University of Maryland graduate Ben Page (‘01) rolled out of bed, packed his car with gameday essentials and drove an hour and a half south to meet up with people who love Maryland football as much as he does.
After setting up in the parking lot, Page and his friends shared some drinks while making food a few hours before kickoff, eager to see their beloved Terps take the field for the first time in a while.
It was reminiscent of a regular fall Saturday as they filed into Capital One, only one thing was different- it was a sunny spring day and the Maryland fans were filling the stadium to see the Red-White game, an annual intrasquad scrimmage that marks the end of spring practice.
Following the game, Page and his friends made their way back to the parking lot but unlike a regular fall game, they saw the players they had just seen on the field leaving the stadium after signing autographs for young fans as has become a tradition following the Spring Game.
“It’s kind of the human side of it...they don’t have pads on,” Page told Testudo Times. “You can talk to them and kind of, not necessarily get to know the players, but just let them know that we’re here to support them and that we appreciate them being Maryland Terrapins.”
Page has memories of meeting current Pittsburgh Steelers running back Anthony McFarland Jr. as he walked out of the stadium with his father and a few years before that catching a quick conversation with Carolina Panthers linebacker Jermaine Carter.
Although the Spring Game may appear as a glorified scrimmage on the surface, to many fans and the team, it’s an opportunity to connect the community with the program.
Former Maryland safety Curome Cox has similar memories as Page but from the player perspective of sitting outside of Spring Games and interacting with fans.
“We would just listen to people’s stories about their favorite games or as we started to have more success, people will tell us about their trip and how they went down to the Orange Bowl and where they traveled to different games,” Cox said. “So honestly, it was less of us talking and listening. And those would be the things that I remember the most because it was more so listening to just their stories.”
The annual Red-White game dates back to 1948 when Jim Tatum was in his second season with the Terps. Tatum coached the Terps until 1955 and led the team to a national title in 1953.
In 1951, Tatum adjusted the format of the Spring Game to be a competition between current players and alumni but ultimately in 1963, the game reverted to the intrasquad format that’s used today.
Since 2001, the game has been played on Maryland Day, a state-wide celebration that centers around the University of Maryland, College Park.
“Maryland Day has always been a special day around here on campus because of the connection of our location, which we sell. Just being able to be in this community that we serve as the flagship university in the DMV is great to be able to open the doors and have people here,” Maryland football head coach Michael Locksley said.
Sophomore linebacker Ruben Hyppolite II committed to Maryland while he was visiting campus during the Spring Game.
When the Florida native was deciding where to commit, he knew he wanted to be in a new area with different people and Maryland offered him that experience. Now, as the Spring Game approaches after the cancellation of last season’s, Hyppolite is excited to be a part of all the action, this time while on the field.
“I feel like with the spring game approaching and...the Maryland Day thing, I think it’ll be good for me to see just see how the whole state of Maryland, how the city of College Park just comes out and watch us play football,” Hyppolite said. “Just see the joy in everyone’s faces, I feel like it will be a good thing for me.”
Cox was part of the head coach Ralph Friedgen’s ’01 team that played in the first Maryland Day Spring Game.
“It really, really, really brought a great crowd to the game and it also gave us a way as players to kind of touch with the community,” Cox said. “Prior to the game we would do autograph signings, and a lot of that nature so I thought, in that aspect, it was really, really a good bonus to have [the game on Maryland Day].”
After playing at Maryland, Cox was a graduate assistant for a program before playing in the NFL and eventually becoming a corners and special teams coach at Coastal Carolina. When he arrived in South Carolina, Cox reestablished a relationship with a fan he had met at a Spring Game almost a decade earlier.
As a player preparing for the Red-White game, Cox was sitting outside interacting with fans when he met a Maryland fan who traveled down to campus from Pennsylvania with his kids each year for games. They exchanged stories and Maryland memories and Cox stayed in touch with the fan through the years.
When he moved down to Coastal Carolina in 2012, he reconnected with the oldest daughter, Kristan Sipes.
“Out of the blue, that same young girl, Kristan, ends up being a student there,” Cox told Testudo Times after prefacing the story by explaining how crazy of a coincidence he found this to be.
“She ended up writing a huge book report on me and on the Terrapins when she was probably, I think I want to say it’s like fourth or fifth grade and now she’s a senior at Costal Carolina and ends up finding me down there and we became really, really close friends still are today,” Cox said.
The personal connections formed between players and fans like this one are exactly what make the Spring Game so special.
Page understands the value of this and that is why he established the non-profit, the Old Line Tailgating Club to connect young fans with the program. The initiative raises money to buy tickets for kids in the area to attend games in-person and see the campus in action.
Although he is a dedicated Spring Game fan, attending about 10, he often finds himself sitting there wishing there were more people sharing in his excitement and that’s part of what sparked the creation of a non-profit as he hopes to get the next generation of Maryland fans excited about athletics.
In 2019, Old Line Tailgating Club purchased over 6,500 tickets for young kids in the area who may have not otherwise been able to get to a game.
About two years ago, the non-profit held a tailgate that they invited youth teams to come to share Maryland fandom stories over hotdogs and hamburgers. Although only a handful of people stopped by, everyone who was there was excited to be a part of the action.
“For big-time football fans like myself and people that are season ticket holders, this is always kind of a big thing that we salivate over,” Page said. “You know, who’s on the depth chart... who’s the next playmaker, it just gives us kind of a taste to see, just to wet our beak a little bit before the season starts and just to see the guys out there.”
As Locksley looks ahead to this year’s scrimmage after the coronavirus pandemic canceled the 2020 Spring Game, he understands that many of the fans are there to see as competitive of a game an off-season intrasquad scrimmage can be.
“We do want it to be a competitive game where we get to see guys how to respond under the lights, per se,” Locksley said. “And now obviously with the opportunity to have our fans and family here, in a limited capacity, the opportunity to see how they play in that type of situation.”
Another tradition that keeps the scrimmage competitive and has been around for years revolving around the Spring Game is “steaks and weenies” as Locksley puts it.
In addition to finishing spring practice on a high note, the winners of the Red-White game are rewarded with steak while the rest of the team enjoys hot dogs and beans.
“[The winners] had the red carpet laid out, they’re sitting over there and [the losers] better not get up there, they don’t have too many extras,” Cox told Testudo Times while laughing at the memory. “But it was a little competitive, definitely. That was pretty funny after the game.”
Although there will be limited seating for this year’s Spring Game due to the coronavirus pandemic, all available tickets have been claimed for the scrimmage and in addition to fans like Page being ready to get back in the stadium after a year away, the program is grateful for the support as well.
“For the people that claim the tickets to come out and watch us on a Saturday, intrasquad scrimmage, very humbled and honored that our fans are excited to see it, obviously in a limited capacity,” Locksley said.
Although it’s important to the staff and players that everyone leaves the field healthy after Saturday’s scrimmage, they also hope to give a competitive game to all the fans who want to be there to support the team.
At the end of the day, this game is about connecting with the community and after a year without the Spring Game, even if it looks slightly different due to the limited seating, Maryland football is determined to give its fans an exciting matchup that energizes them for the season ahead.
“I just think it’s a welcome for us and for me to have our fans back and again with Maryland Day being able to show off our campus to the community and people that are allowed to be back,” Locksley said. “I think it’s always been great to have it on that day. Because again, being the flagship university here in this area it allows us to have a connection with our community.”