The Sweet Shell of Success: Maryland Football’s Authentic Terrapin Tribute

Best helmet ever. (Courtesy Greg Fiume, Maryland Athletics)

The University of Maryland’s football team—the Terrapins—is popularly known for three things: hosting the Queen of England at her first American game (they beat North Carolina), winning a couple of national championships in the 1950s and integrating the predominantly southern Atlantic Coast Conference in 1963.

This week, the Terps introduced new uniforms that may well end up being item number four. They are, setting aside any pretense of objectivity, awesome. Take a look at the Flash photo gallery of the unveiling shindig.

One of Maryland’s new helmets pays direct visual homage to an iconic brackish water reptile—its pattern is meant to mimic the ringed shelltop arrangement that gives the diamondback terrapin its name.

While terrapins have been abundant (by one name or another) at Byrd Stadium for nearly 120 years, the non-helmeted variety has sometimes struggled to maintain a foothold in the Chesapeake Bay and elsewhere in its traditional East- and Gulf-Coast home range, rebounding from over-harvesting by turtle-soup-hungry Americans in the 1700s and 1800s only to contend with destruction of coastal marsh habitat, boat and automobile traffic, nuisance crab traps and other obstacles (not to mention climate change) in recent years. In 2002, the University of Maryland began to donate a portion of proceeds from the sale of its popular “Fear the Turtle” merchandise to fund terrapin research and conservation efforts at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

A diamondback terrapin, 'protecting this house' in the traditional fashion (flickr | ben.wurst)

I love the idea of an animal-focused football jersey (and not the usual pugnacious and/or cheerful animal wearing a sweater). The only other college team I can think of (believe me, I spent some time) whose uniform features this kind of semi-authentic wildlife body ornamentation is the Oregon Ducks, whose myriad wacky uniforms sometimes feature stylized shoulder wings.

Can anyone come up with other examples? Comment below. (Or: tell me why the new Terps getup is not the greatest wildlife-themed sports uniform of all time. I dare ya).