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Longtime Rutgers fans honor fellow tailgater & friend lost to COVID-19 on opening weekend of college football

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Before the Big Ten decided to play later this fall, these Scarlet Knight fans displayed true passion in a creative way.

Rutgers v Army Photo by Charles Norfleet/Getty Images

Despite the first true weekend of college football kicking off without Rutgers and the rest of the Big Ten playing, a group of longtime Scarlet Knight fans continued their annual fall tradition of tailgating together. Michael Porcelli hosted a group of about 50 people who typically tailgate in the purple lot, mostly comprised of several families, in the backyard of his central jersey home last Saturday. This was of course before the news that Big Ten football was returning, so the passion displayed was truly special.

The group, which was named Tailgaters of the Week by our site for the 2017 Eastern Michigan game, tried to replicate as much of the gameday experience as possible, while also practicing appropriate social distancing in accordance to state mandated guidelines for outdoor gatherings.

The normal tailgating setup was present with coolers full of beverages, generators, grills, and the traditional impressive food spread the group produces that included lamb chops, steak, shrimp, macaroni and cheese, buffalo chicken dip, kielbasa, chicken wings, peach cobbler and more. They even brought out “Jimmy”, their always present giant inflatable noodle that can be seen across the purple lot every home game. However, with no actual game taking place, the group improvised.

Porcelli aired the 2006 Senior Day 38-7 victory against Syracuse on a projection screen in his backyard. If the 2020 season had taken place as scheduled, the two schools would have resumed the rivalry playing in Piscataway on Saturday. Instead, the group watched the last regular season win for Rutgers in what was the program’s most successful campaign of the last four decades.

“We wanted to do something that showed our passion for Rutgers football, our eagerness for the return of Greg Schiano and still be within state mandated guidelines,” stated Porcelli. “We felt that doing this sends a message that we still care deeply about Rutgers football and other athletics programs. We want staff, players and recruits to know that we are still there with them. We also wanted to send a message to the Rutgers community that we are here and ready to get back to campus when we get the go ahead to do so. We know we are not alone.”

As for keeping the tailgate compliant with state guidelines for outdoor gatherings, Porcelli noted that “from a social distancing point of view, this was pretty equivalent to the outdoor dining experiences I’ve had over the summer.”

The reality of COVID-19 and the impact it has had specifically in New Jersey was not lost on this group either. A major reason for having the get together on Saturday was to honor one of their own who was lost to COVID-19 over the summer.

John J. Sutor, 80, of Whiting, NJ died on Sunday, June 28, 2020. Born and raised in Perth Amboy, he lived many years in Scotch Plains before retiring to Whiting 15 years ago. Mr. Sutor was a teacher and Rutgers alum who obtained two master’s degrees in education and retired after 39 years of dedicated service to his students in Long Hill Township, NJ.

Sutor was affectionately known as “Johnny Poundcake” due to his ability to bake the delicious dessert that was loved by all who had the privilege of eating it. Of the loss of their friend and fellow tailgater, Porcelli said “Losing John to COVID was on our minds the entire time and his presence was always felt. He was always a true class act and a dedicated Rutgers supporter. We have no doubt he would have wanted us to gather just like this.”

Everyone’s lives have been altered by the reality of COVID-19, but Rutgers fans like these tailgaters are adapting in order to stay connected and remain hopeful. With the Big Ten now resuming football in late October but with little or no opportunity to bring fans back to Piscataway, this group looks to gather at another member’s home soon to watch Greg Schiano lead Rutgers onto the field once again rather than a classic game on YouTube.