Monday, September 14, 2009

If You Knew Rutgers Like I Know Rutgers

A week ago, Labor Day -- and I apologize for not having gotten to it sooner -- I was at Rutgers Stadium, newly expanded to 52,454 seats with a new student section in the south end zone, in a desperate attempt to sound like an English soccer team's "end," for their season opener.

Have you ever rooted for a football team that appeared to have a legitimate hope for a league championship, and then saw that hope disintegrate in the first half of the first game?

At 4:00 PM on September 7, 2009, Rutgers took the field against the University of Cincinnati , defending Big East Conference Champions. The former horseshoe, now a full bowl, on the banks of the old Raritan was full, and we were thinking this 1st game of the season might decide the Big East title.

The only thing that this game decided was that Rutgers' football team stinks.

By 5:15, it was 38-7 Cincy, and the Scarlet Knights walked off the field for halftime, and got booed off the field by 52,000 people. They got booed off the field at the half. And they deserved it.

The final was 47-15, and, having seen the whole debacle, I can tell you it wasn't that close.

Yes, Cincinnati has a very good team. (They have since beaten Southeast Missouri State 70-3.) But at this point in Rutgers' development, the opposing team being good should no longer be an excuse for a huge loss.

I've seen them lose to Donovan McNabb's Syracuse 52-3, Michael Vick's Virginia Tech 70-14, and West Virginia 80-7 (with no eventual Philadelphia Eagles quarterbacking them). But that was when we expected to get slaughtered.

In the Schiano Era, we expect to be able to play with anybody, and have beaten teams ranked Number 2 and Number 3 in the nation: South Florida was Number 2 when we shocked them at home in 2007, Louisville Number 3 when we beat them at home in 2006.

Rutgers should no longer be intimidated by anyone. Considering how much talent we were supposed to have this season, the opener against Cincinnati stands as the worst loss in Rutgers history. It would have had to be kicked up a notch just to be considered a disgrace.

Schiano wouldn't reveal his starting quarterback until just before game time. It turned out to be Dominic Natale. "Natale" is an Italian referring to "birth," but it usually stands in for "Christmas." Maybe we should start calling him the Grinch. He was horrible. He looked lost. How many times did he turn to the sideline to ask Schiano, "Duh, Coach, I forgot da play already, what was it?"

Backup Jabu Lovelace was even worse. No, not Linda Lovelace, that was "Deep Throat." Jabu was no deep threat -- or even a Jobu, if you remember the baseball movie Major League.

With no pressure on him at all, true freshman Tom Savage was put in for the 2nd half, and he was fine. So Schiano started him in the season's 2nd game, this past Saturday, against Howard University of Washington, D.C. They are known as "the Black Harvard," and their band is sensational. Their football team? Not so much: They were 1-10 last season.

In the Home News Tribune, the daily newspaper of Middlesex County, New Jersey, where Rutgers is located, Stephen Edelson wrote:

Tom Savage. Fred Savage. "Macho Man" Randy Savage. Or Dom Natale for that matter. Any of the aforementioned could have started at quarterback Saturday and achieved similar results against Howard University, available on a day when New Brunswick High School had a previous commitment.

In the same paper, Jerry Carino slapped the Bison as well:

If Howard sticks around an extra day it might get a more fair matchup against Piscataway High School.

This is a joke, right? The defending North Jersey Section 2 Group IV Champions -- for the umpteenth time in the last 20 years? Take it from someone whose alma mater hasn't beaten the Chiefs of Piss-cataway since October 1990, when Operation Desert Shield was underway, and the Cincinnati Reds were shocking the Oakland Athletics with that skinny Mark McGwire: Those streaky Chief runners and receivers would have run Howard ragged, and those big-ass linemen would have pounded them into submission. Or did Carino not notice there were 3 Piscataway kids on the RU roster?

Carino also said:

Nothing like an expanded stadium that's half-empty in week two. Hope none of Rutgers' "fans" hurt themselves piling off the bandwagon after Labor Day.

There were 43,722 tickets sold, including mine and my father's. Carino estimated that there were 25,000 people in The House That Coke Built. (With Coke's contract having run out, and Pepsi products thankfully now being sold there, I can no longer call the 1994 edition of Rutgers Stadium "Coca-Cola Memorial Stadium.")

So RU moves on to this coming Saturday's game against Florida International.

Not Florida. Not Florida State. Not Florida A&M. Not even Florida Atlantic. Florida International. Also known as "Who?" Their mascot looks suspiciously like Roger Daltrey. (Just a joke. I don't even know what their mascot looks like, or what their teams are called, nor do I care.) (UPDATE: The Panthers.) Or, as Carino said, "It's back to the cream-puff buffet for Rutgers."

Shows what Carino knows. "Creampuff" is one unhyphenated word!

The following Saturday, Rutgers plays a real opponent again. Having dispatched a weak team in the D.C. area, they go down there to play its best team, the University of Maryland, Ralph Friedgen's tough Terrapins at Byrd Stadium in College Park.

The Terps beat RU in Piscataway last year, and they're a real tough bunch of bastards in their own yard, so unless Tom Savage can turn into Tom Brady (cheating or otherwise) real fast, it could be a long day inside the Capital Beltway for the Scarlet Knights.

But does it matter? A 5th straight season of going to a bowl game would be nice -- and those of us who've suffered with RU for decades would have given a tooth or two to have it happen much earlier -- but Home News Tribune writer Keith Sargeant had it right when he said that nothing less than the Big East Championship and a BCS bowl bid would suffice this season.

What Schiano said in 2006 has never been more true: "It's Time." We've seen good, now we want to see great.

And they blew it. My reaction against Cincinnati was positively colinfirthian, with a different version of "football," and a different time of the season, but a reaction very much like Colin Firth's after he sees Arsenal blow a late-season game against Derby County at home, not costing them the League Title as it turned out, in Fever Pitch.

My reaction was, "It doesn't matter what they do the rest of the way. They've blown it. On the first weekend of the season. Useless bastards!"

Unbelievable: The Mets were eliminated from contention for the National League Playoffs yesterday, September 13, but, for all intents and purposes, Rutgers was eliminated from title contention 6 days earlier. How the hell did the Mets -- the injury-plagued, incompetence-riddled, still shellshocked from back-to-back years of September collapses and last-day chokes 2009 Mets -- still manage to play games that counted, for however little, after Rutgers did?

I know, I know, RU could still win the rest of their Big East games, and Cincinnati could falter, and RU would then be Big East Champions.

Well, if you knew Rutgers like I know Rutgers, you'd know how likely that sounds. It reminds me of an old Peanuts cartoon. Charles Schulz had Charlie Brown say something like (I forget his exact words), "I think I'll go over there, and sit next to that little red-haired girl. I think I'll tell her how much I like her. I think I'll tell her that I'd like her to be my girlfriend." I absolutely remember the exact wording of the 4th and final panel of that strip: "I think I'll flap my arms and fly to the Moon."

Being a Rutgers fan is... You ever hear the expression "More fun than a barrel full of monkeys"? Tell me something, have you ever smelled a barrel full of monkeys?

Come to think of it, considering the performances of the players Schiano put on the field against Cincinnati, a barrel full of monkeys might have made the score closer!

Anything going on with the Yankees? (Yes, and I'll discuss it in my next post. Hopefully, later today.)

No comments: