Washington fans still remember Philadelphia players taunting as quarterbacks Jeff Rutledge (starting for the injured Mark Rypien) and Stan Humphries and six other Redskins were sidelined by vicious Eagles hits during the infamous “Body Bag” game 22 years ago this month.
But if Joe Gibbs and Co. – who avenged that defeat with an upset victory in the playoff opener that got Eagles blowhard coach Buddy Ryan (Rex and Rob’s father) fired – had a body bag game in 1990, Maryland and coach Randy Edsall just finished a body bag season.
All those fantasy football owners moaning about injuries to Rob Gronkowski, LeSean McCoy and Ben Roethlisberger should take a moment to ponder the devastation the Terps endured in 2012.
The incredible wave of injuries began in two-a-days when C.J. Brown, Maryland’s unquestioned No. 1 quarterback in the wake of Danny O’Brien’s transfer to Wisconsin, tore an ACL. That made true freshman Perry Hills the starter.
After some expected early growing pains, Hills led the Terps to consecutive victories over ACC rivals Wake Forest and Virginia that moved Maryland to 4-2 overall and 2-0 in the conference. Less than a year after a 2-10 season in Edsall’s debut that prompted a slew of transfers, the young Terps were atop the ACC’s Atlantic Division and thinking bowl bid.
But on Oct. 20 against N.C. State, Hills tore an ACL, backup Devin Burns suffered a season-ending foot injury and Maryland lost 20-18 when kicker Brad Craddock missed a last-second 33-yard field goal.
Freshman Caleb Rowe finished the State game at quarterback, but he tore an ACL during the following week’s 20-17 last-minute defeat at Boston College. The Terps, who had also lost receivers Kerry Boykins and Marcus Leak, defensive lineman Andre Monroe and punter/kicker Nick Ferrara to season-ending injuries along the way, tried to carry on with converted linebacker Shawn Petty taking the snaps, but Rowe’s loss was at least one too many at quarterback.
Maryland lost its next three games to Georgia Tech and the nationally-ranked duo of Clemson and Florida State by a combined 119-37 while losing top tackler Demetrius Hartsfield (knee) and leading rusher Wes Brown (shoulder) for the year against the Yellow Jackets.
“[Coach] said nobody in the history of football has ever gone through what we went through this year injury-wise and probably nobody ever will [again],” senior defensive lineman A.J. Francis said.
That might have been some Edsall-provided hyperbole, but when the Terps took the field this past Saturday in Chapel Hill, the cold and windy weather matched the downturn in their fortunes.
Their offense featured six freshmen: Petty; receivers Stefon Diggs and Nigel King; tailback Brandon Ross; left tackle Mike Madaras and center Evan Mulrooney. Two other starters on that side of the ball, fullback Tyler Cierski and right guard De’Onte Arnett were only in their second seasons on the varsity.
The defense, which was still ranked 15th despite the recent torrent of point surrendered, wasn’t as amazingly inexperienced, but included freshman safety Anthony Nixon and four sophomores: nose tackle Darius Kligo; inside linebackers Cole Farrand and L.A Goree; and cornerback Jeremiah Johnson.
“I told the players when it was 14-0 [North Carolina] after less than three minutes], people watching this game said, ‘Maryland’s done. They’ll quit. What have they got left to play for?’ Edsall said. “But that’s not who we are.”
Indeed, despite a lineup that was more than half freshmen and sophomores and a depressing string of five straight defeats, the Terps battled back against the Tar Heels (8-4) before falling 45-38 to conclude a 4-8 season.
And yet, Maryland can look ahead with hope. Good Counsel High graduate Diggs (54 catches, 1,896 all-purpose yards, eight touchdowns) is the likely ACC Rookie of the Year. He and his fellow underclassmen gained plenty of experience this season, much of it unexpected. C.J. Brown, Wes Brown, Burns, Hills, Leak, Monroe and Rowe should all be back in time for two-a-days in August. The Terps will have their three leading rushers, top two receivers and 12 starters from 2012.
“These guys are going to be good next year,” Francis said. “I know that for a fact.”
A fact? No, but the truth is that, barring a similar rash of injuries, Maryland should be a contender in the ACC in 2013 before the move to the much more formidable Big Ten the following year.
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last two Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since last March. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin