The reality of today makes us yearn for memories of the past when it was a simpler time and sports mattered. This will be the first in a series of “where were you when?” posts that highlight great moments in the history of Rutgers Athletics.
For Rutgers football, there has never been a bigger moment in the modern era than the 28-25 comeback victory over then no. 3 Louisville. It was an epic night on the banks that pushed RU to 9-0 to start the 2006 and a no. 7 national ranking in the next week’s polls.
The goal of this series is not to completely recap the game itself, but to share each other’s personal anecdotes, memories and experiences from that time.
For me, I was fortunate enough to attend the game and sat in the front row of the upper deck right at the 50 yard line. Amazing seats and you could really see plays develop from that view. The intensity from the field and the crowd seemed to rise like heat. 14 years later my memory of the night has some very clear moments, but the overall electricity of the experience is what resonates with me most. There was an energy at that game I’ve never experienced before or since.
I remember seeing the long line for students outside the stadium as I walked to meet friends at the tailgate. The actual buzz you could hear all around was incredible. My friends and I had a rather basic but fun tradition that season, as we lined up walking in to the stadium we would recite whatever Rutgers’ record was entering that game. Perhaps it was a somewhat desperate way to try to keep the undefeated season going, but I’ll always remember us all nodding and repeating “8-0” to each other.
The second quarter was tense as Rutgers fell way behind 25-7 and the concern that maybe the moment was too big for this team crept in everyone’s mind in attendance. And then like a bolt of lightning, Ray Rice delivered a hugely important touchdown run before the half to change the complexion of the game.
The most vivid memory I have of the second half leading up to the last drive was more of a collective one. It was likely the most dominant defensive stretch during a game in Rutgers football history, as they produced five consecutive three and outs against one of the most explosive offenses of that decade. Greg Schiano was directing a master class on the field on the defensive end.
I had the perfect vantage point to see the key play of the last drive develop before it actually happened. The play call was brilliant and you could feel, as much as see, the field open up for Brian Leonard. He caught that short pass wide out of the backfield and marched Rutgers into sure fire field goal range. It was in this moment I swung my body in excitement and almost knocked a woman perilously close to falling over the railing of the upper deck. Disaster was averted and we hugged as the stadium raged with anticipation for the comeback to be completed. The only casualty was a spilled beer.
After the Judge kicked the game winning field goal and Rutgers appropriately sacked Brian Brohm on the game’s final play, I admit I did not attempt to rush the field or even go down afterwards. I was too overwhelmed by the moment to move but also was thrilled to watch the celebration from above. It was a beautiful sight. After first following the program in the early 80’s when Rutgers still played Colgate and then seeing them win 8 games combined during my four years as a student, the gravity of the moment was finally sinking in.
As much as the on the field celebration is remembered, for me the part that is frozen in my mind was the pure bedlam outside the stadium upon exiting. It was a wild scene and one of pure joy. I didn’t want to leave and it was one of the greatest nights of my life. Not even getting home at 3 am to the realization that my roommates dog pissed all over my bed and I had only 4 hours until needing to get ready for work the next day could have soured that night.
Now the fun part. Please share your memories of that great night in Rutgers football history in the comment section. Where did you watch the game? What do you remember most from it? How did you celebrate? I can’t wait to read them all.