When I arrived on the Banks in the fall of 2002 I didn't think to apply to Rutgers for the experience of College Football Saturday. I was looking to get a great education at a well respected institution. As part of orientation the freshmen were treated to their first Rutgers football game as they hosted Villanova. Upon entering the stadium I thought it was well kept and soon I found out why. I was informed that Rutgers was the worst I-A football team in the country and proved it by losing to Villanova 37-19. Sparsely filled at best, the stadium felt like a piece of art that was there to be looked at but never touched. Most of the game I and my new dorm mates passed the time getting to know other freshmen in attendance.
I proceeded to attend every home game for my school and enjoy the college experience of my freshman year. There was one game though that ignited a deep seeded belief that this program could be headed in the right direction. #1 Miami came to Piscataway looking to prove that Rutgers didn't belong at the D-IA level. But their old defensive coordinator had other plans. Sparked by true freshman Ryan Hart's bomb down the field that set up a score, the #1 team in the land was in for a fight. I and about 200 students in attendance were in a state of shock as we drew to the close of the third quarter. All we could talk about was how we were going to bring down the goal posts with so few people and parade it across route 18 and down College Avenue. But it was not to be as the Scarlet Knight defense ran out of gas and lost 42-17. But the seeds had been planted and a Scarlet Knight fan was born.
Jumping to the 2006 season the student culture has come a long way since that paltry band of students fantasized about a reason to rush the field. The 2005 season was the year of field rushing as the Scarlet Knights entered their first bowl since 1976. But the changes were taking on new levels as the incoming freshmen were becoming aware of the great times being had at Rutgers Stadium. Now students were getting used to rushing the field, chanting, throwing students in the air after a score, and leveling a raucous wall of noise when the Scarlet Knights were on defense.
All the dormitory windows displayed a red Rutgers Block-R for all students to show their pride for Rutgers football. The free t-shirts that are given out every season to students were being worn proudly to classes during the week as the students came to "bleed scarlet." One of the most popular items was the new jersey that featured the #23 of Rutgers' hero Brian Leonard. These little things led to a change in student's perception of the football program. It had gone from being something students would cringe when asked about to being down right proud to display their scarlet pride. Rutgers had attained that level of college football that every school hopes for: being able to take pride in their program.
"I love the games. I really enjoy how rowdy it gets in the student section and the school spirit is great," said Bob Burton, a Rutgers College senior. "My girlfriend, who goes to Montclair St., was calling me to come down for the UConn game because she wanted to go back and gloat to her friends about being at the Rutgers game."
Wait! His girlfriend is going to gloat about having been to a Rutgers football game? Clearly the pride for Rutgers football has begun to permeate the entire state of New Jersey.
"Oh man, it was crazy! We were up all night partying and then we realized where we were," said Joe Anello, a Cook College senior. "We were outside at the stadium parking lot to get tickets for the Louisville game. When I came here as a freshman it was a toss up to see if you would bother to go to the game at all. It's such a different campus then it was a few years ago. My friends now are asking me if I want to come over and party with them to watch the Rutgers game when it's an away game. It's crazy!"
Crazy is exactly what this campus became when the Knights toppled the #3 Cardinals in a dramatic come-from-behind victory. Students spilling out of their dorms into the quad and dancing around as the final second ticked off. There was a huge party on College Ave. to greet those select 10,500 students came walking back from the stadium and the press was there to catch the emotion.
But the press wasn't there when the Scarlet Knights lost their last game to West Virginia in triple overtime. They weren't there to see the large number of students come sliding out of their houses and dorms as they left the game parties. As I walked towards the bus-stop I could hear the other students talking about the game.
"We were so close! Man, didn't it look like Rice got mugged?" "Dude, he totally was. I can't believe the refs didn't call it," was the reply.
This was just a taste of what I was hearing among the conversations around the Student Center as people waited for busses. But it wasn't just what they were saying; it was what they had on their mind. They had football on the brain and Rutgers football at that.
The program is on the up and so is the support. The sleeping giant is rising from his slumber and everyone can point to Greg Schiano and say, "that's the man. That guy built this program."