Jeremy Ito lined up behind center for the second time. Twelve years ago today, Rutgers and Louisville were tied after an epic night, and I was there in the stands facing the uprights, waiting to see if magic would happen.
But how did I get there? Well, that’s worthy of remembering. Let’s go back and find out.
I graduated Rutgers Livingston College in 2001. Just a few months earlier, after winning a grand total of 9 games over the 4 seasons I was in school, Terry Shea had been let go of his duties. Hired in his place was Miami’s defensive coordinator, Greg Schiano. At his press conference, protested by a group calling itself the Rutgers 1000, Schiano said the goal was National Championships.
I’ll admit, at the time, I chuckled. It didn’t seem likely.
And for a while, it wasn’t. Schiano went 2-9 in his first season. Then he was 1-11. As a recent graduate, I was a substitute teacher and writer, trying to get real life started. I went to a few Rutgers basketball games and got hooked.
And that’s how it went for a few years. Rutgers lost a lot. I enrolled in Montclair State to get my teaching degree and Masters.
In 2004, a year after this article was published, it looked like things for Rutgers football were taking off. I actually had season tickets that season. They beat Michigan State on a really hot day. And then the next week, they lost to New Hampshire and the wheels fell off. I realized attending every football game wasn’t for me. It was an 8 hour day, and thought tailgating was fun, the losing wasn’t.
Of course, I was a year too early. The following year, Rutgers went to a bowl. (I went to the UConn and Pitt games that season).
And when the schedule was announced for the 2006 season, I told the woman I was dating on and off that we should get tickets for the Louisville game. Louisville was always good. And it looked Rutgers would be too. I was flying high too, I had just landed a book deal.
But a weird thing happened—or at least weird for me, as I grew up under Terry Shea. When I logged on to order tickets, the game was sold out. Guess I was going to miss this one.
The season started. Rutgers went 1-0, then 2-0, then 3-0, then 4-0, then 5-0, then 6-0, then 7-0, and then they were 8-0. During those 8 weeks, the woman I’d been dating was in and out of my life here and there. You know, I was in my 20s. All of a sudden, Louisville was 8-0 and there was buzz. Rutgers was ranked. Louisville was number 3 in the nation.
The game was going to be an event. There were news stories. Mike and the Mad Dog were going to be there live. Steve Politi was writing positive columns! And I. Did. Not. Have. Tickets.
The biggest Rutgers news story since my graduation and I was going to miss it. I searched online for tickets only to find the cheapest ones going for 500 bucks a piece. Looked like I was going to be watching this one from home.
I reached out to the woman I’d been dating to find out if she’d be around. Instead, I learned she was seeing someone else.
I was down. It was Tuesday. The game was on Thursday. I didn’t have tickets and I was off from work on Friday. That didn’t seem right.
So, when I got home I went online again and searched tickets. Landed on Craig’s List, and found someone advertising two tickets for $300 each. Which modern me sees as a steep price, but twenty-seven year old and single me saw as a bargain. I emailed the guy and claimed the tickets.
I had to drive to East Brunswick and pick them up the next night. If you remember Craig’s List, you didn’t really know what you were walking into.
The next day, I told a friend I had tickets and asked if he wanted to go to the game if the tickets were legit. He offered to drive.
Here’s the thing a lot of people may not remember about the Wednesday before the game—the weather was a mess. It was raining cats and dogs—or maybe Cardinals and Knights. The wind was so bad the news was telling people to keep off the roads unless you absolutely had to go out.
Which, of course, I did.
I needed to pick up my tickets. I wrote a check (yes, people wrote checks) in the parking lot. I used my very old flip phone to call the guy who was selling. Would he come outside? Was I being scammed? Turned out no. I met the owner of the tickets in an apartment parking lot. We made the exchange. The tickets looked real. I got home, safely, but it took a long time to make the drive.
Thursday came. Mike and the Mad Dog had Fred Hill on for an interview. Freddie said he needed a shooter and Mad Dog said he wanted to run through a wall for him. My friend picked me up around 4. We made the drive down. We didn’t bring a grill to tailgate. We stopped for pizza and brought that with us to the RAC parking lot.
There are a lot of details that stick out to me from the before the game time. My friend and I grew up in New Jersey and despite an hour and a half of wandering parking lots, we couldn’t find anyone we knew. There was a line for the RAC busses, which I’d never seen before. I randomly started talking to a guy on the line and managed to cut about 100 people to get on a bus.
People passed out food and drinks to those people walking the gated area before the stadium.
My tickets were real and we got inside.
There were lines at the bathroom. There were never lines at the bathroom!
And Rutgers was down at halftime. They were down enough that it didn’t look like they could come back, but not enough that you would leave to go out and tailgate again. My friend looked at me and said he felt bad that I spent the money.
Then came the second half. A stout defense that gave up nothing. Brian Leonard and Kenny Britt and Ray Rice moving the ball. A tie game. Lots of screaming.
And then, a moment in history. Jeremy Ito. After an off sides by the defense, he got another shot. The kick was up and good!
Well, let’s watch, shall we?
What a night, twelve years ago. Like Chris Carlin said, it’s was pandemonium. That’s how Greg Schiano set Rutgers on the course to the Big Ten. How he beat the Rutgers 1000. How he turned the Empire State Building scarlet and how he made us all think he’d fulfill those promises he made at his press conference.
This game was worth every penny, every harrowing drive, and waiting years for it to happen. It still ranks as the best sporting event I’ve ever been to live.
That game is probably where I started the next chapter of my life.
And so did Rutgers.
*In retrospect, it didn’t suck. I met the love of my life a year and a half later. We’re happily married with a great kid and a dog.
This post was inspired by SB Nation’s great YouTube series, Rewinder. Give them a watch!