When the Red Line Metro train stops at Van Ness, and Barry (Bighouse) Bailey or Harold (The Apartment) Ferguson get on, taking up almost the whole doorway, you think, hmmmm, UDC must have some football team. "Bighouse" and "The Apartment," who play side by side on the offensive line, are almost as big as the fabled "Refrigerator" of the Chicago Bears. Each pushes 300 pounds.
That makes UDC fashionably "in" this football season; it has not one but two "Refrigerators." The problem at UDC is that it doesn't have enough of them. Its record is 1-8 going into this afternoon's 1:30 finale against Bowie State, at Cardozo, and that one victory was its first after 27 games.
Bowie, meanwhile, doesn't have a single refrigerator, not even a freezer compartment. It's 0-9 and has lost 20 straight. You think morale would be down. Not so. At practice Thursday, Bowie hustled through all its drills with plenty of chatter, and two linemen mixed it up during a contact session to the delight of teammates. An express train clacked past by behind the pines, but it didn't seem to hold distant dreams for anyone. Everyone seemed happy where he was, and each ran the practice-ending wind sprints with an all-out-for-the-junior-prom exuberance.
Since so many players from the two schools know each other, each would like to win today, but the game has no greater import anywhere else than it does in the home of Willie and Jean Mason. Willie is UDC's sports information director and his wife is Bowie's sports publicist. They're said to be the only husband-and-wife SIDs at different colleges in America. "We're going to have players from both teams over to dinner on Saturday," said Willie.
"On Sunday," said Jean, "we're holding the back five rows open" at the Second Baptist Church in Annapolis. Willie is a new minister and will be having his first service and players will be coming. "I love these guys," said Willie of the UDC players. "I'd never say anything bad about them in my releases. When things go bad, you look for the good things -- the offensive line, the center. Most of our success has come from the shotgun, and our center, Thomas Jackson, hasn't made a bad snap."
Today also is the Masons' 10th anniversary -- what a weekend it is for them. "He won't take me out, though," she said. "All he says is, 'We've got to do the stats.' "
The stats would be better if it were not for a problem common to both schools -- little athletic-scholarship help. Bobby Frazier, UDC coach, says he was able to give out only 12 scholarships this year. John Organ, Bowie's coach, says this was the first year his school gave out any scholarships at all. Meanwhile, both teams have been facing rugged Division II opponents, usually with many more scholarship players.
From 1980 through '84, UDC had records of 2-7-1, 2-7, 2-8, 0-10 and 0-8-1. Over the same period, Bowie went 2-8-1, 5-5, 2-8, 1-9 and 0-10. Looking for brighter horizons, UDC's Frazier says he hopes that school officials will grant him more scholarships; Organ says he believes Bowie will improve in the next few seasons as it continues to give athletic scholarships.
Frazier says he needs to have spring practice and be able to assemble his players for more than one meal a day, but insists the team is not discouraged. "They have an abundance of faith in me," he said. "I kept telling them, 'If we win one, we might not lose again,' and, doggone, we almost won two."
UDC hadn't won since Nov. 6, 1982, before it bused to Savannah State two weeks ago and prevailed, 15-14. The players threw their coach into the shower; the ride back from Georgia was considerably shorter than the one down. Said junior linebacker Johnny Carter, "It felt like we got home in 15 minutes."
The Firebirds even survived a controversial call -- clipping against "Bighouse" Bailey -- on an apparent UDC touchdown. "He thought he had blocked the guy in the chest," said Willie Mason. "It's the only time I remember him getting mad at an official. Like a lot of big people, he's very mild-mannered. Once, though, he destroyed a blocking dummy. It went from a seven- to a six-man sled."
As Frazier said, UDC almost won last week, bowing to Fayetteville State, 34-31, after leading with only 1:33 left. The Firebirds, who haven't played Bowie in three years, think they can win today, which would give them two out of three to finish the season. "They're like a girlfriend I haven't seen in two years," said Carter. "I can't wait."
Out at Bowie, where Willie Mason used to be the SID before his wife took over, Jean Mason also looks for hopeful signs. She says Bowie starts eight freshmen on offense and eight on defense. Bowie came close to winning early this season against Johnson C. Smith, but has suffered four of its six shutouts since them. Bowie hasn't scored in a month. Almost miraculously, then, Organ says, "This hasn't been a long year at all. You don't hear any griping, and pointing of fingers, accusing. These kids have enthusiasm and spirit. They're going to fight you to the last, regardless of the score."
Had Bowie -- like UDC -- been able to win just one game, it would have meant more than any team that takes a single victory for granted could ever realize. "When we started losing early in the season, if we had picked up one win, it would have given us the momentum we needed," said Organ. "It would have helped to know what it was to win, the feeling of success."
Senior defensive tackle Ted Green has played four years at Bowie, "lean times, real lean times," said Organ. "But you wouldn't believe the effort he's given us."
Green, no "Refrigerator" at 5 feet 11, 212 pounds, but surely a player you'd want on your side, said he'll go into today's game "the same as the first game when I came here. I'll try to do my best, give it all I got and hope we win."