COLLEGE PARK ——Connecticut had just defeated Notre Dame in double overtime two seasons ago, but the thoughts of Huskies players were already racing past football and onto something far more profound.
It was one of the most significant victories for then-coach Randy Edsall's program. But it was also the first win since cornerback Jasper Howard was fatally stabbed during a fight on campus one month earlier.
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Byrd Stadium Complex, College Park, MD 20740, USA
But Connecticut couldn't manage a win — at least not until Andre Dixon's 4-yard touchdown run set off a celebration under the lights in South Bend, Ind.
"They had me on TV afterwards and they asked me about it, and I got emotional," said Edsall, who was hired by Maryland after last season and who will face Notre Dame on Saturday night for first time since that 2009 contest. Maryland has only played the Irish once, losing 22-0 in 2002.
"I'll never ever experience anything in my life like that," Edsall said. "When you have to get on the phone and call a parent and tell them a son that they entrusted to you — to continue the parenting — had his life taken by a senseless act of violence. There was no textbook, there was no protocol because it all happened so quick."
It was reinforced for the Huskies after Howard's death that football is just a game — and that the game had been trumped by the loss of a friend who wasn't coming back.
At the same time, the Notre Dame win offered solace. They were football players after all, and a win was the best way they knew to honor their slain teammate. And they hadn't been able to get a victory, losing by four points to West Virginia and Rutgers and by two to Cincinnati during a season in which they finished 8-5. In his last game — a win over Louisville — Howard had 11 tackles and a forced fumble.
Against Notre Dame, Connecticut trailed 14-0, later missing a 37-yard field goal that would have won the game at the end of regulation.
"I remember it all quite vividly. It had definitely been a trying time for every one of us — one of the most traumatic events any of us will ever go through," said Desi Cullen, a punter and team captain who is now a special-education teacher in Washington D.C. "The way things came together in the Notre Dame game was truly a blessing. We felt like we overcame a lot of obstacles and a lot of emotions. It was a very important event in our emotional healing."
Said Edsall: "The best therapy we could have had was to go out and get a win right there under Touchdown Jesus."
Edsall had the game ball sent to Howard's family in Miami. "It was one of those things where the weight of the world was lifted off the young men's shoulders because of the respect that everybody had for Jazz," he said.
In March, John Lomax III, 22, of Bloomfield, Conn., was sentenced to 18 years in prison for manslaughter in Howard's death.
Prior to sentencing, Edsall wrote a letter about Howard for use by prosecutors.
"John Lomax will never have the privilege of knowing Jazz because he decided to play God," the letter said.
Notes: The Terps will wear the splashy "Maryland Pride" uniforms that they debuted to mixed reviews in their season-opening win over Miami. … Edsall was a Boston College assistant on the Eagles team that beat top-ranked Notre Dame in 1993.