"It is third down..."
Ahh, yes. One of my favorite Rutgers football traditions. The opponent faces third down. Two bells, signaling the playing of Metallica's classic "For Whom the Bell Tolls". Just hearing the iconic "GONG" in my head gives me goosebumps.
In unison, the student section raises its hands. Their index fingers and thumbs pinch together, while the other three fingers are fully extended to remind the opponent what down it is.
Enter Cliff Burton's unmistakeable riff. The students' hand formations quickly lower and mimic the motion of strumming a guitar. While the extended note plays, the students' hands rise up and move in an arc until the next riff.
When I was at Rutgers, it was one of the coolest things to be a part of in the student section. And it's awesome seeing the tradition continue, whether it's on TV or I'm watching from my alumni seats.
There's only one problem. And it's a big one.
On September 13th, 2014, when Rutgers hosted James Franklin and the Nittany Lions, I couldn't hear Burton's riff. Instead, it was drowned out by a loud chant of "F--- PENN STATE!"
Okay. Fine. It's a night game. The fans have been
drinking tailgating for several hours, so they're a little rowdy. It's nice to see the students united and embracing what we all hope to be a fun and competitive rivalry with PSU. Not the words I would have used, but surely the chants will die down, right?
Nope. They went on for the entire game.
And they continued into the Tulane game. And the Michigan game. And the Wisconsin game. And the Indiana game.
Not even ten months away would be enough to eliminate the chants, as they were audible during last week's season opener.
Students, I say this fully aware that, just months removed from my college life, I am going to sound like the cranky octogenarian yelling at you and your friends to get off my lawn.
But this has to stop.
By chanting "F—Penn State" when we're playing, say, Norfolk State, it comes off as a bunch of immature teenagers giddy that they get to say a swear word in unison. It makes it look like Rutgers students only attend football games as an excuse to drink, be rowdy and be crass as opposed to supporting our team and being invested in whether they win or lose.
And that's a real shame. Because I know just how passionate Rutgers students can be for these games. Besides the "F—Penn State" chants, the student turnout and energy for the Penn State and Michigan games last year was unreal. Those students wanted a win bad. Heck, the students even showed up in force for last Saturday's game against Norfolk State. But from the outside looking in, the chants just look bad, like the students care more about hating Penn State than they do supporting their own team.
What bothers me the most is it makes the students look petty, small-minded, and suffering from a bad case of sour grapes.
I get it. Rutgers fans want to hate Penn State. When Syracuse and Pitt bolted the Big East, Rutgers lost the closest thing it had to geographically close rivals. Penn State made having rivalry games close enough to drive to feasible again, and they're a more attractive option than Maryland since Penn State has history as a powerhouse of the Big Ten. That's a good rivalry to have.
I understand why the students were charged up for that game. Rutgers' first game in the Big Ten. Under the lights. Facing Penn State for the first time since 1995. It was an opportunity to make a statement and create a new rivalry.
But we lost.
As much as it pains me to say it, Rutgers lost that game. And it cut so deep not just because of how big the game was, but how it was lost. The students could taste victory. Security lined the front of the student section as they prepared for the field storming. But we fell short at the very end. It stings even to this day.
So I get why the students still harbor this hatred and angst towards PSU. But chanting "F--- Penn State" at every game, especially now, nearly a year later, is just a harsh reminder that we lost that game, and Penn State got the last laugh. By doing that chant, not only do the students give Penn State that satisfaction, but visiting fans from throughout the conference get the impression that Rutgers students are jealous little brothers. It's not a good look.
To Rutgers' credit, they are doing what they can to eliminate the chants. As a result of the chants extending into games not against Penn State, the athletic department brought in representatives from student organizations from all over campus to discuss the chants.
I was in attendance for the meeting at the Hale Center, and while Athletics appreciated the obvious passion the students showed, they acknowledged it would be better utilized in a different way. We spent a couple hours brainstorming alternatives to the chant in question, and hoped the chant would dissipate over time.
Throughout the rest of the season, the Riot Squad, RUPA, fraternities, sororities and other student organizations made an effort at games to stop fans from doing the chant. But all it takes is a few students to get it going, and we're back to square one.
On Wednesday, Rutgers Athletics tweeted "A Student's Guide to Gameday Chants", including a third down chant of "Let's Go Knights." Which could be interpreted as a thinly veiled attempt to suppress the "F--- Penn State" chants.
The "Let's Go Knights" chant is just one possible solution to eliminating the "F--- Penn State" chants. Perhaps Rutgers will follow Ole Miss' example and start fining and banning students who exhibit poor sportsmanship.
Or, as was discussed at that meeting last year, maybe they'll just get rid of the song.
That seems like a last resort, but one that becomes a more real possibility with each passing day. At some point, Rutgers may just decide to pull the plug in an effort to prevent some students from giving the other students, and the fanbase as a whole, a bad name.
So to those students who think it's so important and funny to chant "F--- Penn State", just let it go.
Eliminate the chants. Don't make Rutgers eliminate my favorite in-game tradition, and the favorite of many others.
Do you agree with my stance? Am I totally off base? Please sound off in the comments below!