Under The Radar, One Of College Sports' Greatest Rivalries

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One of the most storied rivalries in college sports is housed in a 30-mile stretch inside the state of Maryland, pitting an elite private school against a major state university. The Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland have been doing grudge battles in lacrosse since the late 19th century. In addition to fielding some of the best athletes in the country, the historic duel between the two institutions has placed the state of Maryland at the top of the game.

Lacrosse is the state sport of Maryland. Played mostly on the East Coast, it has yet to catch on professionally but it is the passion in the ‘River Road to Riva Road Corridor’. Not only do the country’s top lacrosse colleges play there, but the local high schools feed the programs. Facing off at Homewood for the JHU Blue Jays or for the UMD Terrapins in College Park is the dream of virtually every youth lacrosse player in the state.

That so many of the players for Hopkins and Maryland have traditionally come from such a small slice of real estate fires up an incendiary rivalry. Furthermore, the stark differences between the two Mid-Atlantic schools only add to the combustion. A scholarly destination for students pursuing degrees in international relations, pre-medicine, and the sciences, JHU is a Division III school in all sports except lacrosse where it plays in the Big 10. In contrast, UMD is an all-around Division I program with deep athletic resources and a student body that is nearly six times greater.

Spicing it up socioeconomically adds much to the stew for any rivalry and the JHU-UMD competition certainly stirs the pot. Remember the "Catholics vs the Convicts" clashes when Notre Dame played the University of Miami in football? It is on the menu here too as Terp Coach Dick Edsal recalls, "To get the juices flowing before the game, [we'd tell the Maryland] kids that it was the blue collar guys against the future executives—that this was their only chance to get them before they got into the real world."

Except for two years during WWII, Hopkins and Maryland have gone head-to-head on the lacrosse field uninterrupted since 1895 and depending on how the matches are counted, the Blue Jays are ahead 74-44-1. The Terrapins don’t include games prior to formation of their varsity team in 1924, so they list the series at 67-44-1 with JHU in the lead. Hopkins even represented the United States at the 1928 and 1932 Olympics when lacrosse was a demonstration event.

Combined, both campuses made the NCAA Championship Finals 32 times, making Maryland the nation’s premier state in the game. Navy, Loyola, and Towson, all in Maryland as well, have reached the Finals 4 times.

But as with so much of college sports, football programs and the revenues they generate have altered the lacrosse landscape. Lacrosse rankings used to look like the ACC Tournament in basketball. Now they resemble the Big 10 standings in football. The 2019 final standings for Division 1 lacrosse brought to mind a top 20 pre-season football poll with Penn State, Notre Dame, and Ohio State all ranked high. All of those Big 10 schools beat Hopkins in lacrosse this year, too.

These days, many athletes grow up in Maryland wanting to go to powerhouse sports programs such as Ohio State, Penn State, and Alabama. The number one pick this year for the Washington Redskins, Dwayne Haskins, played high school ball at Bullis Prep, which is in the River Road to Riva Road Corridor. He ended up in the Midwest quarterbacking for Ohio State.

Hopkins is still the second winningest college in men’s lacrosse (9 titles) behind first place Syracuse (10 titles). Maryland is in sixth place (3 titles), though it has the third highest number of trips to the Finals (14 times). But for the future, this dominance of college sports by football presents a big challenge for any Maryland school which has to compete for athletic talent. Nevertheless, for diehard lacrosse fans and sports history buffs, the traditional rivalry between Johns Hopkins and Maryland will always be one of the most iconic and intense in all of college sports!

Jonathan Yates is a graduate of The Johns Hopkins University and is host of “The Culture of Sports”. He has written numerous articles in outlets such as Newsweek and the Washington Post and held interviews at NPR and CNBC. Email: thepoliticsofsports@gmail.com twitter: politicsports13

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