Since Rutgers joined the Big Ten a few years ago they have been the butt of many jokes. They are the New York team that New York doesn’t care about. They are the football and basketball program brought in to be a media market and not much more. It certainly doesn’t feel like they fit, and with Maryland winning 14 conference titles and even Johns Hopkins taking a lacrosse title the Scarlet Knights have yet to claim a Big Ten championship in any sport.
After visiting Piscataway, however, they are all in on the Big Ten.
But we’ll get to that later. Despite all the jokes, there is some definite cachet to be had with the team in the Big Ten. The stars aligned this week for me to visit Piscataway for a variety of reasons:
· I needed to knock it off my stadiums list and we aren’t going back until at least 2022.
· Since I have been at my current day job almost three years I qualified for a third week of vacation for the first time in my professional life.
· My son isn’t in school yet, so we could take him along.
· Why not visit New York City?
So, Wednesday evening we packed up and took off on a road trip. It was time to see some of America and go exploring. There is a ton to see and we were able to hit quite a few sites. On Thursday we made it to Hershey, PA to the land of chocolate, perfect for a 4-year-old boy. Friday was our nation’s first capitol and Philadelphia to see the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall.
Then there was Saturday and the game itself. We all know about the result. It sucked. Purdue gained a ton of yards but not enough points. The defense made all but two plays and that was the difference. Coming to a new stadium is always interesting, however, and I got to meet quite a few people.
The first types were the Purdue fans in the northeast. I needed to only venture over to the Dunkin’ Donuts next to our hotel for some coffee to meet these types. They were locals who were elated that Purdue football was finally playing in their neck of the woods. The morning of the game I ran into a couple that were excited to see Purdue play locally. Several other Purdue fans I saw going to the stadium lived in New York, Connecticut, and all over New England. They came to town to see the Boilers. Since I got my tickets through the alumni club we started in a Purdue-centric section and there were several that loved the addition of Rutgers because it meant they could see Purdue in all sports. One gentleman talked of the Jacquil Taylor game where Purdue thoroughly annihilated the Scarlet Knights in basketball two seasons ago. He said the Purdue contingent proudly outcheered the Rutgers students on their home floor. These people were just happy to be there.
Then there were the Rutgers fans, who were extremely accommodating. We took the shuttle bus in from downtown New Brunswick and several fans were happy to talk football. Downtown New Brunswick, home of one of the series of campuses that makes up Rutgers, certainly has the feel of a Big Ten campus too. They knew their program has struggled lately like our own and were looking forward to a good afternoon. Many were surprised we came all the way out from Indiana and all were very welcoming that we decided to come and visit their campus. This carried over to the stadium, where the people I talked to were happy to have us as their guests. Even the Scarlet Knight himself welcomed us personally:
The stadium itself is nice. As expected, there were a lot of empty seats, but that worked out well as we moved into the shade in the second quarter. No, I did not get to sample the hot tub, but the stadium does a good job of paying honor to the bowl teams Rutgers has had (something Purdue could do). The 2006 upset of Louisville, probably the biggest game played there since the Cardinals finished that season 12-1, is featured prominently. The whole “Birthplace of College Football” is also a common motif. Technically this is one of the newest stadiums in the Big Ten since it opened in 1993. It seats fewer people that Ross-Ade, but with the two decks it feels bigger. The fans were nice too. Again, they were glad to see a new opponent and to get to know their new conference mates since this was the first ever meeting between the schools.
The only thing that felt out of place was their “This is Jersey” hype video talking about how they weren’t invited there, naming off the Big Ten states, they just showed up to dominate because nothing is easy with Jersey. Considering that their location is reason A, B, C, and D they were invited to the Big Ten I found it kind of funny, but their historical roots also justify their place.
Even after the game the fans were great. On the bus ride back to the train station we were sitting near a group of four students and we commiserated over the game itself. In addition to thinking my son was cute for being such a big fan at age 4 they were glad to see us come all that way for a football team that, well, hasn’t been great in a while. They reminded me of myself 15 years ago. They were nice kids that just love college football. It didn’t matter if neither team was very good that day. They got treated to a good game and were happy to commiserate with visiting fans.
Of course, a trip to Rutgers is not complete without the reason Jim Delaney added them: New York City. The family and I took a couple of days to explore the city before heading back to Indiana. We managed to pull off a double and take in a New York Islanders game at the Barclay’s Center (a nice arena, but honestly kind of plain compared to Bankers Life Fieldhouse). On Sunday we went around Manhattan with stops at the 9/11 Memorial, the Brooklyn Bridge, The Intrepid Air, Sea, & Space Museum, and Times Square. Monday was a visit to the Statue of Liberty before starting back.
And this is what makes Rutgers a nice addition to the B1G. Yes, It is still an hour drive to the city, but when you’re visiting a new campus and you want to see some new sites nothing beats the biggest city in the country with a wealth of things to do. The Big Ten Tournament will be there in a few months and even if your team is knocked out in one game, there is a lot else to do.
So thank you, Rutgers. Neither of our teams are very good, but after this trip you certainly feel like more of a Big Ten member. I am glad I was able to visit and I am glad your fans have already learned to show the same Big Ten hospitality I have experienced everywhere else (especially since my now 1-11-1 record when seeing Purdue for the first time in a Big Ten venue seems guaranteed to deliver a home win).