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Sports fan rewarded with Maryland in Final Four

March 30, 2001

Sports fan rewarded with Maryland in Final Four



By BOB PARASILITI

bobp@herald-mail.com

CONOCOCHEAGUE - Larry Jessop's mailing address is Conococheague, but he's living in Utopia.

Jessop is a University of Maryland sports fan, and it's a great time to be a fan of Maryland's Terrapins. The Terps basketball team will play for the first time as one of the NCAA's Final Four tonight at 8 when they face Atlantic Coast Conference rival Duke in Minneapolis, Minn.

It doesn't get any better for Jessop.

"I guess it's an obsession," he said, sitting in the basement he has turned into a sporting shrine to his favorite teams - none more prominent than Maryland.

"I change my vacation for games. I'm a fan. I'm not good at anything else ... like being a carpenter," he said. "But ask me a question about Maryland and I'll know it."

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Nothing comes between Jessop and his Terps.

"My sister is getting married and I told her that it better not be during March Madness because I'll be busy," he said.

"I haven't missed attending, watching or listening to a Maryland football or basketball game since I don't know when." Jessop said. "At least since Albert King and Buck Williams played for Maryland, with the exception of the game that we couldn't get here when they were in the Alaskan Shootout."

Jessop's family members can cite many examples of his love for Maryland sports.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> "Once when he was younger, Larry couldn't get clear reception of a basketball game," Jessop's mother, Susie Jessop, said. "My husband was concerned when he couldn't find him.

"Larry had taken a ladder and climbed up on the lower roof of the house with the television and sat near the chimney to tune in the game."

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> The white Jeep Cherokee driven by Jessop's wife, Marie, has the Maryland turtle emblem with the words "Go Terps" painted on it. The family also bought a Maryland red van, complete with Terrapin Club license plates and equipped with a Maryland schedule and decals on the back, a school pennant on the side and a school flag on the antenna.

Jessop parks in a space in his driveway marked by a sign designating "parking space reserved for Maryland Coach Jessop."

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Jessop's two daughters have been outfitted with Maryland cheerleading outfits, T-shirts, hair accessories and even temporary tattoos. They dressed as Terps cheerleaders for Halloween.

Even the two family dogs have Maryland sweaters.

A Maryland mailbox at the end of the driveway has a Baltimore Ravens and a Maryland state flag. At the front door are two turtle statues. Other Maryland reminders dot the first floor of the house.

Then, as you open the basement door, it's Terrapin Tunnel. The 11 steps alternate colors - first black, then yellow, then a step covered with Maryland bumper stickers.

At the bottom of the steps are more souvenirs and memorabilia. There are Baltimore Orioles goods, featuring Cal Ripken Jr. and Eddie Murray. There are old Hagerstown Suns mementos along with the newer additions to the collection - Baltimore Ravens gear.

The television set is surrounded by more Maryland mementos.

At times Jessop's faith has been tested by his embarrassment and anger over Maryland's inability to reach the Final Four.

"I felt like Wile E. Coyote with the prize nearly in hand," he said. "The NCAAs were so close but then, like the Road Runner, they kept running away in the end."

When the Terrapins defeated Stanford last weekend to move on to the Final Four, it helped end nearly a lifetime of disappointments.

Among his greatest disappointments was the death of Len Bias in 1986, which sent the Maryland sports program into a tailspin.

"I have an autograph from Bias that I haven't looked at since then," Jessop said. "It still hurts. That's a bad period and we've been trying to climb the mountain back for so long."

Jessop is predicting the best for the Terps this weekend. A win today - provided Maryland "holds Duke point guard Jason Williams to 15 points or less" - and the team earns a trip to Monday's NCAA national championship game.

It's been a long time coming.

"This is just a relief," Jessop said. "I stayed a true fan and stuck it out with them and it's paying off.

"I can't believe they actually made it."

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