Thursday, September 4, 2014

How to Go to a Rutgers Football Game -- 2014 Edition

Last Thursday night, the football team at Rutgers University opened the 2014 season, playing Washington State University at... whatever the Seattle Seahawks' stadium is named this season.

Thankfully, "Wazzu" -- which is based in Pullman, all the way across the State from Seattle, so this wasn't really a "home game" for them -- isn't as good, even proportionally, as the defending Super Bowl Champion Seahawks. The game was a thriller, and Rutgers won it, 41-38.

This Saturday, at 12:00 noon, RU plays its first home game of the season, against Howard University of Washington, D.C. The Scarlet Knights usually play their first home game against a team from the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, all "historically black colleges" in the Middle Atlantic States plus Virginia. Those schools get a big check, their fans get a trip to the New York market, Rutgers gets an easy win (most of those games have been of the 42-3 and the 52-14 variety), and Rutgers fans get to see what those schools' bands can do.

(The first time they played such a game, I went with my father, who was always involved with music. He went for the bands as much as for the game. When halftime came, and he saw a historically black school's marching band for the first time, he was thrilled. When the Rutgers band came on after them, the home fans booed them, knowing full well they couldn't meet the same standard.)

So here's my how-to guide for Rutgers, the closest Division I-A (or whatever they call college football's top division these days) team to New York City. The next-closest team, Army, is 52 miles away. Next-closest is the University of Connecticut, based in Storrs but playing in East Hartford, 114 miles away. Syracuse? It may be in the State of New York, but Times Square and the Carrier Dome are 252 miles apart -- Penn State and the University of Maryland are actually closer. Columbia in Manhattan, Fordham in The Bronx, Wagner on Staten Island; Hofstra (which no longer plays football), Stony Brook on Long Island; Princeton and Monmouth in New Jersey; and Sacred Heart in Connecticut are all fairly close, but all are Division I-AA (again, I don't want look up the new name for it).

College football hasn't been as big in New Jersey as the NFL since the Giants got good in the 1950s, and when Joe Namath made the Jets matter in 1968, that was pretty much it for Rutgers and Princeton, then both "small college." In the 1970s, Rutgers made a commitment to play what they called "big-time football," and Princeton wanted to stay in the Ivy League. Rutgers went big and, for the most part, has spectacularly failed; Princeton stayed at their level, and has, more often than not, done very well.

According to a map based on Facebook "Likes," showing each County in the country, the New York Giants are the leading NFL team in the New Jersey Counties of Sussex, Passaic, Bergen, Warren, Morris, Essex, Hudson, Hunterdon, Somerset, Union, Middlesex, Monmouth and Ocean -- all of North Jersey, and all of Central Jersey except Mercer. The Philadelphia Eagles were tops in the Counties of Mercer, Burlington, Camden, Gloucester, Salem, Cumberland, Atlantic and Cape May -- all of South Jersey except for Ocean, plus Mercer.

In fact, until 2013, the New York Jets had just one County in the entire New York Tri-State Area where they had more fans than the Giants: Nassau County, Long Island, long the home of their team offices and training camp, Weeb Ewbank Hall on the campus of Hofstra University, across from the Nassau Coliseum. Now, even Nassau is listed as majority Giants territory. I guess Sports Illustrated had it right in 1986, when the Giants were on their way to their 1st Super Bowl win and the Jets were also Playoff-bound: "In the Big Apple, the Jets are always second banana."

However, that same map puts the lie to former coach Greg Schiano's claims about "the State of Rutgers" including New York City, Long Island, Philadelphia, Delaware, and even some of Florida. Big chunks of Bergen, Passaic and Sussex Counties prefer Penn State to Rutgers. Some parts of Bergen even have Notre Dame ahead. And the Southern half of the State, the part that tilts toward Philadelphia, and even towns near the Delaware River in the Counties of Warren, Hunterdon and Mercer, prefer Penn State. The bastards.

Before You Go. Rutgers Stadium -- I refuse to use its corporate name, because selling naming rights to a stadium is never a high point and it offers no solutions -- is 40 miles from Midtown Manhattan, so the weather will be just about the same. The weather is predicted to be hot: 90 degrees at game time, with thunderstorms possible later.

Tickets. Since Rutgers got good in 2005, tickets have been hard to come by, even with the recent expansion of the stadium. As of this writing, only the game against arch-rival Penn State is completely sold out. But don't expect to get great seats if you order now. That said, there isn't really a bad seat in the stadium.

Lower level (sections starting with 100) sideline seats go for $75, corner and end zone sections for $45. Upper level (sections starting with 200) middle seats go for $75, while on the ends (the upper deck only goes along the sidelines) are $60.

Getting There. As I said, Rutgers Stadium is almost exactly 40 miles from Times Square. However, do not take that for granted. Traffic getting out of New York City may be favorable to you on a Saturday morning, especially after Labor Day, but the last couple of miles before you reach the stadium will be bad. Best to go early, and, if you enjoy tailgating, you can do that. If you don't enjoy tailgating, your best bet is probably to forget the car and take public transportation.

It's important to note that "Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey" is vast, including campuses (campii?) in Newark and Camden. The main campus straddles the Raritan River in Middlesex County. The College Avenue Campus (the original part of the school), the Cook Campus (the agricultural and environmental studies section) and the Douglass Campus (originally the New Jersey College for Women) are in New Brunswick. The Livingston Campus (including the arena) and the Busch Campus (including the stadium) are across the river in Piscataway.

New Jersey Transit runs rail service from Penn Station to New Brunswick, once an hour on Saturday mornings. The 9:14 Northeast Corridor train arrives in New Brunswick at 10:11, and the next one (10:14 to 11:11) will also get you there before kickoff. Round-trip fare is $26.

Coach USA (formerly Suburban Transit) runs buses from Port Authority to New Brunswick every hour on the hour, and it takes 50 minutes, dropping you off at the New Brunswick train station. A round-trip fare is $20.10. That's right, when they raised the fare from $19.50, they couldn't make it $20 even, they had to make you fork over that extra dime.

From the station, there will be special Campus Buses to shuttle you to the stadium. These will be free. Although it's only 3 miles, depending on the traffic, this could take anywhere from 5 to 45 minutes. You have been warned. At least, if you're wearing opposing-team colors, the RU fans will not harass you. They may be Giant, Jet, or (yikes) Eagle fans on Sunday, but on Saturday it's a whole other animal. They will leave you alone, or even try to be polite to you. (Unless you're wearing Penn State gear. In which case, stay away entirely.)

If you're driving from New York City, get onto the New Jersey Turnpike. Whether that means the Lincoln Tunnel, the Holland Tunnel, or the Belt Parkway followed by the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge followed by the Staten Island Expressway followed by the Goethals Bridge, all roads to Rutgers lead to the Turnpike. Take it to Exit 9, and take Route 18 North toward New Brunswick. The signs will lead you over the John Lynch Memorial Bridge (a Mayor of New Brunswick had it built and named after his namesake and predecessor). Once you're over the bridge, take the exit saying Campus Road/Rutgers Stadium/Busch Campus. (The sign was not changed when the stadium's name was.) Then turn left on Sutphen Road. The stadium will be on your left; to your right, an indoor practice facility known as The Bubble (for a reason that will be obvious when you see it). At which point, follow the instructions of the Campus Police. If you do it right, you should hit a wall of traffic within 45 minutes of leaving The City.

Once In the City. New Brunswick is named for an English town, whose name was taken from the German city of Braunschweig in Lower Saxony, taken from "Bruno's wik." A wik was a marketplace and a rest stop for travelers in medieval Germany. Bruno, Brun, or Braun -- the English name Brown and the German name von Braun come from him -- was Duke of Saxony and is a Catholic saint. He is said to have founded Braunschweig in AD 861.

The New Jersey city is considerably newer, although old by American standards: Formerly Prigmore's Swamp and Inian's Ferry, the first European settlement there was in 1681. The name was changed 300 years ago, in 1714, in honor of the German-born new King of England, George I, who was also Elector of Hanover and Duke of Brunswick-Luneburg. His son, Prince Ernest Augustus, was the Duke of York and Albany, and the main intersection of the city is George & Albany Streets, named for the King and his son. This is not, however, a "centerpoint": For east-west streets, addresses start at the Raritan River and increase westward; for north-south streets, they start on the south side of town and increase northward, so that the main intersection includes not 1 North George Street and 1 West Albany Street, but 410 George Street and 120 Albany Street.

A "King's Highway" was built in colonial times, and this is the forerunner of today's New Jersey Route 27, including part of Somerset Street, all of French Street, all of Albany Street, and the Albany Street Bridge over the river into neighboring Highland Park. The city was occupied by the British during the War of the American Revolution. While there is no Washington Street in town, and George Street is named for an earlier King (not George III), there is a Hamilton Street, named for Alexander Hamilton. The University's administration building, a.k.a. Old Queens, is built on a hill on that street, overlooking the river, where Hamilton observed British troop movements.

The seat of Middlesex County, New Brunswick is home to about 55,000 people. Long a haven for immigrants from Ireland and Eastern Europe (especially Hungary), the growth of the American middle class made possible the development of nearby towns like Franklin (named for Ben, not his colonial governor son William who accepted the school's charter), Piscataway, Edison, North Brunswick (which is actually south of New Brunswick), East Brunswick (ditto) and South Brunswick (and again, ditto, although in that case it made sense). But that white flight from New Brunswick left poor blacks moving in, and the Hub City (so named because it was a major transportation center) became stricken with ghettos. Many children of those black citizens overcame this, and moved into the neighboring towns. Their places were taken by Mexican immigrants, their community settled, ironically, on French Street. (French was almost certainly somebody's name, rather than the nationality of the original settlers on it.)

Today, New Brunswick's 3 main communities -- academic, legal (as I said, it's a County Seat) and immigrant -- combine to make it a very vibrant city. There's always construction going on, including downtown. The Barnes & Noble that forms the new campus bookstore is on the ground floor of the 2012-constructed tallest building in Central Jersey, the 24-story, 299-foot The Vue. It is connected by a walkway to the outbound platform (for trains running from New York and Newark toward Trenton and Philadelphia) of the train station.

The station is the hub for both New Jersey Transit buses to neighboring towns (fares: 1 zone, $1.50; 2 zones, $2.35; 3 zones, $2.90) and Campus Buses (free). The main newspaper is the Home News Tribune, created in 1995 as a result of a merger between the New Brunswick-based Home News and the Woodbridge-based News-Tribune. Sales tax in the State of New Jersey is 7 percent, and it does not rise in the County of Middlesex or the City of New Brunswick.

Once On Campus. The school was originally named Queens College, and George III gave its royal charter in 1766, the 8th of 9 American colleges founded before independence. It was chartered by the Dutch Reformed Church. For this reason, the college green has a statue of William I, Prince of Orange, a.k.a. William the Silent, ancestor of the current Dutch royal family and the hero of Dutch independence (which Spain, through an assassination, did not allow him to see). Supposedly, if a senior still a virgin walks past his statue, "Willie the Silent" will be silent no more, and whistle. No one has ever reported having heard this whistle.

In 1825, the year Old Queens was completed, the school had run out of money and had to close -- at the time, they thought it might be permanent. Enter Colonel Henry Rutgers, a member of the Dutch Reformed Church. A graduate of what became Columbia University, Rutgers was a lifelong bachelor with no children, legitimate or otherwise (it has been retroactively suggested by activist groups that he was gay), and made considerable donations in his time. Knowing of New Brunswick's role in slowing the British down, making the Continental Army's retreat, regrouping in Pennsylvania, and subsequent victories at Trenton and Princeton possible, he donated $5,000, and a bell for the cupola at Old Queens. In gratitude, and in hopes that Rutgers would leave them something more in his will, the regents renamed the school Rutgers College. The Colonel left them nothing, but the name stuck, and the school's marching band still plays a song titled "The Colonel Rutgers March."

Rutgers became New Jersey's only land-grant college under the Morrill Act of 1862 (which created land-grant colleges), and, following the consolidation with Cook and Douglass, the State University in 1956. The University of Newark was incorporated into the RU system in 1945, and the College of South Jersey was in 1950. Douglass College was added in 1955. Cook College has always been a part of the Queens/Rutgers system. The main part of the campus, along College Avenue in New Brunswick, is still officially "Rutgers College." The Livingston and Busch campuses were added in 1969.

While the Queens name has never been restored, the administration building is still known as Old Queens, and some university flags still bear the script form of the letter Q. Some bear a script R. Both are flanked by the numbers 17 and 66, for the school's founding year. No one has ever seriously suggested changing the name to "the University of New Jersey" or "New Jersey State University" (or even "Jersey State"). It might have been better if they had: What's a better chant? "UNJ! UNJ! UNJ!" or "R... U... R... U... "

Going In. As I said, free Campus Buses will take you from the train station to the stadium. The official address is 1 Scarlet Knight Way. If you're driving, parking information is available here at ScarletKnights.com.

A statue depicting an early football player, honoring Rutgers as "The Birthplace of College Football," is at the stadium's north gate. There are also west, east and south gates.

The original Rutgers Stadium opened in 1938, built by Franklin Roosevelt's Works Project Association, at a low cost since it was built into a natural bowl and didn't require as much digging as one built on level ground. It had a West Stand, an East Stand, and a North Stand, all single-decked, all concrete with wooden benches, no actual seats. Seating capacity was 23,000. On each side of the North Stand, between the other stands, were grass areas -- I don't want to use the term "grassy knoll," but they did get called that. When these areas got filled in, capacity rose to over 30,000. In 1969, a Centennial Game was played against Princeton, and ABC offered to televise it. So, for the first TV game in Rutgers history, a few spare bleacher seats were added, and 31,219 was the paid attendance, the highest in the stadium's history. (Here's a shot of the old stadium, late in its history, after the Hale Center was built on the East Stand.)


According to a Home News article in 1988, on its 50th Anniversary, it was designed to last 50 years. Right on schedule, but this point, it was beginning to fall apart. Plus, at just 23,000 "seats," it was too small for what Rutgers, in the 1970s, began calling "big-time football." So when Giants Stadium opened in 1976, Rutgers began dividing their home schedule: 3 games "On the Banks of the Old Raritan," 3 games at the Meadowlands. A 1985 game against Penn State, a 17-10 loss, was the largest home attendance Rutgers has ever had, over 61,000. (Despite the opening of MetLife Stadium at the Meadowlands in 2010, Rutgers has only played 1 game there, and got only 42,000 fans.)

So negotiations were undertaken with the State government, and in 1992,after a Halloween thriller with Virginia Tech, when a touchdown on the final play gave Rutgers a 51-49 win, and a 13-9 win over West Virginia, the old stadium was closed and demolished.

Playing their home games at Giants Stadium in 1993, Rutgers opened the new Rutgers Stadium on September 3, 1994 -- 20 years ago at this writing -- beating Kent State, 28-6. It had a horseshoe shape, open at the south end, maintaining a nice view of the riverfront and New Brunswick. The lower deck was rounded at the corners, but otherwise perfectly straight, and an upper deck was added along the sidelines. Also, for the first time, Rutgers Stadium had permanent lights. Capacity was now 41,500 -- still the smallest in the recently-formed Big East Football Conference. The Hale Center, with team offices, training facilities, a huge new locker room, and press facilities (the old press box was a dinky little thing on the West Stand, not much bigger than a high school stadium's press box), opened on the East Stand. (Here's a shot of that configuration, complete with the trees at the South end.)
Finally, in 2009, a new south end was built, as the new student section, and it gets as rowdy as the ends at English soccer grounds. This cut off the nice view, but it also turned the horseshoe into a fully-enclosed bowl, and increased capacity to 52,454 -- now that Rutgers is in the Big Ten, only Northwestern has a smaller stadium. (Indiana's is larger by a few hundred.) It's unlikely that there will be further expansion, unless they want to put a second deck on the North Stand.

The playing surface has been FieldTurf since 2004, after having been natural grass since the original stadium's opening in 1938.

Four matches of the U.S. soccer team have been played on the site, 3 before the 1994 reconstruction, 1 after it, a 1995 draw with Colombia.

Food. Don't expect anything fancy. It's pretty much the standard stadium fare, although the hot dogs are good. (Not great, just good.) The concession stands are plentiful, and are manned by local high school booster clubs' officials, eager to continue their partnership with The State University, so they're going to be friendly.

One interesting item is available on the West Stand, near the entry gate. For $5.00, you can get a fried turkey leg, as if you're Charles Laughton playing the old Tudor monarch in The Private Life of Henry VIII. Adjacent to this cart are stands for Premio Italian sausages.

Team History Displays. I mentioned that Rutgers had played at MetLife Stadium, on October 19, 2010. This was a 23-20 victory over Army. It was also the game which defensive tackle Eric LeGrand broke his neck making a hit on a kickoff return. While he still can't walk he has recovered to the point where he led the team onto the field in his motorized wheelchair in a snow-strewn game the next season, he got his degree, and became an analyst on RU broadcasts and a motivational speaker.

In 2013, he became the first Rutgers football player to get his number retired, Number 52. That number is now shown on the wall of the North Stand. When his coach, Greg Schiano, left RU to take the head job with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2012, he signed LeGrand to a contract, to make him an official NFL player, though, obviously, he never got into a game. In a corresponding display of equal class, LeGrand subsequently "retired" to open a roster spot for a deserving player.

Also on the North Stand are displays of the official logos from Rutgers' bowl appearances: The 1978 Garden State Bowl at the Meadowlands (a loss to Arizona State), the 2005 Insight Bowl in Phoenix (also a loss to Arizona State), the 2006 Texas Bowl in Houston (beating Kansas State), the 2007-08 International Bowl in Toronto (beating Ball State), the 2008 PapaJohns.com Bowl in Birmingham (beating North Carolina State), the 2009 St. Petersburg Bowl (beating Central Florida), the 2012 Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando (losing to Virginia Tech), and the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium in 2011 (beating Iowa State) and 2013 (losing to Notre Dame).

The Garden State Bowl was, essentially, made up by Rutgers, and was played at Giants Stadium. It was a running joke that schools that had entered Division I-A recently had gone to "a real bowl game," and Rutgers, "The Birthplace of College Football," hadn't. (Or had had to make a bowl game up, at home, and still lost it.) They didn't go to a real one until 2005, in Phoenix (and, oddly, again lost to Arizona State, although, this time, Arizona State was playing just a few miles from their Tempe campus). As you might guess, the Pinstripe Bowl is played at the new Yankee Stadium. However, Rutgers has never played in any of the traditional New Year's Day bowl games: No Rose, no Orange, no Cotton, no Sugar, no Fiesta, nor any of the 2nd-tier bowls that sometimes get played on or around January 1, such as the Sun, the Gator, or the Peach.

They had near-misses in 2006, when they lost to West Virginia University on a late play, denying them the Big East Conference Championship and a berth in a Bowl Championship Series game; and in 2012 when they lost back-to-back Big East games, resulting in a 4-way tie for the title, but the University of Louisville (the 2nd of the 2, and an absolutely disgraceful choke) got the Big East BCS berth. Still, a title is a title, and a notation is on the North Stand, near the bowl mentions.

In the middle of the lower deck on the East Stand, there are a number of displays relating to Rutgers football history, including the original dedication plaque from the old stadium, and tributes to famous Rutgers wins, coaches and officials. There's also a plaque with the inductees into a hall of fame for high school football coaches and officials in New Jersey.

As I mentioned, a statue is outside the North Gate, on a strip of sidewalk called Scarlet Walk, honoring "the first college football game," in 1869. Rutgers still has "The Birthplace of College Football" displayed behind the North Stand end zone, and on top of the big scoreboard at the South Stand.

There is no mention at the stadium for the 3 games the U.S. national soccer team played at the old Rutgers Stadium in the early 1990s, the highest attendance having been 12,063, not even half-filling the place. That shows you just how far the U.S. team has come: Now, it can come close to selling out the 82,000-seat Meadowlands.

Stuff. There's no official Team Store, but souvenir stands are all over the place. There's no funny hats, such as a big foam Knight helmet. They do, however, have the gimmick of a foam red sword. Season highlight DVDs are available at a stand on the East Stand.

The campus bookstore, the aforementioned Barnes & Noble, is at 100 Somerset Street, at the foot of College Avenue next to the train station. It sells all kinds of RU gear, from T-shirts and sweatshirts to caps. (And, yes, textbooks. Very, very expensive textbooks.) Across the street, at 109 Somerset, Scarlet Fever sells RU gear as well.

The stadium concession stands don't sell any books about the team, or the school. In 2007, Michael Pellowski published Rutgers Football: A Tradition In Scarlet, running from the debut in 1869 up to the team's recent revival and Big East near-miss. LeGrand wrote Believe: My Faith and the Tackle That Changed My Life. (When selling merchandise saying "BELIEVE" to raise money for LeGrand's chosen charities, the EL, his initials, are black, while the other letters are red.)

William C. Dowling, a professor of English at RU, lamenting the increased emphasis on sports (especially football), has publicly ripped the school (that provides him with a job), having written letters to the Home News Tribune and the State's largest newspaper, the Newark-based Star-Ledger, and a book detailing "the other side of the story": Confessions of a Spoilsport: My Life and Hard Times Fighting Sports Corruption at an Old Eastern University.

During the Game. Safety will not be an issue. Regardless of what professional sports teams they root for -- and RU takes fans from New York-aligned North and Central Jersey and from Philly-oriented South Jersey -- the school is strict on making fans abide by a family-friendly code of behavior. Alcohol is not served in the stadium, and that's a good thing, given how students (most of them under age 21) get at football games. However, if you are staying overnight (unlikely if you're coming from New York City), or even if you want to stay late before taking a bus or train back into Manhattan, I would exercise caution on Easton Avenue, New Brunswick's main bar drag.

Despite having a large and good (but not great) marching band, RU usually has a live singer perform the National Anthem. The Anthem is followed by the Rutgers Glee Club singing the Alma Mater:

On the banks of the old Raritan, my friends
where old Rutgers evermore shall stand
For has she not stood
since the time of the Flood
on the banks of the old Raritan.

When public address announcer Joe Nolan -- also the traffic reporter on WABC-Channel 7's Eyewitness News -- says, "And that is another Rutgers... first down!" the band plays a fanfare, and the fans chant, "First down, touchdown, go RU!" And each score -- touchdown, field goal, even a safety -- is followed by the fight song, which is followed by the official school cheer:

RU, rah rah!
RU, rah rah!
Boo rah, boo rah, Rutgers rah!
Upstream, red team!

Red team, upstream!
Rah, rah, Rutgers, rah!

I didn't say the cheer was intellectually stimulating. Then again, Rutgers has pretensions to being a "public Ivy," and some of the actual Ivy League schools have even sillier cheers. (Seriously, Yale? "Boola boola"?)

Each score, including extra points, is followed by men in Revolutionary War garb (all wool, so it must be really uncomfortable in hot weather) standing behind the corner of the northwest end zone, loading and firing a cannon that is contemporary to that period. (Don't worry, there's no actual cannonball or other such projectile in there. It's loud and smoky, but as long as you're not standing right in front of it, you're safe.)

There are 2 Scarlet Knight mascots. One is a guy in a traditional cloth suit with a big foam head. The other is a man in an actual scarlet-red suit of armor, complete with sword, riding a horse (white or gray, never dark) around the field. It is best to stay away from him, for this is a very dangerous creature, one that may knock you over, or step on you, or bite you, or kick you, or piss on you, or crap on you. The horse is a bit better-trained. (Old joke.)

After the Game. Win or lose, the band comes onto the field after the game and, once more, plays "On the Banks of the Old Raritan." It usually plays a few more songs before filing out. It's best to stick around for this: Not only are they usually very good musicians, but it gives you a chance to beat the immediate post-game exodus, making it easier for you to find your car (or your shuttle bus back to the train station) and leave the premises.

If you don't mind people doing the same, often to excess, Easton Avenue, extending northward from Albany Street and the train station, is the place to be for a postgame meal, or just a pint. From Brother Jimmy's BBQ right next to the station, to such New Brunswick institutions as the Corner Tavern, the Golden Rail, and the Olde Queens Tavern, this is where the Rutgers community (assuming they're at least 21 years old -- or think they can fool someone with a fake ID) goes to drink.

A particular favorite of mine is Stuff Yer Face, at 49 Easton at Condict Street, purveyors of strombolis. (Or is the plural form "stromboli," like the plural of that Italian pastry has no S, "cannoli"?) Their slogan is, "Enjoy a boli and a beer!" And boy, do they have a lot of variety of beers. It's one of those places that likes to brag, "We were here before you were born." It opened on October 22, 1977, shortly after the Yankees won the World Series with Reggie Jackson hitting those home runs, so it's not true for me, but it is true for any Rutgers student who graduated after the 20th Century.

Just 3 doors up, at 55 Easton, is Thomas Sweet, creator of "blended ice cream" and an equal New Brunswick institution. They also have 2 outlets in Princeton, catering to that other Central Jersey academic center. They've even opened one in Washington, D.C. -- catering to Jersey Boys and Jersey Girls studying there, or working for the federal government, maybe?

Sidelights. One of the great things about being in New Brunswick (I lived there for 2 years and have lived nearby most of my life) is that you're less than an hour from New York and less than 2 hours from Philadelphia, making their attractions easy to reach. But there are a few local things that might interest you.

* College Avenue Gym and site of First College Football Game. Next-door to the Rutgers Student Center, and across from Brower Commons, is the classic home of Rutgers Athletics. Built in 1931 after the previous gym burned down, "The Barn" seats only 3,000 people, and proved to be totally inadequate during the greatest season in the history of Rutgers basketball: 1975-76, when the Scarlet Knights won their 1st 31 games en route to the NCAA Final Four, finally losing to Indiana and then the 3rd place game to UCLA at the Spectrum in Philadelphia. A friend of mine who was a senior that year confirms that the noise inside the Barn was so intense, it made paint chips fall from the ceiling. This necessitated the building of a new structure for RU basketball. The Barn is, however, still used for sports like wrestling and volleyball.

Behind it is Parking Lot 30, which was built on the site of one of the most important locations in the history of North American sports. For it was here, at what was then called College Field, that what is generally recognized as the first American football game was played, between Rutgers College and the College of New Jersey (which became Princeton University), on November 6, 1869.

This was, essentially, a soccer game played by teams of 25 men each. The Rutgers men, determined to distinguish themselves from their opponents and thus make it easier for them to play, grabbed scarlet cloth -- a cheap color to obtain at the time -- and wrapped it around their heads like turbans, thus inventing school colors and, sort of, the football helmet. Under the scoring system of the time, Rutgers won, 6-4. A rematch was played a week later at Princeton, and the men of Old Nassau got their revenge on the men of Old Queens, 8-0.

Oddly enough, Rutgers continued to play Princeton, the schools just 18 miles apart, but never beat them again until the dedication game for the first Rutgers Stadium in 1938. There was one surviving Rutgers player left, 69 years later, and the last surviving Princeton player died that very morning.

Rutgers continued to play at College Field until 1891, before moving across the street. 130 College Avenue at Senior Street.

* Alexander Library and site of Neilson Field. The main campus library is typical of the banal American architecture of the 1950s. Not so typical is a brick wall behind it on George Street, where a plaque can still be made out, saying, "NIELSON FIELD." The library was built on the site of the facility Rutgers used for their home football games from 1892 to 1938, moving into the stadium across the river in midseason.

Nielson Field continued to be used as a practice facility until 1953, when the new library was built. It also hosted high school games, especially the Thanksgiving game between New Brunswick and South River, which was moved to the stadium and played there until it was moved off Thanksgiving in the late 1970s (but is still a big rivalry). 169 College Avenue at Richardson Street.

* Louis Brown Athletic Center. Built on the Livingston Campus in 1977, this is not a building befitting a great university. Originally known as the Rutgers Athletic Center (and still nicknamed The RAC), it was renamed in 1986 for, as was the University itself long before, a major donor.

It's a tacky chunk of concrete in the middle of nowhere. And that's on the outside. On the inside, it was designed to hold 9,000 people (hardly a big-time capacity), but the site lines up top are so bad, they don't even sell those seats anymore. Hence, an official capacity of 8,000. The building is held up by big thick concrete columns at the corners, which obstruct a lot of views. And the concession stand -- that's singular, not plural -- doesn't sell much. And, unlike Seton Hall with their 3,200-seat Walsh Gym in South Orange, they don't have the option to play home games at the 20,089-seat Meadowlands or the 18,711 (for basketball) Prudential Center in Newark.

Plans were once floated for a downtown New Brunswick arena seating 12,000, and now they're talking about expanding the RAC, perhaps to 14,000. For now, home is the building they've got, at 83 Rockafeller Road (named for Harry Rockafeller, a Rutgers coach, not "Rockefeller") at Avenue E.

* Yurcak Field. A 5-minute walk from the stadium, this 8,000-seat aluminum-bench facility is home to the RU soccer and lacrosse programs, and to Sky Blue FC of Women's Professional Soccer (WPS). 83 Fitch Road at Scarlet Knight Way.

* Memorial Stadium. Built in 1950 as the home of New Brunswick High School athletics, this facility was also used by the now-defunct St. Peter's High School. The building across the street was NBHS from 1967 until 2013, and is now New Brunswick Middle School. In 1978, the New Jersey Americans used Memorial Stadium as a home field, and, at the time, they had one of the greatest soccer players who ever lived, by then playing out the string, the Portuguese legend Eusebio.

The complex also includes a field for boys' baseball, one for girls' softball, and tennis courts, and each has been a former host for their respective Middlesex County, later Greater Middlesex Conference, championship tournament finals. The stadium has also hosted the County soccer finals. Joyce Kilmer Avenue between 9th and 12th Streets. (Formerly Codwise Avenue, the poet Joyce Kilmer was born on that street, and was killed in World War I.)

New Brunswick isn't a big museum city -- then again, it isn't a big city. Easily the most notable is the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, at 71 Hamilton Street, across from Old Queens. Adjacent, Scott Hall, at 77 College Avenue, hosts notable lectures and film festivals.

Speaking of films, there haven't been many movies filmed in or around New Brunswick. The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension was supposedly set there, but was filmed in Southern California. The 1984-90 CBS sitcom Charles In Charge was set in New Brunswick, with the Rutgers name dropped in favor of the fictional Copeland College, but was taped entirely in Hollywood.

*

Going to a Rutgers game is as close as you can come to a big-time college football experience in the New York Tri-State Area. They haven't won much -- indeed, the Scarlet Knights make the Mets look as successful as the Yankees by comparison -- and, when they lose, it tends to be either a blowout or a calamity on a Red Sox or Cubs scale. But that's made what they have won all the sweeter.

I realize that the Big Ten schools coming in will make tickets harder to come by than ever. But if you do want to go, I recommend waiting until it gets cooler. And the Big Ten teams, with their fans and their bands, will bring a bit more atmosphere than, say, Tulane.

3 comments:

Victoria Bosse said...

Are there any obstructed views from the lower rows on the sidelines? In Maryland, you have to sit approx. 10 rows up from the bottom to see over the players/have a clear view of the field. Thanks! O! H! I! O! (sorry, we're in CT, so taking advantage of new Big 10 opponents nearby!)

Uncle Mike said...

No, there's no vertical obstruction at Rutgers Stadium, either down below or up top. A lesson the designers may have learned from Shea Stadium, where there was so much of that, the last 6 rows had to be sold at a discount.

I went to the Rutgers-Maryland game in 2009, and was stuck in the upper deck. Very steep, and not good in the rain (and it rained all game long).

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