the same situation, he had the big game against North Carolina like I did against Penn State. We had a lot of expectations."
Gelbaugh also was working under the strain of 20 straight losses to Penn State and a preseason No. 1 ranking by two forecasters. He was in a state long before game time, and the result was an uncharacteristically tentative game.
A look at game film didn't make him feel better; it showed that he held the ball too long, missed his open receivers and was slow reading coverages. But Penn State also showed a strong defense, and the rest of the Terrapins seemed to suffer from similar ailments, which generally resulted in some profoundly bad timing.
"Naturally, the two interceptions were bad throws," he said. "I hesitated some and just didn't throw as well as I should have. I didn't deliver on time, and I wasn't making my reads quick enough. And then a lot of times I was ready to throw, and they weren't ready to catch."
Byrne wasn't any happier with his review of North Carolina game film, although he could take some solace in Navy's final drive, a 76-yarder that ended with his five-yard touchdown pass to Napoleon McCallum with 53 seconds left. Nevertheless, his finish couldn't make up for his three-interception beginning, which resulted partly from bad footwork and partly from a case of sweaty palms he developed by sitting around all day waiting for the 7:30 p.m. kickoff in Navy's first night game ever.
"The game snuck up on me," he said. "I had all day to prepare, and all of a sudden, boom. I just wasn't ready to play. I had open receivers, and I had time to throw. I just didn't execute . . . My footwork fell apart; when I had to take a five-step drop, I took seven. I wasn't displeased with the fourth quarter, but it was too little, too late."
Byrne has displayed an uncanny talent for fast improvement since he worked his way up from sixth on the depth chart as a sophomore last year and went on to set a school record with 11 touchdown passes in nine games. That, at least, was something to work with this week.
"I don't expect every game to be a great one," he said. "Everybody has a bad one. So maybe I got my badness out of me."
Gelbaugh, meanwhile, said of his performance against Penn State, "It's matter of forgetting everything about it."
Maryland dropped from No. 9 to No. 18 in the United Press International coaches' poll. Penn State moved from 17th to ninth.