This post is sponsored by EA Sports NCAA Football 2011.
Rutgers College literally invented college football on Nov. 6, 1869. (The school later proceeded to pave over the spot of the first game with a parking lot, but that's another story entirely.) You'd think that spark of genius would inspire centuries of nationwide gratitude, but quite to the contrary in fact. Not only have the residuals been lacking at best, but the program is still in the process of shaking off any lingering memories of a down period that's now nearly a decade in the past. Considering that Rutgers football was able to recover from an abyss of misery and futility, I challenge anyone to find a group of tougher, more resilient, more loyal fans out there. Yes, we're proud and optimistic about the years ahead. No, we don't expect to win the national championship overnight.
Following the Scarlet Knights then is by no means for the faint of heart. We all buried our hemoglobin-stained razors after Rutgers finally made it back to a bowl game in 2005. It's difficult to leave those bad memories behind for good, and that's because the very nature of being a Rutgers fan will always have a tinge of fatalism to it, exuded into our very DNA. All of the shared collective misery made the resulting success that much more pleasurable, but it was a journey that ought not to be wished even on any fan's most hated rival franchises.
It's important to clarify that being a Rutgers fan doesn't make you the morose, self-aggrandizing sort characterizing the very worst professional sports franchises. No, it's not that, but more akin rather to a post-traumatic survivor's determination permeating through to the very core of our self-identification. All the fat has been trimmed away, and no one should ever see the horrors that must never be allowed to happen again. If it should come to it, if there's any sort of perceived threat to our continued existence and well-being, we will not hesitate to rise to the challenge this time.
That leads to the dilemma that confronts any serious, introspective Rutgers fan today. All we want is normalcy, the idealized version of college football you imagine when pulling up Red Grange highlights on YouTube, while ignoring how all of those nascent All-Americans were getting paid under the table and cavorting with flappers at speakeasies. No more controversy, just continuous sustainable growth throughout New Jersey and the entire New York City metropolitan area with fans who want to watch some good college football.
I slot in between the die-hards and newer fans as a somewhat-recent graduate of the school. As a New Jerseyan I always has a natural inclination towards the area's sports teams. They're the easiest to follow, and a couple relatives went to Rutgers. No, I did not start paying much attention until actually enrolling, but I was soon hooked. That was before Coach Schiano really broke through, so it's all much more defensible, really, than any formerly misguided youth with the misfortune to fall into Notre Dame subway alumni-dom.
There's still a generation gap here when it comes to college football, but Rutgers is winning that demographic battle by the day. My dad's from the Upper West Side and he's on board. Today's youth don't have the slightest clue who Terry Shea is, and we can fill them in on Paul Robeson later. They only know Hello Scarlet Knight, Rutgers Day, and a football program with undeniable upward momentum. They've been growing up Rutgers from day one. It's only a matter of time now.
Rutgers football fans have had to learn patience since 1869. That is a task only possible through sheer force of determination, a will to delay gratification in hopes of a better tomorrow. From all four corners of the State of Rutgers, we're here to stay and see this through for the long haul.