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Geoff Billet and a submarine sandwich.
Want the reason I’m a Rutgers fan? Your answer is right there. Geoff Billet and some cold cuts on a roll.
You see, I went to Rutgers in the dark ages. Some might not see it that way, and have fond memories of the place in the late 90s and early 2000s. But not me. I was a Livingston College student before they built the place up. Where people would compare the campus to a rejected set from the futuristic parts of 12 Monkeys. A lot of people looked at Rutgers not as the rich research university it was (and is), but as a commuter school for the people who couldn’t get out of New Jersey.
When I started going to Rutgers, I knew better. I knew it was a good school, and I didn’t want to get out of New Jersey. I wanted to stay. Rutgers was my goal.
I was happy with my choice.
That didn’t mean I was a fan of Rutgers. Not yet.
It was hard to be a fan in my days. The first three months of my time on the banks, the football team went 0-11. A visiting alum, after one of the games, stopped me in the parking lot to tell me that despite the record, Rutgers would be okay. They had Mike McMahon.
The football team won a grand total of 9 games in my time as a student. Five in one year. It was rough.
And, in 1997-98, the basketball team wasn’t much better. I worked while I was at Rutgers, so I didn’t have the opportunity to go to many games, but I was aware of the team. A new coach, a junior point guard and junior forward who could score. A freshman guard who could knock down the three. They went 12-14 in the regular season.
Nothing to write home about.
But, then the Big East Tournament started. The first game, Rutgers beat West Virginia. That was cool. See, I had class and back in those days, the Quads didn’t have cable or the internet. So we relied on an old white board in the Tillet Dining Hall. They wrote the scores down.
And we had this wonderful thing called Tillet Take-Out. An after-hours way to pick up food when you had late afternoon or night classes and missed meal time. Mondays and Thursday were Hoagie Night (their words, not mine, I eat subs). Tuesday was chicken night (nuggets, cutlets and or wings). I think Wednesday was pasta night.
We loved Tillet Take-out and that fateful Thursday, March 5, 1998, as I was online for my sub I took a quick look at the whiteboard. This time, it wasn’t just a score. It was full of exclamation points. “RU 61. Georgetown 60!!!!!!”
I was curious. I was excited. And I had to be home.
Having to work the next morning, I rushed home (my parents’ home) after eating and parked myself in front of the TV to see the shot and a cheer. Geoff Billet hitting a little runner in the lane to beat the Hoyas and play Friday night.
I watched UConn knock Rutgers out the next night. No worries, I was sold then.
From that moment, it was Rutgers basketball for me. I saw Hodgson’s bloody jersey. Todd Billet annihilating Notre Dame all by himself as Troy Murphy was mercilessly booed. The Gary Waters upset specials.
And, I knew—from that Thursday night on—there was something different about Rutgers. A buzz when things go right. It wasn’t just a place to get away from. It was the place to be.
Because when something goes right, it wasn’t just a place. It was a community. People talked. People loved. People cheer. They made the RAC yell.
That moment in 1998 has always stuck with me. Those exclamation points on a whiteboard. A simple thing wiped away hours later, probably helped shape my life.
Why am I Rutgers fan?
Because of Tillet Takeout and a guard with a penchant for the dramatic moment.
Previous posts in this series....
Our managing editor Aaron Breitman was first
Our baseball guy David Anderson
The new girl Namrita Singh
The old man Bob Cancro
Celebrating Rutgers’ 250th anniversary last fall.
We have fanposts where readers offered their thoughts. If you want to write one of your own, click here.