As the Buffalo game rapidly approaches, optimism abounds that this is going to be the breakout year that us RU fans have been waiting for so long. Many share this optimism and many believe that we will win anywhere between four and six games, depending on who you talk to. The old axiom that you win with defense still bears validity and this team is building depth in the trenches, has one of the most talented linebacking groups in college ball and have put together a deep and athletic secondary. As we all know they key to the offense will rest with the offensive line and the continued development of Ryan Hart. The team is developing depth and athleticism that translates into improved special teams and overcoming injuries. Running out onto the field it will no longer look like high school kids lining up against college guys and overall team speed and strength is rapidly approaching our Big East rivals. The pipeline of talent is now flowing into the program and the temporary panic of this summer when Miami and Virginia Tech left the Big East, leaving many wondering if their departure was nothing more than just a well camouflaged version of the Rutgers curse, was shattered to pieces with the verbal commitment of Mike Teel and the signing of Nate Robinson.
It is now late summer and for the first time ever, the national press is beginning to talk about Rutgers football. This is an amazing feat for a 1-11 team that has yet to play a down in 2003. The reason for this is that many sense that the corner is about to be turned. While the naysayers are still out there, people with a pulse on this program know better. And it is nothing like last summer when it was more wishful thinking than anything else. As the say, "The signs are everywhere." We are going to see things this year that some of us have not seen in many a moon. There will be that long elusive Big East win and I'm not talking Temple. It will be either Syracuse or Boston College and its not even going to be close. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 24-10. There will be no 59-0 losses and we will play both Miami and Virginia Tech tough.
What is really going to be interesting for us fans who have agonized over Rutgers football for the past 25 years, give or take a few years, is what will it be like when we routinely win and go to bowl games. One of the interesting things in life is that sometimes the pursuit of a goal is as fulfilling as the actual achievement of that goal. Now don't get me wrong, the day Rutgers wins a national championship will be one of the happiest days of my life. The point is that in many ways, the ride we are about to take is going to be as much fun as the ultimate success, i.e., major bowl win, national championship. And although we can analyze to death each opponent on the schedule and what our chances are for a victory, my gut feeling of this team is very similar to the feeling that I had prior to the start of the 1984-1985 New York Giants season.
My Dad almost literally forced me at gunpoint to be a New York Giants fan at the age of 7. This was 1961 and that year the Giants won the first of three Eastern Conference Championships. But what did I know? I was a kid and I just assumed this was the way it would always be. Little did I know. Fast forward 28 years later to 1981 and Joe Danelo kicks a field goal in overtime on the last day of the season against the Cowboys, putting the Giants in the playoffs for the first time since 1963 and I am running around outside my northern Virginia apartment screaming at any Redskin fan I can find. Of course the Giants went on that year to upset the Eagles in the first round of the playoffs and played the 49ers tough in the second round. That year was followed by a few years of disappointment until the Bill Parcells era began and the Giants started to mold their Super Bowl team in 1984 beginning with disappointing losses to the 49ers and Bears in the 1985 and 1986 playoffs. But it was during that period, and in particular, following that Bear playoff loss, that most Giant fans sensed that we were on our way. And although that Super Bowl victory over the Broncos was probably the greatest sports spectator day of my life, when I look back on it now, that period of two or three years where the foundation was being built and the struggles were being overcome----it was that period that only later did I realize how enjoyable it was to be a Giants fan as the team for the first time in decades served notice that when you played the Giants, you were in for a fight.
During the Giant's first Super Bowl year, there are two plays that to this day stick in my mind, even more so than any single play in the Super Bowl itself. The first was a game that the Giants were playing against the Vikings in the Metrodome in late November. It was the 4th quarter and the Giants had a 4th and 16. Too far to kick a field goal and if they punted, no assurance that they would get the ball back, Phil Sims threw a perfect 17 yard out to Bobby Johnson for a first down and the Giants go on to kick the winning field goal a few minutes later. The next week, on Monday Night Football, Mark Bavaro catches a seam pass across the middle and proceeds to carry three 49ers on his back for 20 yards. It was only years later that I realized that those two plays more than any others transformed the Giants from contenders to champions.
Over the next few years,
we are going to witness the success of a football program. And during that time
there are going to be a couple of plays that at the time may not seem all that
important but looking back will be the ones that will propel this program from
contenders to champions. Who will it be? When will it happen? Well, that's anybody's
guess. But the point is to embrace the process, because no one knows when or
where it is going to come from. The next few years are going to be a lot of
fun for everyone involved with the Rutgers University football program.
Enjoy the ride.
Donald "Big Dog"
Mike and the Big Dog LLC