Saying Goodbye to a Legend

5/5/2011 6:06:18 PM I was 15 years old in 1989.  I was a Maryland basketball fan.  Not the crazy, passionate fan I would become a few years later, but a fan.  I remember watching Len Bias and his death being the reason I never touched drugs.

I remember when Gary Williams was hired.  I knew nothing of the man except that he attended College Park long before I was born.  For a few years, I kinda forgot about him and the Terps since they were not on TV.  Then I decided to go to Maryland in the fall of 1992, and my love for the team grew.

Now the first year I was there, I went to only a few games.  They were not a good team, but when I went to the games, there was something that stood out.  The passion from the guy in the suit, turning around and yelling at the players on the bench all night long.  I wasn't sure why he was doing that, but I was sure that this guy cared.  His passion lit the fire for my passion.

I remember being on Thanksgiving break in 1993.  It was the day after Leon Lett's famous gaff that allowed the Dolphins to beat the Cowboys.  Oh, what a game!

I was at home watching Maryland face Georgetown from the US Air Arena (Capital Centre). Through the ups and downs of this game, I remember Joe Smith dominating Othella Harrington, the 10 point comeback in the 2nd half, the Kurtis Schultz steal, and the Duane Simpkins floater that had me jumping up and down.  And I wasn't the only one.

I vividly remember Gary Williams leaping high into the sky, throwing his first into the air.  (Perhaps he was only 6 inches off the floor, but it seemed like more than that.)  It was his signature win and the TV announcer said those famous words:  "Maryland is back!" 

That is what Gary Williams did in College Park. He brought them BACK, then took them to new heights.

For the next 4 years, my friends and I pretty much owned the 2nd row of the student section.  We were there for all the big moments.  We pumped our fist with Gary, we wore the 'Garyland' T-shirts, we proudly waited outside of Cole Field House hours before games to get our seats.

More than once, Gary came by to say hello to us waiting at the doors to be let in.  He brought us T-shirts and thanked us for the support.  We truly felt we were in it with him together.  He helped make us feel like part of the team.

In the spring of 1996, my friends and I made a road trip to Chapel Hill to see the boys play.  We sat in those hideous blue seats and watched our boys defeat the Tar Heels.  Afterwards, we tried to get back toward the lockeroom with the parents of the players, but we were stopped by security.  That's when Gary came out and told the security officers:  "They are okay.  Those are my boys!"  What a feeling.  I still have a plastic Tar Heels cup with the final score of that game on it and "Gary's Boys" written on it as well.

At the end of my college career, I remained the crazy student who went to all the games, but also worked at Fox 5 in D.C..  I know Gary was confused at first as he kind of recognized me as one of the students, yet there I was hanging out in the press room and asking questions.  It was awesome to be on both sides of the program.

Gary appreciated us, and the rest of the students who filled Cole in the early to mid 90's.  We represented the re-birth of the program and he generously took pictures with us during our last season there as students. 

Obviously things picked up after we graduated, the team reached the Final Four, and on April 1, 2002, as I watched in a Baltimore bar with many of the same guys who spent all those years in Row 2, we felt like WE won the National Title.  Lots of sports fans use the term 'We' when referring to their favorite teams.  I can't speak for anyone else, but I truly felt like it was 'US' cutting the nets down in Atlanta.

Now it hasn't been an easy past 7 years or so for the program.  There have been ups and more downs than we would have liked. I will forever wonder if Korie Lucious' shot had not gone in, would Gary have had another Final Four on his resume.  But it was quite a ride. 

You could always tell that Gary loved the University of Maryland and that love drove him in his coaching.  He gave it his all even though we all knew it was difficult for him as recruiting changed over the years.  It's tough for a proud man like him to coddle these teenagers and kiss their rears in order to get them to come to Maryland.  I wish he was able to do it more so we could have held onto some of that local talent, though the administration likely shares in those failures.

Now that it's the end for Gary as head coach, I won't remember the frustrations of the past few years.  I will remember what he did for his alma mater and how he set things up for the future.

Maryland is a top job.  I don't care what some others may say.  I hope our AD makes a smart choice and hands the program over to someone who can really take it back to the top of the mountain.  We will see how it all plays out, but today is not about who is next.  For me, today is about the man who brought the college basketball passion out of me and I will miss seeing him sweat on the sidelines.  I will miss seeing him yell at the bench players and assistants, and I will truly miss the fist pump that we all knew was coming every time he walked out of the tunnel.

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