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‘We were taught to hate each other:’ A look inside Maryland-Johns Hopkins, college lacrosse’s greatest rivalry

The storied matchup returns this Saturday when the rivals square off.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics.

When Maryland and Johns Hopkins take the lacrosse field to play each other, there’s no love lost.

Casey Connor, a defenseman for the Terps from 1997-2000, discovered the game’s importance as a freshman.

“Guys talked about it, the seniors, older guys talked about it. And I’m like, ‘Okay, well, what does that mean?’” he asked.

Connor’s coach immediately made the gravity of “The Rivalry” clear.

“If you were a new kid, you didn’t understand what it meant. He would make sure that you understood how much it meant,” Connor said.

“The week practice started, [Dick Edell], who was our coach then, it was like he was nuts. It was another level of Big Man just going bonkers. And he stressed constantly, ‘It’s Hop Week! It’s Hop Week!’ And so everybody was kind of like, on this extra level of intensity [and] focus, just getting after it.”

Edell, nicknamed “Big Man’’ and called “the ultimate motivator” by his players, was a legendary Maryland men’s lacrosse coach who coached Connor throughout his four years in College Park. He was always set on having his team overprepared to square off against the Blue Jays.

“His antics in practice, the way he’d scream. You know, a big hulking guy with this high pitched voice sometimes when he’d yell at you,” Connor remembers. “At practice, he’d be getting on you or getting on the group about something that maybe three weeks ago he didn’t say anything about. But now it’s Hop Week, and you better get your ducks in order. That’s just kind of the way it always was, which was awesome. It was awesome.”

The Maryland-Johns Hopkins lacrosse rivalry is a perfect concoction of all that makes a college rivalry great. It’s public vs. private, over a century old and a matchup of two of the best programs in the sport. Nicknamed “The Rivalry,” when the Terrapins and Blue Jays meet, the whole state is engrossed.

“That whole week is crazy … you never know what’s gonna happen,” former Maryland star Matt Rambo said. “The stands are gonna be packed. All the alumni are gonna come to the game if they’re in town. The rivalry is more than 100 years old … we have to prepare extra hard because we don’t want to lose to Hopkins. We don’t like Hopkins.”

Rambo, who was the top scorer on Maryland’s 2017 national championship team, grew up just outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and was thrust into the rivalry without a full appreciation for what it meant.

“I followed lacrosse growing up, especially college lacrosse,” Rambo said. “I definitely knew that there was a huge rivalry, but I didn’t know how big it was until I was at Maryland.”

Joe Walters, who starred for the Terps in the mid-2000s and hails from Rochester, New York, had a similar experience.

“I’m not from Maryland. I didn’t grow up going to Maryland games, Maryland-Hopkins games. I grew up going to Syracuse games,” Walters said. “But I learned my freshman fall how important that game was, and the hatred and the rivalry that we have with Hopkins.”

Others, like 2012 Maryland graduate Joe Cummings, grew up in the heartland of The Rivalry.

“I grew up in the shadow of Hopkins, living in Towson and growing up in Towson,” Cummings said. “So you know, I’ve gotten to see the rivalry for years, and obviously being a part of it as a player was incredibly special.

“We hosted a Bible study at my house for some high school lacrosse guys. But it was actually led by some Hopkins guys,” Cummings continued. “I was able to have a lot of really great connections to Johns Hopkins growing up, and I think for me that always made the rivalry that much more special when I would play against them and play for Maryland.”

The two schools are separated by only 30 miles, and that has led to some hijinks between the two student bodies. Days before the Terps and Blue Jays were set to face off in 1947, a group of Johns Hopkins students traveled to College Park and stole Testudo, a bronze sculpture of Maryland’s diamondback terrapin mascot, in response to Maryland students painting sidewalks in Baltimore promising a Terrapins victory.

Maryland students launched a rescue mission to try and recover Testudo. Eleven arrests and a dean’s order later, Hopkins returned the statue to Maryland, but a large blue “H” had been painted on its shell by the Hopkins students.

Testudo reappeared four years later in front of Byrd Stadium with an extra 700 pounds of concrete weighing it down to deter thieves. That didn’t stop Johns Hopkins students from continuing to paint the mascot, however.

A group photograph of Johns Hopkins students surrounding the just-stolen statue of Testudo at 3 a.m. on May 23, 1947. Photo courtesy of the Johns Hopkins University Sheridan Libraries.

Notwithstanding the off-the-field antics, the focal point of the rivalry remains on the field. More than perhaps anywhere else in the nation, Marylanders have a passion for lacrosse. It became the official team sport of the state of Maryland after a government act in 2004. Johns Hopkins regularly packs capacity crowds into historic 8,500-seat Homewood Field, while Maryland consistently draws over 10,000 fans to Maryland Stadium — formerly Byrd Stadium — when the Blue Jays come to town.

“Every sport has rivalries that come to mind,” Cummings said. “And I feel like if you think about lacrosse, there’s not a better rivalry than Hopkins and Maryland.”

The teams have outstanding fan support largely because of their statuses as two of lacrosse’s most legendary programs. Johns Hopkins is the only college lacrosse program with 1,000 all-time wins, a feat it accomplished on Feb. 19 against Loyola (Md.). Maryland’s lacrosse program has the highest winning percentage of any in the nation and has never finished any of its 97 seasons with more losses than wins.

“You go to Maryland to play against the best teams in the nation every year, every week,” Walters said. “Hopkins has always been a powerhouse. It’s always been a program, just like Maryland, that’s rich in tradition. When you combine those two things, it makes for a super special week. It’s a week that just has a different meaning.”

Both the Terps and Blue Jays have also won an abundance of national championships. Johns Hopkins won 35 national championships before the NCAA began sanctioning lacrosse in 1971 and has won nine since. Maryland won nine pre-NCAA titles and has three NCAA championships, in addition to playing in the title game 15 times.

While the rivalry between Maryland and Johns Hopkins dates back over a century, the two schools can’t agree on how many lacrosse games they’ve played against each other. According to Johns Hopkins, the teams have met 122 times — dating back to 1895 — and leads the all-time series 74-47-1. Maryland disputes the legitimacy of seven of the Blue Jays’ victories, however, claiming that games before the official formation of its varsity lacrosse team in 1924 shouldn’t be counted.

The intensity and importance of the rivalry is indisputable, however.

“I played in the 100th game, the 100th matchup, my sophomore year,” Walters said. “To play in a game that’s taken place a hundred times, that just shows you and just tells you how meaningful it is.”

Wilson Phipps was a freshman goalie at Maryland in 1975, the year of the program’s most recent national championship before Rambo’s squad won in 2017. He has vivid memories of his first game against Johns Hopkins that year, one with national implications.

“They were ranked number one in the country and we had lost to Virginia and to Navy … we basically had to win the game to get a bid to the tournament,” Phipps recounts. “I remember looking over at Hopkins in the old Byrd Stadium. They were [in the north endzone] looking like they were hot shots.

“We ended up going up 11-0 in the first quarter. I think we won the game, 19-11. That was very satisfying, beating Hopkins … it was just so sweet to beat Hopkins and knock them off their pedestal.”

The Terps ended up being crowned champions just weeks later, and Johns Hopkins didn’t win another game that season.

“Once we beat them, they lost their next game, which was a tournament game,” Phipps said. “That was really enjoyable to see them lose to [Washington & Lee].”

High-stakes matchups are a common theme in the Maryland-Hopkins rivalry.

The teams have met three times in the national championship game and six times in the national semifinals. The Terps won the 1973 championship game, 10-9, in overtime, but Johns Hopkins beat Maryland in the 1974 and 1979 championship games.

“Whenever we played it at Homewood or played it at Byrd, it was extremely intense,” Phipps said. “… We knew how important it was and how difficult the game was going to be. And how important it was not only for the rivalry but also in the national scene.”

Lately, the annual showdown has become a conference affair. In 2015, both teams moved to the Big Ten Conference. That season, a crab-shaped trophy made of reclaimed wood from Baltimore became the official trophy of the matchup between Maryland and Johns Hopkins; it is now given to the winning team each year.

A Maryland lacrosse player lifts “The Rivalry Trophy” above his head after defeating Johns Hopkins on April 29, 2017, in College Park, Maryland. Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics.

“I think now that Hopkins and Maryland are in the same conference, it’s a little bit more exciting and a little bit more meaningful because every game means something,” Phipps said.

The teams have met twice in the Big Ten Tournament championship game, first in 2018 and most recently in 2021. They split the two games.

As of late, Maryland has had the upper hand in The Rivalry. The Terps have won seven of the last ten contests, including a matchup in the NCAA semifinals in 2015. Maryland has also won the last three games, all of which came in 2021 due to conference-only scheduling because of COVID-19.

Maryland enters this year’s matchup as heavy favorites to continue its winning ways. The Terps are unanimously ranked No. 1 in the country and have an 11-0 record. Johns Hopkins, on the other hand, has a 6-7 record. The Blue Jays haven’t had a winning season since 2018, albeit the 2020 season was cut short because of the pandemic.

Maryland owes much of its success to a guru that came from its biggest foe. The offensive coordinator for the highest-scoring team in the nation is Bobby Benson, a three-time All American player and 14-year assistant coach at Johns Hopkins.

“Maryland’s offense is one of the [best] offenses right now and they’re being led by a guy who spent his whole career before Maryland at Johns Hopkins,” Cummings said. “The fact that he’s seen both sides of this rivalry as a player and as a coach, and now as a coach for the Terps, I think it’s pretty neat.”

Even though the move to the Big Ten means that the matchup between the Terps and Blue Jays could get oversaturated with multiple games each season, Maryland head coach John Tillman is still making sure that his team understands the importance of this Saturday’s game at Homewood Field.

“I don’t care if we play them nine or 10 times a year. It is a special [game],” Tillman said. “There’s pride on both sides. It’s something I take very seriously and I try to make sure I echo that to our [players].”

While the vitriol remains on the field, there remains a mutual respect between Maryland and Johns Hopkins players. In fact, one of Walters’ closest friends was a Blue Jay.

“Kyle Harrison, one of the best players to ever play at Hopkins, throughout college, we were taught to hate each other,” Walters said. “We ended up playing on Team USA together right out of college. We were roommates with Team USA and that blossomed into a really good friendship.

“Lacrosse is a pretty tight knit community,” Walters continued. “Things that happened during college tend to get pushed aside and we’re all lacrosse players when it’s all said and done.”

Phipps thinks that the strife between the two schools helps create a closer bond with players that suited up for Johns Hopkins.

“It was always a very emotional affair between both of us,” Phipps said. “Some of my good friends played for Hopkins, but they weren’t good friends when we played. Over the years they become good friends and the rivalry is part of that.”

Rambo, who currently plays professionally alongside both Maryland and Johns Hopkins alumni, loves the banter during the week of the game.

“We always make fun of each other. ‘Maryland’s better than Hopkins’, we say - which is true,” Rambo said.

But, even with the relationships that have been built in spite of their feud, a strong dislike still exists between Maryland and Johns Hopkins. Casey Connor wants to leave no doubt which side of The Rivalry he stands on.

“There are guys I’ve met and have certainly enjoyed a relationship with, but even my kids know that we hate Hopkins,” Connor said. “That’s just how it works. There’s no ifs, ands or buts about it. I have good friends that I know very well, but at the end of the day, we hate Hopkins.”

When they compete again this Saturday, Maryland and Johns Hopkins will once again battle for supremacy in the state of Maryland. Eyes and television sets throughout the state will be squarely focused on the 60 minutes of action in Baltimore.