Countdown to Crab Classic
Although a native Marylander (and lifelong Navy fan,) I had no idea the football game between our flagship university and the Naval Academy had a name — The Crab Bowl Classic.
Of course, for most of my adult life there WAS no game between the two Division I schools only 30 miles apart. The natural rivalry was iced more than forty years ago, and has been held only once since then — to a near-capacity crowd in 2005, at M&T Bank Stadium. On Labor Day, September 6th, at 4:00 PM, it will take place here again and televised nationally on ESPN.
At Camden Yards, we couldn’t be more excited!
This year, a trophy to be awarded the winner of this intrastate matchup was commissioned by the Touchdown Club of Annapolis . I tried to find a picture, but it’s under wraps until the presentation ceremony. It is described as a pewter bowl with pewter crabs atop an ebony stand, with the winners of each Maryland-Navy contest (beginning in 1905) engraved on the front. Since it stays with the victor, it will hopefully will inspire the teams to meet more regularly.
I would be remiss in celebrating this upcoming event without revisiting the reason for the hiatus. In retrospect it may sound silly, but it was a deadly serious diss to decision makers. Enough to last for forty years.
Navy and Maryland used to meet regularly, with games alternating between Annapolis (as the one depicted above) or College Park. Because of their popularity, they occasionally played in larger venues in Baltimore or Washington. In 1963, Roger Staubach’s Heisman Trophy year, Navy clobbered Maryland 42-7 to a raucus celebration in Annapolis.
The following year, the game was played in College Park, and Maryland was ready for payback. Some felt it was extreme, as the line took special vengence on Jolly Roger.
After one late hit that had the Brigade of Midshipmen roaring disapproval, the Maryland defender turned to them and flashed an obscene gesture. Later in the game, after another penalty and another outcry, he did it again. A fired up Maryland team came from behind and beat Navy in the final minutes.
In 1964, such an act of defiance was not within the code of sportsmanship. Officials at the Naval Academy fulfilled their contractual obligation to play Maryland one more year, and vowed never to share the turf with those ruffians again.
Despite annual entrities by beloved State Comptroller (and Maryland alum) Louis Goldstein to renew the rivalry in a neutral site, Navy wouldn’t budge. Until his dying day, Louis held hope that eventually a game would be held, but he wasn’t around to see it.
It wasn’t until the return of Ralph Friedgen as coach that the subject was raised again. As a Maryland recruit, he was in the stands that day in 1964 and was impressed with the intensity of the rivalry. He thought such a game would be good for the program and good for the state. A serendipitous meeting with Navy’s colorful Paul Johnson (coincidentally, at a Touchdown Club dinner) got the conversation going. There were enough new faces around Ricketts Hall to see beyond the long memories of the 60′s insult, and a game was scheduled for 2005 at M&T Bank Stadium.
As befitting the two teams, it was an epic struggle, won by Maryland again on a come from behind score.
The game was such a success the teams agreed to meet again and eventually found 2010 to work for both of them. As in 2005, it is the first game for each school. Maryland is considered the “home” team this year, but in Baltimore, they are both embraced as our own. In fact, we’d like to have them here every year if we could.
Also in the stands that day in 1964 was Midshipman John Morton, Class of ’67. He’s now the chairman of Maryland Stadium Authority, and he couldn’t be happier to be at the helm when our facilities host this classic on Monday.
Mr. Morton is among those who believe a regular series benefits both schools and the State of Maryland. He relished the 2005 game and observed that this meeting illustrated that good sportsmanship exists within each institution and the past should not longer serve to be an anchor to the resumption of this natural rivalry.
He’ll be there Monday with classmates, shipmates, families and friends. Navy games are always occasions for reunion and reminiscence. While that finger-flipper from Maryland may be a conversation starter, it will be lost in all the camaraderie, excitement, and other positives of this event.