RU hoops: Remember the Good Times, Part II

Times are tough for Rutgers' basketball team, even with the Scarlet Knights taking a two-game winning streak into Saturday's 4 p.m. tip-off at Louisville. With so many folks longing for better days, went to one of the biggest fans on boards to provide a recollection of long-lost good times . You know him as RuMan79, and this is his second of a two-part feature on the better days.

With the basketball programs going through the doldrums, we enlisted RuMan79 to share from memories from when Rutgers used to be a power in the East.

That is what he did in last week's Part I.Scarlet Walk

Now, here is the second part of his essay on Rutgers basketball.

When It Used to Be a ‘Good' Game – A Retrospect of My Memories of the Golden Years of Rutgers Basketball – Part II

Rutgers Basketball From Afar

So thus end the best four year run of Rutgers Basketball that I could remember. There may have been others, record-wise, but nothing like the notoriety of the past four.

Between the years of 1980 and 1981, I spent my time at SUNY-Albany working on my Masters Degree, commuting back and forth to spend weekends with my future wife. I did drive over to the Dome to see RU play Syracuse, and their pesky runner, Joe Morris. It was one of the closer losses – but still a loss that the ‘Cuse fans refuse to admit regarding their dominance over us.

However, I remember several interesting events. In 1979-80 my roommate at Rutgers spent a semester at Florida State for his Masters Degree. He had enough and wanted to transfer back to Rutgers to finish his degree. I was home for the break from graduate school and decided to drive down with him to help pack and leave. So we drove down to Tallahassee.

In the car with us was, at the time, an unknown fellow meteorologist by the name of Bill Keneely. Perhaps you see him now and for years on the Weather Channel. He is from Wayne, NJ. We're driving home and I keep telling my buddy, "We need to get home; Rutgers is playing tonight and need to make the game".

After 20-some hours in the car, and a quick stop at my fiancé's house in South Plainfield, it was off to the RAC to catch the last 5 minutes of a win – screaming the entire 5 minutes. Teams were decent, but not deadly. We were in Atlantic 10, instead of the Big East. We were all pretty unhappy.

A Renaissance Reconnecting Rutgers

I finally graduated in 1981 and got a job in North Jersey. After a wedding in October, we lived in Edison. It was a convenient location to my job, my in-laws, shopping, but most important, within reach of the RAC and WRSU by radio after the games. This would define my best moments of the 1980's when it comes to Rutgers basketball.

We purchased our season tickets. We were perfectly placed in Section 114 in the second to last row near the aisle. We could see (athletic director) Fred Gruninger sitting across the floor in the padded seats – last row on the aisle. There were still great games during this time. There were full crowds against Villanova, Temple, Pittsburgh, West Virginia and Syracuse.

I used to drive home from games and call up "Knightline". They knew who I was by name. I even was interviewed on WRSU during warm-ups of some of the big games. I would come down from my seat in Section 114 right to the floor when they were warming up. We cheered for players such as Roy Hinson, Clarence Tillman, Darrell Strickland, Tom Brown, Rick Dadika, Kevin Black and my favorite, Rodney Duncan, the pride of Germantown Academy!!! There were so many others.

If I could only find the pictures we took before games with Rodney – he was a real clown – but fellow old timers can remember he was a fan favorite of the late 70's! It was still somewhat of a glorious time.

There were road trips as well, like a trip to Hawaii, combined with the Aloha Classic with John Battle. Here I was, superstitious as usual. The night of the game on Oahu, there I am, temperatures in the 80's, humidity, etc.; wearing my Scarlet and Black sweatshirt.

Some trips were good while others were not. I remember one time when my wife and I made the trip to Pittsburgh to an Eastern-8 tournament at the fabled "Igloo". The first game was St. Bonaventure and West Virginia. The Pitt crowd and us Rutgers fans we were all united, cheering for the Bonnies.

Then comes the Pitt-RU game, and they turned so adversary we had to be separated. We lost the game and believe we were NIT bound. I developed a tremendous hate for Pitt from that point, along with the beatings from Dan Marino, Curvin Richardson and others.

A co-worker of mine who was a big Penn State football fan would lend me his button for every RU-Pitt basketball games, the infamous "(Expletive) on Pitt" button with that old script they had on their football helmets; you can imagine what the first word was! There was a trip to the University of Connecticut (UConn) on a cold evening – playing in an old gym. We figured it was an easy win. Upstart UConn with Cornelius "Corny" Thompson upset us, as did on another evening trip to State College (Penn State).

We travelled everywhere! Our last good fortune came in 1982-83. I remember listening to the Eastern-8 finals in a car at my sister-in-law's house in Manahawkin. We won the game and made our last trip to the NCAA's until the final year of the decade.

The Dark Days – "Littlepagean" In Stature

Unfortunately, what transpired was a spiraling downward trend to Rutgers Basketball. Sitting on the beach at Long Beach Island on a beautiful summer day, someone showed me the Star Ledger article stating that Tom Young was leaving to go to Old Dominion. I was devastated. Just like when the New York Rangers traded Jean Ratelle and Brad Park for Phil Esposito in the late 70's!

We all know who came in to coach the Scarlet. The coach that launched the career of super center Ralph Sampson of Virginia – Craig Littlepage, was coming to the Banks. Heck, if he could coach and develop Sampson, can you imagine what he would do here!? Well, we all know what happened the next several years. Terrible records, lack of proper coaching and no enthusiasm. What happened?

Our once proud and powerful program was not only losing in the Eastern-8 and Atlantic-10 but miles behind the likes of those programs we competed with for years – Pitt, ‘Nova, St. Johns and Syracuse. The combination of terrible play and moving to my present house and kids forced me to surrender my tickets. The Littlepage era was going down as one of the darkest times for the program.

While this game may have been earlier, I remember one game where we were playing future Los Angeles Lakers Norm Nixon and his Duquesne Dukes. We are at our own end, inbounding the ball. We throw it full court over the head of our player. Duquesne gets the ball under our basket, scores and wins – embarrassing.

We stood there with our jaws dropped. It felt like the New York Mets of the 1970's. There was no end in sight. Finally, Littlepage left and in comes this coach from Jacksonville University.

Better Coaching – Better Results ?!?

Our own native son Bob Wenzel returns to coach the team. We felt it was a great move. Bob had just recovered from some medical issues and had tremendous enthusiasm. At least we felt it was a start.

Excitement returned. ESPN had us on several times. The RAC was a death pit for visitors. The crowds were back. The A10 title game was unreal (against Penn State with Frank Brickowski). Watching this game on ESPN made us proud to be associated with Rutgers Hoops. Unfortunately, I was neck deep with both my kids playing travel soccer and did not attend many games. I was relegated to listening to a ‘scratchy' radio signal, which we lost heading south around Toms River.

Remember, the internet was in its infantile stage. The final NCAA appearance against Arizona State was played on an afternoon where I had no TV or radio; simply phone calls with score updates. I remember sitting in my office listening to the unhappy ending.

A Glimmer of Hope For the Future?

Since then, I have followed Rutgers Basketball from the radio, TV, the occasional game at the RAC and eventually the internet. My daughter was playing travel soccer for a team in Parsippany (recall I live in Ocean County); one of the country's best teams, travelling from Virginia to Boston on weekends along with trips to West Orange and Parsippany two to three times during the week.

I am sure everyone goes through their own family activities, taking us away from the "passion of Rutgers sports". Now that my daughter was off to the UConn for soccer, the track was laid for a return to that "passion.''

Unfortunately, with coaches performing naked sprints and free throws (Kevin Bannon) and mediocre talent in a competitive Big East, we continued to watch and listen on WOR from afar. It was a shame about Bannon. A true success story at Division III Trenton State (now the College of New Jersey). He had Jersey roots, and one would figure it was a great fit!

Kent State's Gary Waters brought promise with good coaching and some good wins in the Big East – we finally got in and assumed we would take off! Unfortunately, we still didn't get the stud recruits. Maybe Waters did not connect with the NYC/NJ players. Maybe we didn't have the funding.

I did attend several games on a random basis, including a Seton Hall game several years ago. I bought tickets on-line through the ticket office. I was relegated to the "300 seats". I felt lost; looking down at my old seats depressed me – recalling the better times. The only comfort was a last minute basket and win against the rival Pirates.

As I sit in Section 117 with my season tickets at Rutgers Stadium (hoping to add to my priority points) on some of those passionate afternoons and evenings, I can only hope that someday, Rutgers basketball can return to that passion that we fans all have known to love.

Now all we need to do is turn the RAC into that imposing "death pit" for visitors. The facility needs to be upgraded – a separate practice facility similar to other major schools in the conference. There needs to be more "TLC" for this "ugly step-child". It's time to have the students in full view along the sides on Sections 112, 114 and 116 – bobbing up and down – like every other mainstay program – a true "Rutgers Rampage"!

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