When two testy archrivals, Johns Hopkins and Maryland, brawl for the national lacrosse championship strategy fails, offense prevails and one of the best games in years brings the title home to Homewood
There may be an excuse for the students of the Johns Hopkins University this week if they get a little riotous. True, winning the national championship in lacrosse will never rank up there with the heart transplants they probably will crank out on a Hopkins hospital assembly line someday, nor will beating Maryland call for any university-wide celebration of a V-M day on the green, rolling campus in north Baltimore. But it ought to call for Sprite all around at the Levering Hall snack bar and some kind of concession on the part of the school administration and the Baltimore City Police Department over the issue that has the campus in mini-ferment: should a vendor be allowed to sell ice-cream bars on school property? The administration, conservative by nature, has ruled no, and the police department reportedly has informed student organizers of ERGHM (Equal Rights for Good Humor Men) that a demonstration would be met “with all necessary force.”
The reason for any possible display of unbridled enthusiasm at Hopkins is that this is the one school where lacrosse is the game. It is what football is in Texas and bathing in Japan, and though Hopkins has a reputation for being full of scholar types—budding doctors, philosophers, lawyers and the like—the fervor of the standing-room-only crowd of 12,000 that ringed Homewood Field last Saturday matched that of an Ohio State home game. In fact, while Hopkins was dramatically winning its championship from Maryland 10-8, the Hopkins crowd was going out of its shaggy-haired head, and afterward everybody went off to savor the game for long hours over a frosty glass and discuss the heroes of the day.
There were three, the first of them Joe Cowan, the splendid Hopkins attackman who scored three goals, set up two more and was not going to really enjoy the postgame celebration, because he was, as he said, “dead.” He looked it, too. After playing the full 60 minutes, Cowan was covered with dirt and grass stains, and his knees were cut and bleeding. Then there was Downy McCarty, Cowan‘s linemate, who had one of his biggest days—five goals, one assist—but did not look quite so battered as Cowan because he was not the country’s leading scorer and therefore was not getting thumped blue by Maryland‘s best defenders. Cowan is, and national reputations earn nation-sized bruises. Finally there was Norm Vander Schuyt, the Maryland goalie, who should have been wearing a flak suit under his baggy sweat shirt to help protect him from the Hopkins gunners. He faced an endless stream of shots—62 in all—and, had it not been for his spectacular play, Hopkins would have wrapped up the game early and won by the kind of decisive margin that has typified most of its victories this season.
As it was, however, the game will go down as one of the most stirring in the Maryland-Hopkins series, which dates back to 1895. Considering the stakes, the heat of the rivalry and what had happened last year, anything less would have been a letdown.
‘The Maryland-Hopkins rivalry,” says John D. Howard, an assistant professor of English at Maryland and coach of the Terrapin team, “is like no other. It is not a phony rivalry like Army-Navy, where they stand and wave hats at each other. No, sir, it’s hate.” Call it what you will, what it comes down to is that any Hopkins man knows in his heart that Maryland is a place for beer-drinking slobs, and any Maryland man knows to the soles of his loafers that Hopkins is all whiskey-sipping snobs—rye whiskey, if you please. The only chance the two sides have to express their feelings is in their annual lacrosse t�te-�-t�te.
The feelings have rarely reached the proportions they did in the past year, especially on Hopkins’ side. Last May, in one of its finest efforts, Hopkins upset Navy in the next to last game of the season. The victory broke the Middies’ 33-game winning streak and supposedly their iron grip on the national championship. Then Hopkins, needing only a win over Maryland to secure its first unshared title since 1957, went to College Park and lost 9-5, leaving a three-way tie for the championship.
As this season developed, Navy sank out of the picture when Maryland beat the Middies 5-3 in a game marked by egg throwing by the College Park crowd. Later Hopkins applied the crusher to Navy 11-3, and for the first time in 11 years the Maryland-Hopkins rivalry had the added stimulation of an undisputed national title for the winner.
Many of the players who had helped defeat Hopkins last May were back this season for Maryland, yet the Terps had not managed their 9-0-1 record with ease. Instead, most of them had found it painful, for in two months the team had put together an injury list of pro football dimensions. One Terp had cracked a collarbone and another had his shoulder ripped from its socket in practice. Two more had suffered severe ankle injuries, another had torn ligaments in his knee and still another had caught a stick in his mouth, waking up to find stitches where his six front teeth used to be. To listen to Maryland rooters, the team bus might as well turn into the emergency entrance of Union Memorial Hospital a short way from Hopkins and forget the game altogether. John Howard was not among the complainers, though. He just muttered things like, “If only I was Vince Lombardi, if only I was Vince Lombardi. But I’m not Vince Lombardi….”
Howard‘s game strategy was simple. He was going to play things cozy against the Blue Jays, just as he had done with so much success the year before. Hopkins, in sweeping past nine opponents, had run up scores like 20-1, 22-4, 20-5 and 20-7. Indeed, playing the same number of games as Maryland—the majority of them against common foes—Hopkins had outscored the Terps by 60 goals.
“Let’s face it,” Howard said. “If Hopkins has the ball as much as we do they’ll clobber us 15-5. No doubt about it. So we’ll run around with the ball. We’ll run around, we’ll pass around and we’ll see what happens.”
Coach Bobby Scott of Hopkins anticipated this slowdown game and emphasized to his players that they had to steal the play from Maryland by applying an unusual amount of pressure on the ball handler at midfield and then, when they got the ball, feed it to their hot shots, Cowan and McCarty. The game would swing on just how sharp Cowan and McCarty were.
Cowan, sturdily built and blond, and McCarty, tall, rangy and dark-haired, had grown up together in Baltimore and played together at Friends School, and now, at Hopkins, they had been teamed with another good attackman, Phil Kneip. The effect was much the same as when a football team has three good backs instead of one: the opposition can’t double-team the one, and all three perform better. The Hopkins trio had made 80 goals and 67 assists in nine games. Cowan, as the leading scorer in the country, had 27 goals and 44 assists. With this attack, if Hopkins could get in front quickly, it was capable of running Maryland right down Route 1 to College Park.
The game began in a light rain, which did not hurt Maryland‘s slowdown cause, but Cowan, McCarty and Kneip were fast enough. Hopkins took control of the game in the midfield, as it had intended to, and fed Cowan and McCarty, as planned, but it ran into unexpected difficulty in the person of Goalie Vander Schuyt. In the first period the Hopkins offense got off 19 shots, compared to Maryland‘s four, but had only a 1-0 lead to show for it. The Blue Jays, still dominating play, eased ahead 3-1 on Cowan‘s first goal midway through the second period. Now in serious trouble, Maryland was forced to abandon its delay game, for it was only delaying the inevitable. Out went the game plan, and into the game came Maryland with two goals that made it 3-3 at half time. So much for coaching strategy.
The third period was unrestrained offensive fury and, when it was over, the teams were still tied, this time 7-7. But a trend had been established. Through three periods Hopkins had outshot Maryland 41-27, and even in spite of Vander Schuyt’s astonishing flailing about the goal the team that was shooting the most figured eventually to score the most.
It did. Early in the fourth quarter Hopkins gained a man advantage on a slashing penalty. On a play near the left sideline Cowan made a superb stop of a ball that, had it gone out of bounds, would have given valuable possession to the Terrapins. Instead, Hopkins got the ball, and seconds later McCarty scored from in front to put the Blue Jays on top to stay 9-8. Moments later McCarty added the insurance goal, and the Blue Jays then ran out the clock.
Cowan, exhausted, left the field with his arms draped around McCarty’s neck. “Just like we dreamed, just like we dreamed, wasn’t it?” he said to McCarty. Indeed, it was. When Cowan and McCarty were no taller than their lacrosse sticks they had come out to the Hopkins games early so they could field errant balls behind the nets and think about wearing the pale blue shirts with white stripes on the shoulders and winning a national championship or two.
“It’s great, it’s just great,” Cowan was saying moments later in the tumult of the dressing room. “All this week all I could think about was that long bus ride back from Maryland last year. It was so long I thought we were going to Chicago.”
“He’s right,” said Bobby Scott, “but it was worth waiting for. This time we played our best game in the last game of the season.”
And outdoors, amid the spring pleasantness of their campus, the Hopkins students were relishing victory. A rally cry might even arise: “This week a championship; next week Good Humors.”
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