In 1981, the Terrapins got no respect. As one reporter from the Washington Post put it, the football team was “so dull, you look up dull in the dictionary and there’s their team picture…the only pass they’ve thrown in three years, the girl slapped the quarterback.” Despite traveling to seven bowl games and having eight winning seasons in the previous nine years under Coach Jerry Claiborne, the Terps never received the same respect as other football powerhouses in the country.
Though Maryland basketball fared better than their fellow Terps on the gridiron, they still had to compete with Georgetown and Navy home games and a wide variety of other entertainment options in Washington, D.C., and Baltimore for ticket sales. The athletic department especially felt like they were missing out on potential fans in the Baltimore area. “There are almost 86,000 alumni members in the area that we’ve turned our backs on,” said one athletic department official.
The solution to Maryland’s ticket booth woes? Hiring the one person with even less respect than the Terps: comedian Rodney Dangerfield. Dangerfield, known for playing the obnoxious golfer Al Czervik in Caddyshack, was at the height of his career in the early 1980s, and the Athletic Department paid handsomely for Dangerfield’s fame, shelling out close to $40,000 for the star to film two commercials with Claiborne and basketball coach Lefty Driesell.
On July 14, 1981, Dangerfield arrived on campus and first made a visit to Claiborne in Byrd Stadium. Claiborne, a better coach than he was an actor, reportedly could only remember the lines to old Coke commercials he had done in the past, responding to Dangerfield’s pleas for respect with “Why don’t you have a Coke? I think I’ll have one myself…” After a few takes, the 30-second commercial was finally finished. Unfortunately, we can’t find any copies of the original commercial, but the Washington Post accounts of the filming include a brief transcript:
Dangerfield: “Hey Jerry, you and your guys, you get respect all over. How do you do it, eh? Because I don’t get any respect at all. My twin brother, he forgot my birthday.”
Claiborne, hefting a football: “Well Rodney, we get respect with seven bowls in eight seasons, national rankings, er…”
Dangerfield: “Jerry, move it along, will ya? I hope your guys run faster than you talk.”
Claiborne, plowing ahead : “And it’s a super season we got started.”
Dangerfield, to the camera: “Well, show some respect, Call today for your Terrapin football season tickets. (Tugging at his tie now.) Hey, Jerry, how about some free passes.”
Straight Arrow Jerry: “Nooo way.”
Next, Dangerfield made his way over to Cole Field House, where he was met by Driesell, who was ready to match wits with the comic. Changing out of the suit he wore at Byrd Stadium, Dangerfield arrived in over-sized gym shorts and a red Maryland basketball T-shirt, with a big red tie around his neck. Though the Athletic Department wrote the script for both performers, in the commercial, Dangerfield and Driesell added their own lines to make for a much funnier commercial. Again here’s the account from the Washington Post:
Driesell: “We’re sold out of season tickets. But we got tickets to St. Peter’s, LIU, Ohio U., George Mason…”
Dangerfield: “Hey, don’t you ever stop for a comma? Hey, by the way, you need a new center. How about using me in the team?”
Driesell: “Sure. Have these back by game time.”
Driesell throws a bunch of towels at Dangerfield.
Dangerfield: “Very funny. And where do you get those haircuts with the hole in the middle?”
Commercial ends with Driesell stomping off camera.
According to a Diamondback reporter on the scene, when Dangerfield made his haircut joke, Driesell and the rest of the crowd watching laughed so hard that it ruined a few commercial takes!
Whether Dangerfield’s antics at Byrd Stadium and Cole Field House actually gained the Terps some respect and a boost in ticket sales is a little uncertain. That fall, when Terps football had its first losing season in ten years, attendance at home dropped at home by about 90,000 fans. 1981 would also be Claiborne’s last year for the Terps, as he departed to coach for Kentucky at the end of the season. Basketball didn’t fare much better that year either. After a 16-13 record (down from the previous season’s record of 21-10), total attendance was down in Cole Field House by close to 40,000 fans.
To see a copy of the Diamondback’s July 16, 1981 article on Dangerfield’s visit, click here:
To see a list of attendance records at Byrd Stadium, click here:
To see a digitized copy of the 1981-1982 Men’s Basketball Media Guide, click here:
Do you know where a copy of Dangerfield’s commercials with Jerry Claiborne or Lefty Driesell are? Let us know!