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Why I’m a Rutgers Fan: Cara Sanfilippo, Rooting for the Underdog

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Texas Bowl: Rutgers v Kansas State Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Welcome to the refreshed On The Banks! To celebrate the new look and feel of our sports communities, we’re sharing stories of how and why we became fans of our favorite teams. If you’d like to share your story, head over to the FanPosts [link here] to write your own post. Each FanPost will be entered into a drawing to win a $500 Fanatics gift card [contest rules]. We’re collecting all of the stories here [https://www.sbnation.com/why-we-are-fans] and featuring the best ones across our network as well. Come Fan With Us!

Our managing editor Aaron Breitman was first in this series and many of us put our thoughts together to celebrate the 250th anniversary last fall.

As a New Jersey native, I have always had a love/hate relationship with Rutgers. Growing up, my dad would always remind my sisters and me that people outside of NJ regarded Rutgers very highly in terms of academics, and how lucky we were to have such a great option in-state. I just couldn’t imagine going to school so close to home, where at least 15 kids from my graduating class would also be continuing their education. Kids, as it always happens, most of the things your parents tell you turn out to be true. Rutgers is a great school, and bang for the buck if you live in NJ. While I felt at the time I was settling because I couldn’t reasonably afford to go to my first choice, Boston University, I can’t imagine having gone to college anywhere else.

While I fell in love with Rutgers my first week on campus, I was not always a Scarlet Knights fan. Sports were not remotely a factor in my decision to attend Rutgers. While a casual fan of baseball and basketball, I would never have considered myself a die hard fan. I attended games sporadically during my time on the banks, usually at the prompting of friends or more often, my dad. As I have previously mentioned, my father purchased season tickets when I was a sophomore so he had a reason to check on me every weekend. I was SUPER popular among my roommates on Saturday mornings when my dad would ring our doorbell at 9 am. The Scarlet Knights had a similar record to this past season at that time, so games were not the most exciting activity. I didn’t know enough about the game back then to know that Greg Schiano was building something special. As the games started to get more competitive, I would surreptitiously whisper to my dad “Why is everyone cheering?” because I wanted to be part of the action. Thus began my love of Rutgers Football, and I never looked back.

Mid-way through the 2006 season, I was hooked. My love of Brian Leonard and the ‘06 Scarlet Knights is well-documented on this site. I remember dragging my dad onto the field when we beat Louisville in 2006, USF in 2007, and most recently in 2014 with the Michigan upset my fellow contributor Jim also references.

The fan celebration after the 2006 Louisville win

I loved the excitement I felt in the stadium during these games and the sense of camaraderie among the fans. I especially loved proving the critics wrong and seeing Rutgers become a respected part of the national conversation. We were finally not the joke of ESPN. I soon took the other season ticket and became a bonafide football fan. It’s become a tradition, attending Rutgers games with my dad every week(end), riding the train from Penn Station with the other rowdy fans, buying him a beer at the Block Party, bringing bagels for early games. We have always joked that as the youngest of three girls, I was my dad’s “boy.” In some ways, my love of Rutgers football has cemented that and has created a bond of friendship between father and daughter. While we sometimes let my boyfriend come along for the ride, there is no one else I would rather watch a Rutgers, or any, football game than my dad.

I remember being out at a bar with friends who had gone to SEC schools like Tennessee, Georgia, and Florida State when Rutgers made an amazing comeback to beat Arkansas in 2013. I was so proud of my Scarlet Knights, and I felt like these girls who had gone to “actual football schools” were finally taking Rutgers seriously. While that year was not the best for the Razorbacks, that wasn’t what mattered. It had been, and still is, a roller coaster being a Rutgers fan, and after the success of the mid aught’s, there had been a good amount of uncertainty after Greg Schiano left to coach in the NFL. At the time, this comeback signaled to me that Rutgers was entering a period of greatness, and we were a force with which to be reckoned. We may still not have been Ohio State or Alabama, but we could compete with a team in arguably the most powerful conference in college football.

I was clearly mistaken at the time, as Rutgers has been in a bit of a slump since entering the Big Ten in 2014, leading to the firing of Schiano’ successor, Kyle Flood, and the hiring of the current head coach, Chris Ash. There are many who believe that Rutgers does not belong in the Big Ten, and we were doing just fine in what is now American Athletic Conference. I am not one of those fans. While last season is not a time I would like to revisit, and I do believe we are currently outmatched in talent in such a competitive conference, I also believe that we can only improve in recruiting top talent and in technical ability by playing better teams. It won’t happen immediately, but to me being a true fan is sticking with it through the good times and the bad. I believe, especially after my conversation with Eric LeGrand a few months ago, that positive changes are happening. I am excited to see Janarion Grant back on the field, and some improvements in coaching and strategy. I am excited to see the competition Ash and company have created by recruiting some great talent for the 2017 class. While that includes future QB Jonathan Lewis, there is something about how Gio Rescigno worked his way up from the scout team to the starting position that holds a special place in my heart. I will keep an eye towards any small, positive changes, and believe in the vision Ash and Hobbs have for the future of the program.

Both in the classroom and on the field/court/etc., Rutgers teaches you lessons that will last a lifetime. Even if you didn’t go to school here, the Scarlet Knights will teach you important lessons about strength, hard-work, and perseverance. It’s easy to get discouraged and give up when things get hard, but my beloved Scarlet Knights keep on pursuing their goals. In games where the fate has clearly been decided, they still give their all and show incredible class and sportsmanship in the face of adversity. It’s easy to have spunk when you are a top-ranked team, but quite different when it seems like everyone is rooting against you. At the heart of it, this underdog spirit is why I bleed scarlet. Don’t call it a comeback.

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

Our novelist Dave White

Our friend ZuzuRU

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.

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