Saturday, August 29, 2009


Rutgers University has been in existence since 1766 and has a had a football team since 1869. It became "The State University of New Jersey" in 1945, but when it comes to athletics, Rutgers was never thought of as "New Jersey's team." Rutgers Athletics, for the majority of the 20th century, was like the uncle who comes over for Christmas dinner, has one too many eggnogs, and ends up passed out under the tree without his clothes. You didn't totally disown him, but you weren't proud to call him uncle either.

The previous century saw spirited debate amongst New Jersey college football fans with regards to who was truly New Jersey's team - Notre Dame or Penn State? When it came to college basketball, there was no debate. Syracuse was New Jersey's team, save for 1989, when a feisty little Italian man from South Orange took his three seed to the national championship game with back to back upsets of UNLV in the West Regional Final and Duke in the the Final Four, before losing a one point heartbreaker to Michigan in the championship.

A lot has changed since then, however. Kids born in the Garden State today don't have to root for Notre Dame, or Penn State. This is the first generation of New Jerseyans that will never have to walk in to Rutgers Stadium with a paper bag on its collective head. Kids across the state are wearing Rutgers gear. Rutgers posters are hung up in the high school football locker rooms across the state. The Edison High School football has has even adopted Eric Foster's locker room chant from 2006. For the first time in the history of Rutgers football, people are actually predicting the Knights to take home the Big East crown and earn its first BCS berth. Expectations are higher than they were in 2007 (thanks in part to a favorable schedule), or ever for that matter. The New Jersey faithful are proud to call Rutgers "our team." How did this happen?

Let's look at the milestones this program has realized in recent years that have brought us to this point:

April 15, 1998 - Bob Mulcahy hired as Director of Athletics. While this act alone did not turn the tide in favor of the Knights, make no mistake - Rutgers would still be in the cellar of the Big East if it were not for Mulcahy. He replaced long time Athletics Director Fred Grunninger, who was in over his head. While its true that Grunniger is a great man whom deserves nothing but respect, the fact of the matter is, a chia pet would have been a better AD. The former golf coach had great intentions, but did not have what it takes. The personnel that Mulcahy brought in, as well as much needed upgrades to some of the poorest facilities in the nation were the springboard to the success we are seeing now.

December 1, 2000 - Hiring of Greg Schiano. This would be the personnel referred to in the previous paragraph. The recruiting success that Schiano has achieved is unprecedented in Rutgers history. He is to Rutgers football what bread is to butter. St. Gregory of Piscataway certainly has his own cult following, but it wasn't always that way.

2001 Football Season - The Knights won their first game under Schiano at Buffalo. They finished 2-9 (the only other win over Navy) and were trashed by Big East defectors Virginia Tech and Miami by a combined score of 111-0. That was capped off by an 80-7 loss vs. West Virginia. "Same old Rutgers" was the cry heard 'round state. The grass hadn't even begun to grow under Schiano's feet and the the rumblings had begun.

2002 Football Season - Schiano's second campaign was worse than his first. The team finished 1-11 with its lone win vs. Army. This year didn't win over any fans.

2003 Football Season - The 5-7 campaign (with wins over Buffalo, Army, Navy, Temple and Syracuse) included the first two Big East wins under Schiano. It also marked the first time Schiano beat a team that was not called "Buffalo", "Army", "Navy", or "Temple." The tide was turning. People started to believe but it wasn't enough to erase more than 130 years of losing.

2004 Football Season - A win against Michigan State in the season opener could have been the thing that really got this program back on track, but the Knights followed it up with a loss the next week against FCS opponent (nee I-AA) New Hampshire. The faithful were ready to run Schiano out of town on a rail. The Knights started off 4-2 (with wins against Kent State, Vandernilt and Temple) but ended up dropping the last five to finish 4-7. One note here is that after the Homecoming game against Temple, an intoxicated driver, going the wrong way on route 18, hit a car that was occupied by defensive backs Manny Collins, Eddie Grime & Dondre Asberry. Who knows what could have been if those three had been around for second half of the season. Collins was the only one that retunred to football, and Asberry still cannot walk.

2005 Football Season - Rutgers finished 7-5 and made the second bowl appearance in school history (the first since 1978). This was the year that truly turned things around, but there was one specific moment that can be defined the turning point in Rutgers football history -

November 26, 2005 - Rutgers 44 - Cincinnati 9. The Bearcats beat the Knights 26-24 in 1992 crushing their bowl hopes that year. Coming into this game, Rutgers amassed victories over Buffalo, Vilanova, Pitt, Syracuse, Connecticut and Navy. They needed a win over Cincinatito virtually guarantee a bowl berth. The Knights rushed for 337 yards (led by freshman Ray Rice) and senior quarterback Ryan Hart threw for another 237. A loss in this game meant a 6-6 season and possibly no bowl appearance. This game solidified the 2005 season and in turn provided a foundation for the program. Since then, these two teams have had some pretty meaningful games. The Bearcats stunned the Knights in 2006 and dashed their hopes of a national title. The next two meetings were also won by Cincinnati by a combined 8 points.

The Bearcats and Scarlet Knights go head to head on Labor Day in what could decide the Big East Championship. Both teams are trying to take their program to the next level, and anything can happen in this game. The only thing we know for sure is that this day wouldn't be possible if it weren't November 26, 2005.


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