Just before midnight, my phone started blowing up like it never has before. DMs, Facebook messages and texts. Non-stop.
Why? Well, you know why.
The clock had just turned to zero signaling Rutgers first NCAA Tournament win (for the record, my fingers originally typed Big Ten win because—habit?) in 38 years. My son Ben and I had been screaming, yelling and celebrating and now the rest of my little world was too. Congratulations, excitement and people talking up their brackets. All reaching out to me—for some the only die hard Rutgers hoops fans they know.
And, to be honest, I kind of didn’t expect it. Maybe I should have, but I didn’t. In fact, it was really overwhelming. I was sitting down and trying to compose my four thoughts and it was nearly impossible. Honestly, it’s probably the one of the worsts ones I’ve done. Because I couldn’t focus. I was excited from the win and distracted by all the notifications. And, in a way, it wasn’t about me—so why were people congratulating me?
But, that’s kind of cool, isn’t it?
Rutgers nation hasn’t experienced this before. I mean there’s a certain age of fans that remembers watching NJN on a grainy TV screen or recalls paint falling from the ceiling of the Barn. But, that was more than a generation ago.
So, last night, Rutgers fans came out of the woodwork.
And people were happy. The weight of a mountain off the back of a program. No longer can other people point to years that are etched in fans brains: 1991 or 1983. That is history now. Good history, good moments, but ancient history. It can’t be used against us anymore.
I’ve seen winning before. I’m a Giants fan, a Yankees fan and a Devils fan. In my lifetime, I’ve seen ten championships amongst my teams. I’ve cheered and high fived people and read aritcles and even went to a parade once.
But it doesn’t compare to this.
Because those are pro-teams, corporations that are basically the entertainment buisiness. I don’t have any connection to those teams other than I decided hey I want to root for them. We alumni are connected to Rutgers. It is part of our DNA. We spent 2, 3, 4 or 6 years there, becoming different people than we were when we first set foot in Scott Hall. And Rutgers athletics represents us, in a way.
It’s kind of odd, when you think about it. So much of my identity online is tied to this coach and these players and what they do for two hours late on a Friday night. Today, I’m floating on cloud nine, and emotionally I get it. Four years at a place and it gets inside you. Twenty years of season tickets and it’s a part of you. Maybe, as I pour this out of my fingers on to the computer screen, I have to work out the oddness.
Yeah, I’m happy today. But, to me, it’s more important to be happy for the players. Players who sacrificed almost a year of their lives to pursue this goal during a pandemic. Players who believed in causes so strongly they are doing something to change the status quo. These are more than good athletes. They are good people and they represent us well.
I guess that’s it, isn’t it? They represent us. Geo Baker, Paul Mulcahy, Myles Johnson, Jacob Young, Ron Harper, Jr., Caleb McConnell, Cliff Omoruyi, Montez Mathis, Mamadou Doucoure, Oskar Palmquist, Mawot Mag, Jaden Jones, Dean Reiber, Nick Brooks, Luke Nathan, Aiden Terry, and Daniel Lobach. Steve Pikiell, Karl Hobbs, Brandin Knight, and Steve Hayn. Ben Asher, Shoes Vetrone, TJ Thompson. Mike Larkin, David Van Dyke, Richard Campbell, Mike Sasso, Scott Scherer, Randi Larson and Ryan Pisarri. Sarah Baumgartner. Pat Hobbs.
All of them are a part of this—and all of them connect to us. The fans.
They represent 255 years of people who walked through the campus to better themselves. And I am so happy for them. They represent us through their tweets, and their smiles, and their chest bumps and their three point shots. As much as we support them, they are a part of us.
All I did last night was sit on my couch and scream. And people congratulated me. But I think, they were actually congratulating the school.
There’s another game tomorrow night and I will be on my couch screaming my head off for all of these kids who worked so hard to get us here.