Playing Duke (and rioting)

Tonight, the University of Maryland Terrapins are going to be playing the Duke Blue Devils in basketball. Whenever one of these games comes around, Maryland students go a bit nuts. UMD has an intense rivalry with Duke (that isn’t necessarily reciprocal). The Duke games are by far the most exciting ones, the ones that people who don’t even usually go to basketball games will try to get into. There’s just something about Duke. It’s hard to really explain it; it’s just one of those sports rivalry things that build off itself each year.

In the past three years I’ve been here I’ve seen some pretty serious post-game rioting. Anytime we beat Duke, you can bet Route 1 is going to get mobbed with students, chanting, making noise, blocking traffic, burning stuff, etc. No serious damage has really been done since we won the NCAA Championship in 2002, but some students have very nearly been expelled. I went to about two or three of those riots in my earlier years at UMD. We’d all be sitting around watching the games on television, and then the second we won, an instant stream of people would materialize, heading out of the dorms down to frat row and downtown College Park. It was just the thing to do. You started putting on your shoes and jacket a minute before the game was over because you had to be ready.

The riots were pretty intense. I (nor 95% of the people there) never really did any real rioting, but rather, just stood around in huge numbers in the middle of Route 1. We were chanting “Go Maryland!” or “Fuck Duke!”, and watching the police and the few people who were legitimately rioting, who were burning mattresses and such. The police would let us have our fun for about thirty minutes or so, and then they would start advancing. That’s when it got ugly, and that’s when all of the sensible people (me included) started leaving. The police were not kidding around — there’d be at least a hundred of them in SWAT gear with helmets, plexiglass shields, pepper spray guns, pepper paintball guns, and at the last riot I was at, over a dozen mounted units. I don’t know where all of these police officers were coming from, but there they were.

It was a pretty intense scene once the police started taking control, too. They seemed eager to beat up college students. They were liberally shooting all of their less-than-lethal weapons. One guy got hit in the face with a paintball and ended up needing surgery. At least nobody was killed, like the woman from Boston who died during World Series celebrations after she was shot in the eye with a paintball. During my last riot, I was kind of stuck on the sidewalk, separated from the street by some bushes and a low fence, and it was hard to escape. They started coming down the sidewalk with horses (which I got uncomfortably close to) and were spraying the pepper mist. It was quite the scene. As we escaped, an arsonist was lighting fires in trash cans and dumpsters. Eventually the fire department had to be called to put out a huge dumpster fire behind the shopping mall.

I bring all of this up because I’m sure the police are already mobilizing right now, prepared to deal with any riot that may be a result of a Maryland win at the basketball game tonight. There will definitely be horses. If I’ve learned one thing from college, it’s to always bring carrots to a riot.

Update: We won the game 72-60 and there was no riot. I guess beating Duke just isn’t a big accomplishment anymore.

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