ATLANTA – At first glance, Peel Bradley had no idea what the big red billboard emblazoned in white with the words “Welcome to Garyland” meant.
“Yeah, man, I just noticed it when you pointed it out,” said Bradley, an Atlanta resident wearing a neon green vest with “Atlanta Community Worker” written on the back.
Then, upon closer inspection, he noticed the turtle head next to the cryptic text on the billboard erected next to Centennial Park and it began to dawn on him.
“Oh, that’s that point guard from Maryland,” he said.
Good guess. Not quite. His name is Steve Blake.
“Oh, so his name is Steve Gary Blake?” he asked.
Buzzzzzzzz. Time’s up.
Actually, Gary is the first name of the University of Maryland’s men’s basketball team’s head coach, Gary Williams.
“That’s cool,” Bradley said. “But I think they should have showed more of that terrapin dude. They only have his head popping up.”
Bradley’s was typical of the quizzical reaction from natives here to the two pro-Maryland billboards erected last week in honor of Coach Williams and the basketball team’s advance to the Final Four and Monday’s championship game. The signs were sponsored by the university’s athletic department. The department could not be reached to discuss the billboards or their cost.
But friends and foes got the message.
“I saw Garyland and thought, `What on Earth is Garyland?'” said Gordon Lord, a lawyer from Goshen, Ind., and diehard Indiana University fan. “Then I figured out it had something to do with the team.”
For fans of the University of Kansas Jayhawks, the sign had an extra bite. Favored KU lost to Maryland in the Final Four game Saturday night, allowing the Terrapins to play for the national title.
“It’s right by the Holiday Inn sign,” said Brad Williams, who’s from Wichita and is a “big time” KU fan.
“Right underneath the Holiday Inn is Garyland,” he said, trying to get in a little dig about the limited confines of Williams’ new home turf.
For the many Maryland fans who made the trek here to support the team, it’s a mark of Terrapin pride.
“Gary Williams is an integral part of the team,” said Brian Grund, a Maryland sophomore taking a stroll through Centennial Park with a couple friends Monday morning. “I think he deserves all the credit.”
Since Saturday night’s win against the favored University of Kansas, Atlanta has been Terrapin Country.
“This is Garyland to us,” Grund said.
He and his friends first spotted one of the two Garyland billboards Sunday while driving down from College Park.
“There’s another one down there and we beeped when we saw it,” Grund said, pointing toward Interstate 85. “It’s good to see Maryland signs.”
Lurania Russell and Valerie Mount, both Maryland fans from Baltimore who were also going for a walk in Centennial Park, concurred.
“We had to take a picture,” Mount said when they first laid eyes on the billboard Sunday. “I think it’s great publicity for the school. I don’t see any other teams that bought any billboards.”
And maybe they should have, said Lord, whose Hoosiers also advanced to the championship to face Maryland for the national title.
“I’m not offended (by the billboard). I think it’s fun. I kind of wish Indiana had one.”