By Kelley Benham and Tim Keefe
ANNAPOLIS – Maryland House of Delegates members voted their quorum call with red lights instead of the usual green and the Senate prayer was more about the morals of basketball than Easter season symbolism as a mild Terp fever struck the General Assembly Tuesday.
Still-groggy lawmakers mixed celebration with legislation as the University of Maryland Terrapins came home from Atlanta as national basketball champions after a Monday night victory over Indiana.
“Have all the Terps recorded their presence?” House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., D-Allegany, asked ecstatic House members at the morning session roll call.
In the front row, Delegate William H. Cole IV, D-Baltimore, a 1994 Maryland graduate, wore a black No. 3 jersey over his suit in honor of Juan Dixon, the Baltimore native named most valuable player of the NCAA Final Four.
About half the House stood and cheered wildly as three Harford County delegates held up a banner with the familiar Terrapin mantra, “Fear the Turtle!”
Across the hallway in the Senate, lawmakers bowed their heads and prayed to be infused with the virtues of the Terrapin team.
“Gracious God,” said Monsignor John Enzler of Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church in Potomac. “Give us the cohesiveness and spirit of the Terps.”
He asked for the General Assembly to be christened with the competitiveness of Juan Dixon, the ambition of Lonny Baxter, the vision of Steve Blake.
“Help us, like Coach Gary Williams, to challenge, encourage and inspire those who depend on us,” Enzler said.
With just a week left in the legislative session, lawmakers frequently endure 12-hour days and double sessions. But Monday, game day, was special.
Monday’s session lasted about an hour.
“You clearly had the legislative session scheduled around sporting events,” said lobbyist Bruce Bereano, who makes it his business to know where his lawmakers’ loyalties lie.
“Respectfully, Monday was a day when Maryland sports preceded and dominated Maryland legislative activities,” Bereano said, noting the fortuitous double-header of the Baltimore Orioles opening day baseball game and the basketball championship.
“It was a great day for Maryland,” Bereano said.
Few lawmakers actually made the championship game. Tickets were hard to come by, even for the politically powerful, several lawmakers said. And then there was the distraction of doing the people’s work.
Bereano, who hasn’t missed an ACC tournament in 15 years, turned down Final Four tickets twice because he had too much work to do.
“It was heartbreaking,” he said.
Dozens of lawmakers watched the game with friends at local hotels. Nearly 200 red-clad fans gathered at the Calvert House, said Delegate Nathaniel T. Oaks, D-Baltimore.
“Everyone had on red,” he said. “It was all Maryland.” Many of his friends woke up hung-over, he said, declining to specify whether those friends were elected officials or not.
“I put some change in my back pocket for luck, and it’s still here, see?” he said, scooping 57 cents from his hip pocket. The lucky coins were not enough to help him win the $53 pool he entered, predicting Maryland by 7. “A gentleman’s pool,” he called it. “A beer bet.”
Top Terp Thomas V. Mike Miller, D-Calvert, president of the Senate, attended both games – causing him to attend Easter services in Maryland sans socks after hopping up from Atlanta after the semi-final.
A Maryland alumnus and eternal Terp booster, Miller flew in from Atlanta at 3 a.m. and was guiding the Senate through debate on prescription drug policy and education reform by 10 a.m.
One of his primary orders of business upon his return – between restructuring the Prince George’s County school board and wrestling with the budget – will be to have Tuesday’s prayer typed and framed for Coach Williams when he comes to the State House, probably Thursday.
“That prayer was unbelievable,” said Miller, a season ticket holder since 1969.
Gov. Parris N. Glendening flew to the game accompanied only by one state trooper and was back early Tuesday morning, said his spokeswoman Michelle Byrnie.
Upon his return he proclaimed it “Terrapin Basketball NCAA Victory Week” throughout the Free State.
But like a lot of officials, he skipped the friendly wagering and goofy demonstrations that characterized previous big game days.
Bereano noted that lawmakers’ spirit seemed muted compared to the aftermath of the Raven’s Super Bowl victory.
“We are getting more mature,” he offered.
The low-key demonstrations and limited wagering might stem from an absence of competition, said Delegate Dereck Davis, D-Prince George’s. The State House Duke contingent might have been fiesty enough to create a rivalry, but they were silenced a week ago when the Blue Devils were upset by Indiana.
“Everyone here is a Terp fan, damn near,” Davis said. “And anyone who isn’t, is afraid to say so.”