There are many of you fellow Rutgers basketball fans probably too young to remember the days where we actually had a competitive team playing in Piscataway. I was asked to share some my wonderful experiences when a win was not a ‘luxury', but an expectation, and it was harder to get a ticket for a game than a spot at "The Ledge" for a Bruce Springsteen show.
Obviously, there are many who go back even further than myself, but as an incoming freshman who grew up in North Jersey, you can imagine my world was centered on pro sports. I just came off 1969 and 1973 – probably the greatest single sports years. As a sixth grader in 1969, I watched the Jets, Mets and Knicks pull off great victories.
In 1973, it was the Knicks and the "You Gotta Believe" Mets of Tug McGraw (God rest his soul). Far from my world was the great 1966-67 Rutgers hoops team of Bob Lloyd and some Italian guard named Jim Valvano (God rest his soul), who went on to play Southern Illinois in the NIT – losing to some unknown kid named Walt "Clyde" Frazier.
|Former Rutgers star Bob Lloyd|
So here we are that winter of 75-76, first year away from home; there were pubs in the Student Centers as the drinking age was 18, a great start to the season, including the official pasting of Bentley College (100-60), wins against Purdue and Georgia Tech.
I remember studying in my dorm, there was a power outage over at Cook. With candle at my desk and the radio tuned to WRSU, listening to the RU-Pitt game (also, no contest 102-71 against Pitt!!), I was becoming a diehard. Wins were expected, not dreamed of. The team was in the Top 5. We were trying to catch the likes of Indiana, Michigan and UCLA.
I remember there were Rutgers bumper stickers everywhere that read "Rutgers Basketball," or my favorite, "Rutgers Rampage". Today, I would pay top dollar for the latter one. They used to be on the back of the campus buses. After the season, the infamous "Run, Rutgers, Run" LP record highlighted the season. Can you believe that, our own documentary?
On a scary note, the "Mugrat" was so convincing during the spring of 1976, that walking in to Nielson Dining Hall on the Douglass Campus and reading the headline, "Rutgers Basketball Academic Violations" literally shocked us! Our hearts skipped a beat on that one. As freshman, we had no idea what the "Mugrat" was!! Whenever I see it, I think of spring of 1976.
I remember the nail-biters against St. Bonaventure (in those days a power with the likes of Bob Lanier of the Detroit Pistons) and Princeton in the NCAA tournament, where the Tigers missed a free throw. All in all, it was a great season, culminating in two tough losses in the Final Four.
Look at the banner next time you are in the RAC with the Liberty Bell. Look at the team picture with James Bailey, Steve Hefele, Eddie Jordan, Abdel Anderson and Hollis Copeland. The support players like Mark Conlin, Jeff Kleinbaum and Stan Nance. Rutgers basketball was it. Rutgers basketball was everything in my life.
The Scarlet Knights were the darlings of college basketball in 1975-76. This 18-year-old professional sports nut found something new (aside from Cook College ice hockey team, which I played for) – college basketball at the school I love!
And do not forget the building blocks to some of the great names – Sellers, Dabney, Copeland, etc. were recruited by a one-time assistant coach – some unknown dude named Richard "Dick" Vitale. Back then he had his own "Diaper Dandies". That was it, the next three years, aside from Meteorology and ice hockey, was Rutgers Basketball!
We were one of the powers of the East. I remember getting the "Eastern Basketball" magazines with accolades galore, standing with the Syracuse Orangemen, St. John's Redmen, Holy Cross Crusaders, Providence Friars, etc. A Seton Hall game was a "yawner".
During my sophomore year, it was a good season. A disappointing loss to NIT runner-up St. Bonaventure at Jadwin Gym was followed by a great junior and senior year.
There was a tremendous run in the NIT my junior year, including a Bailey buzzer-beater against Larry Bird and the Indiana State Sycamores, before falling at the Garden to eventual champion Texas. Indiana State went on to go undefeated the following year, losing to eventual champion Michigan State with someone named Earvin "Magic" Johnson.
|Fans strom the court at the Barn|
After the Indiana State win, I remember him and his friends hoisting me sideways in the air, six rows back in Section 114. You couldn't hear yourself in there. There were lines galore waiting for your hoops tickets – in those days, we would line up at the Cook Admin Building basement. You would think it was Cameron Indoor or Gampel Pavilion.
The mega tournaments that they have now – Maui, Alaska, Paradise Jam, etc. were a twinkle in someone's eye. THE tournament was the ECAC Holiday Festival. It was my senior year in 1979, and we were off a bit slow. Heading to the Garden we had heard St. John's coach Lou Carnesecca refer to us on the radio as, "The Sleeping Giant.''
The tourney was Rutgers, Duke, Ohio State and St. John's. Duke was the top ranked team. I had court side seats behind the basket. Rutgers faced the Johnnies (for the second time that season) and won again. Duke was upset by the Clark Kellogg-led Buckeyes. I remember Mike Gminski flying off the court almost hitting us.
What took place the next night was unbelievable – winning the championship in triple overtime. Aside from the Larry Bird game, it was one of the greatest games I had ever seen in my life!
Rutgers basketball was an integral part of college basketball at the ‘Mecca'. But "three was not a charm,'' we fell to the Johnnies at the NCAA regional in North Carolina, where Penn took the crown. Can you imagine that, a regional final in Tobacco Road with no ACC team? Penn had upset the Tar Heels.
All in all, my college years at Rutgers were filled with memories of tremendous crowds, games at the Barn for two years, paint chips falling off the roof due to the noise, the opening of the RAC against Seton Hall, loud games against Syracuse where we had the entire crowd rooting for us and not the Orange, tournaments every year, above .500 records, never a loss at home – it was unheard of.
It was a "Rutgers Rampage". It was, at one time, a basketball power, feared by many, respected by many, and booed by few.
Coming Soon - Part II – Rutgers Basketball – My Post College Years