Best Dressed: 1995-2004 Maryland TerrapinsPosted by rtmsf on May 31st, 2011
John Gorman is an RTC contributor. Every week throughout the long, hot summer, he will highlight one of the iconic uniforms from the great history of the game. We plan on rolling out 24 of these babies, so tweet your favorites at us @rushthecourt or email us directly at email@example.com. This week, we recall the great Maryland uniforms from the mid-90s through the early 2000s. To see the entire list to date, click here.
Fear the turtle. A phrase that elicits smiles from same mouth which speaks its words, but before 1932, would have never seen the light of day without the help of an inquisitive school paper and a Maryland man named “Curley.” The campus daily, The Diamondback, called out for a school nickname to replace the “Old-Liners,” a reference to the state nickname. Harry Clifton Byrd, the school football coach affectionately known as “Curley”, answered the call. Curley proposed “Terrapins,” a nod to the Diamondback Terrapin turtle endemic to his Chesapeake Bay hometown of Crisfield. As Byrd moved up to the ranks from football coach to athletic director to university president, the Terrapin was minted, popularized and given an identity.
The Diamondback Terrapin is green, gray and white, but the school’s red, white, black and gold model is colored after the alternating Calvert and Crossland emblems that appear on the Maryland state flag. You’ll note if you look closely, this same pattern also provides the inspiration for the mid-field Baltimore Ravens’ crest (which doubles as the team’s secondary logo). The logo and mascot which appears on the threads, “Testudo,” draws its moniker from an old Roman warfare formation where soldiers would pack together closely, and flank all sides with shields, to protect the formation from incoming arrow attacks. Testudo, fittingly, is Latin for “Tortoise.”
Always an aesthetic pleaser and a huge draw at the box office (former Terps coach Lefty Driesell is commonly credited for starting Midnight Madness), the school’s profile rose considerably in the 1990s, as coach Gary Williams built a consistently competitive program. It was at this time Nike stepped in and did what Nike does: Doctored up the athletic wear to entice the locals to buy. Nike gave the home whites some pop: A big, bold MARYLAND on the front with even bigger, bolder red numbers, and – the perfect touch – black and gold diamondback trim along the edges, crafting that quintessential snapping-turtle look. Never before has something so slow looked so fast streaking up and down the hardwood.
Many Maryland greats would peek out from under that snazzy turtle shell, from Joe Smith and Keith Booth in the mid-90s to Lonny Baxter and Juan Dixon from that 2002 National Championship squad. The jerseys have undergone a few more tweaks and face-lifts since then, but has yet to improve upon an undisputed classic. With Gary Williams having stepped down from coaching after 22 mostly-successful seasons, that last link to the Terps at their turtle-fearing peak walked out the door with him.
Curley Byrd stepped down as university president in 1954 to run for state governor, albeit unsuccessfully. He’d make several more spirited yet futile bids for Congress and serve on several state gubernatorial committees. He died in 1970, a Maryland man through and through, the father of a university identity as Maryland as crabcakes and the tidewater upon which these terrapins nest.