What's the deal with ... Towson University?

September, 28, 2012
9/28/12
5:33
PM ET
The Towson University Tigers mascotDavid Dermer/Diamond Images/Getty ImagesThis isn't the LSU Tiger. This Tiger lives in the jungles of Towson, Md. Can the Bayou Bengals survive?
We know about the big boys. But what about the little guys? Throughout the 2012 college football season, Playbook Fandom will take a look at some of the less recognizable schools you might see on scoreboards and TV screens.

No. 3 LSU just offed -- albeit barely -- a group of Tigers from Auburn, Ala.

Next up: More Tigers, but this time Tigers who stay in the shadows most weeks, choosing to prowl the Football Championship Subdivision's Colonial Athletic Association.

Those would be the Towson Tigers. So what's the deal with these cats whose school is named for the Baltimore-area city in which it lives? Playbook examines:

• Towson originally wasn't Towson. Or even in Towson. It started in 1866 as a teachers college in downtown Baltimore, but moved in 1915 and changed names in 1935. It later became a full university, called Towson State, then dropped the "state" in 1997 after joining the University of Maryland system (of which, at 20,000 students, it's the second-largest school behind that place in College Park).

• Towson sports weren't always Division I. Or even Division II. The offshoot: When the Tigers reached the 2011 postseason, they became the first program to make the football playoffs in all three NCAA divisions (they moved up to I-AA in 1987, after spending the previous 18 years in either of the other two divisions).

• That last bid -- the Division I one -- was pretty unlikely; coach Rob Ambrose, just the fourth coach in program history, went 1-10 in his second season at his alma mater, then turned his Tigers into a winner last year. They went 9-3 and won the Colonial Athletic Association. They're now 2-1 and ranked 13th nationally in the FCS. Their loss this season came against the FBS' Kent State.

• Football is on the upswing, but it has a way to go to match Towson's competitive dance team. When the latter won the National Dance Alliance collegiate national championship in April, that made it 14 in a row for TU.

• Let's not forget gymnastics and men's lacrosse. Those sports won Towson's two varsity national titles, in 1969 and 1974, respectively, and reached the final in 1990 (gymnastics) and 1991 (lacrosse).

[+] EnlargeUnitas
Malcolm Emmons/US PresswireOne of the greatest QBs ever cuts a decent-sized figure at Towson.
• Why do football players (and other athletes) play home games at Johnny Unitas Stadium? Because three of Unitas' kids attended the school, and the Hall of Fame quarterback also served as community liaison for the athletic department before dying unexpectedly in 2002 (it was renamed in 2003, thanks in part to his wife, Sandy, also a key fundraiser for Towson athletics).

• Our own DJ Gallo -- himself a Towson graduate -- wrote a bit about the basketball team's recent 41-game losing streak (and the end to that streak). Also, the team had a nice stretch in the early 1990s, reaching back-to-back NCAA tournaments.

• Notable sports alumni include Atlanta Braves president John Schuerholz (for whom the baseball park is named); San Antonio Spurs guard fixture Gary Neal; ageless former NFL punter Sean Landeta; longtime New Orleans Saints starting left tackle Jermon Bushrod; and soon-to-be interim Saints coach Joe Vitt.

• Notable nonsports students/alumni comprise actors and entertainers galore, including veterans John Glover ("Smallville" and numerous films -- also the first graduate of Towson's theater program), Charles S. Dutton (the head groundskeeper, Fortune, in "Rudy") and Dwight Schultz ("The A-Team"); Mike Rowe (the "Dirty Jobs" guy); Amy Schumer (comedian and frequent roaster); Stacy Keibler (the ex-WWE diva); and Elmo himself, Kevin Clash.
Patrick Dorsey is a Los Angeles-based writer and editor for ESPN.com. He has worked for the Web and newspapers. He also played in one Division-III golf tournament (he shot 105).

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