Commentary

Storybook ending escapes Maryland

Originally Published: May 30, 2011
By Mark Winegardner | Special to ESPN.com

BALTIMORE -- Two fathers. Two sons. Two championship games in Baltimore, about 30 miles from campus, before an essentially hometown crowd. Two teams: one the close-knit team that last won a championship for Maryland lacrosse, another the even-closer-knit Terrapins team that took the field in Baltimore poised to finally win another.

In the end, the storyline was just a little too perfect.

[+] EnlargeFarrell
Rafael Suanes/US PresswireBrian Farrell is all too familiar with Maryland's lacrosse history.

Thirty-six years ago, the Maryland Terrapins hadn't yet become to NCAA lacrosse what the Boston Red Sox finally stopped being to Major League Baseball: storied team, passionate fanbase, once a consistent champion but reduced to being a perennial contender that always seems able to come up with some creative new heartbreaking way to lose. Junior defenseman Mike Farrell, who'd be a first-team All-American three times, had won a national title his freshman year and played for one as a sophomore. Sophomore goalie Jake Reed, who'd be All-American twice, was hungry for his first.

The 1974 Terps lost the championship game to Johns Hopkins. They started the '75 season as a preseason title favorite but lost their best attackman for the year with a knee injury in the first game of the season and then, soon thereafter, lost one of their three huge defensemen, too (Farrell, at 6-foot-4, was the shortest). They ended up having to play their way into the tournament -- against mighty Johns Hopkins.

They did it.

Two games later, at Homewood Field, in front of a standing-room-only crowd of 10,400, Mike Farrell fired a goal past Navy's goalie to ice the game. Maryland went on to win, 20-13.

Their sons learned the game from their fathers. They grew up playing lacrosse against and later with each other. Their senior year at Baltimore Boys Latin, with Jake Reed coaching, they won a high school national championship together. When the boys got out of line, the fathers would just say, "1975," and grin. There was no comeback for that -- not yet, anyway.

When the sons told the fathers they were going to Maryland, each man choked up.

Four years later, attackman Travis Reed and long-stick midfielder Brian Farrell are now roommates and key members of Maryland's 17-member senior class. The 2010 Terps were upset in the quarterfinals by Notre Dame but entered this season ranked as high as third in the preseason polls. But key injuries -- including ones to their best scores, attackman Grant Catalino and middie Joe Cummings -- not only led to Maryland entering the tournament unseeded but also to playing its first game on the road against ACC rival North Carolina.

They did it -- thanks in no small part to the hidden-ball goal that Brian Farrell initiated: A play that instantly became the biggest viral video in lacrosse history. The Terps had to go on the road and beat top-ranked Syracuse. They did that, too. Then came a quarterfinal game against defending national champ Duke -- and another upset victory.

"There's a lot of things that have come together for this group," says Mike Farrell of his son's team. "They fought through so much to -- "

"For four years, they've had such high aspirations," interjects Jake Reed. "And the last three years, it's been bad calls, bad shots, they didn't finish this, they didn't finish that. No matter what, we gotta do it."

As fathers will do, they are even more emotionally invested in their sons' team than they were their own.

Early in the fourth period of the championship game, trailing archrival Virginia, big Brian Farrell, an inch taller than his father, fired a shot to bring the Terps to within a goal. The crowd erupted. Farrell bounded off the field, exhorting the faithful to turn it up even more, and the fans complied.

[+] EnlargeTravis Reed
AP Photo/Gretchen ErtlTravis Reed came within two goals of ending Maryland's title draught.

A little more than a minute later came a goal by senior Ryan Young, whose mother's ultimately losing struggle with cancer drew the whole team tightly together. The assist was by Catalino. The score was tied 6-6. The crowd grew even louder. The momentum had shifted.

The storybook ending was 11 minutes away.

And then: poof. Virginia's Matt White scored a goal. And then another. And then, with less than two minutes to go, Cavalier Colin Briggs scored his fifth goal of the game to ice it. For Maryland, the ending that seemed so sweet, so nearly inevitable, had gone haywire.

"Lacrosse is a game of swings," Brian Farrell said, crestfallen, crushed, in the Maryland locker room. "I don't know what else to say."

"Virginia's a great team," Travis Reed said. "But I wouldn't want to trade places with anyone in their locker room. This is just where I've always dreamed to be. This is where I'll always be in my heart. It just sucks to have to lose this one like that."

The 30-mile trip home that the '75 team took home seemed to take mere seconds. The 2011 Terps' trip will feel like it may never end.

But when Travis Reed and Brian Farrell finally get off that bus, the last thing they're going to hear from their fathers is "1975." Whatever does get said or heard will be drowned out by wordless emotions. It will be another kind of storybook ending, and all four men will forever hold it dear.

Mark Winegardner is the author of "The Godfather's Revenge" and a creative writing professor at Florida State.

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