Two days after a disappointing 31-3 loss to Georgia Tech before a disappointing crowd of 31,941, Maryland linebacker Glenn Page sat before a television set and realized the capriciousness of sports fans.

"I was watching the Pirates play the Reds {in the National League playoffs} and it wasn't close to being full -- I think that's a disgrace because this is a once-in-a-lifetime thing," said Page, a Pittsburgh native. "When people don't show up it just ruins the mood; I know it shouldn't affect your play but it becomes psychological.

"You just like feeling that there's support out there for you -- it gives you a boost."

Any boost the Terrapins have gotten has been largely self-induced. Entering the last home game of the year Saturday against Wake Forest, the Terrapins have won two games in the final minute of play and threatened to pull out a third.

Those fantastic finishes were not witnessed by overflow crowds. There were an announced 39,255 at the 18-17 loss to Clemson in Memorial Stadium -- far below the 61,215 that showed up for last season's 13-13 tie with Penn State in the annual game in Baltimore.

Similarly, the average attendance at Maryland's first four home games this year (against Virginia Tech, Clemson, North Carolina State and Georgia Tech) was 32,691. Last season the average after four games was 32,853, including a game against Western Michigan.

Some say that this season's smallish crowds are only following a long-term trend in which attendance is only as good as the opponent. A week after drawing a huge crowd for Penn State in last year's fifth game, there were just 38,113 at Byrd for the season finale against Virginia.

"This is a tough area," said Coach Joe Krivak, who has coached 16 years in the area. "It's always been tough to draw. In this area you really have to win; that's the only thing that's changed things -- whenever there's been a winner there've been people in the stands.

"That's true no matter who's been coaching. When Jerry Claiborne was here there were problems when things started going downhill -- same with Bobby {Ross} in his last year."

Maryland's single-season average attendance record of 51,546 was set in 1985, when the Terrapins entered the year as the nation's top-ranked team according to Sport magazine.

They finished the year with a 9-3 record but in 1986, when they slumped to 5-5-1, they still averaged 46,797. During the first three full seasons of Krivak's reign they have averaged 42,200, 37,199 and 38,457, but the team has been hurt in those years by the conclusion of a series against national power Miami.

Krivak is particularly bothered by the lack of turnout this season because Maryland, picked to finish well below .500 by many observers, has shown that it may be a winning team and -- as the scores would attest -- that it certainly is capable of playing exciting football.

"That has been disappointing, considering the schools we've been playing," Krivak said. "I'm disappointed in the way the fans have reacted to our kids."

That's not to say that the coaches and players haven't appreciated the support they have gotten. One of the more touching sights of a 14-10 victory over West Virginia in Morgantown was some of the Terrapins' players at game's end running over to a corner of Mountaineer Stadium to offer a salute to the pocket of Maryland fans who had traveled to the game.

This season in particular, a number of factors have seemed to work against the Terrapins; they were at home three times in the first four weeks of the season, which according to Jeff Hathaway, assistant athletic director for marketing, "was a major time commitment for a small block of weekends for season ticket holders, who already have so many opportunities for weekend recreation."

That one of those early games was in Baltimore against Clemson didn't help matters. Not only did Maryland students fail to pick up about 7,000 tickets, the Tigers brought the lowest visiting crowd in a decade, Hathaway said. Also attending a football game wasn't the priority it might have been in late October or early November, when the Baltimore game is usually played.

By the same token, last Saturday's glorious 85-degree day may have taken away fans from what shaped up as a compelling game against Georgia Tech.

"You wonder how many people were in Ocean City last weekend," said Hathaway.

When Krivak and his players take the field, the coach said that the team is aware of the lack of attendance but that it doesn't -- or shouldn't -- affect play.

"It's obvious that there aren't 50,000 people up there," said nose tackle Rick Fleece. "You just have to take one look to see that. There are schools like Clemson who always have big crowds and they take advantage of them.

"It's a plus for them but it's not really a disadvantage for us -- once the whistle blows, all you see and hear is the other team anyway."