I missed the good times, and 15 years later I still grapple with it.
After graduating from Rutgers in 2006, I moved to Boston for some time for grad school without the money or ability to travel season tickets would require. As such, I was consigned to asking local bartenders to put on the Rutgers football game on their satellite TV feeds as a favor. Thankfully, Rutgers was pretty good from 2006-2009 so this usually led to a friendly conversation about Rutgers football. Season tickets were always on my mind, and when I graduated and moved back to New Jersey in 2009, the first thing I did was sign up for season tickets alongside my best friend.
Our season tickets were an annual tradition, the tailgate rituals almost as important as the football itself. Our tailgate group represented a diverse array of backgrounds and cultures, and we’d rotate cuisine each tailgate (I still think about this Chilean carne asada with chimichurri we’d have freshly grilled for us once per season). Several of us, including this writer, are craft beer aficionados – I’m pretty sure no one tailgated as regularly with rare finds such as The Alchemist’s Focal Banger and Heady Topper (sometimes freshly driven down from Vermont) the way our group did.
But forget the food and drink. The conversations, about Rutgers football among other sports and non-sports-related topics, were a combination of insightful, analytical, and sometimes profane. We all knew our sports, down to the last guy on the Rutgers two-deep, and I don’t throw that compliment around lightly.
I don’t remember, to be honest, how I met half the people who eventually became part of our regular tailgate group (a group that eventually numbered over 20). As we proceeded through our thirties over the last decade, and many of us got married, got new jobs, and grew our families, the tailgates were a near constant, six or seven fall days each year. Our tailgate email thread was wide ranging — I helped people with statistical analysis for school or work a few times, and at a time when my family was going through a health issue lots of tailgate people offered comfort and advice from a professional perspective. We all scratched each other’s backs any way we could. We weren’t tailgate buddies, we were friends who bonded over Rutgers football.
Then it all went away after the 2018 season when everyone, sort of independently, decided not to renew for the next season.
I suppose you could blame Chris Ash for the uninspiring brand of football Rutgers had played for far too long. But that’s not fair; I’m convinced we would have kept going had we all been in a different life place. Lots of us were on our second or third kid by that point, and the tailgates became too logistically challenging by this point. If this is the type of thing where you could assign blame, and I’m not sure it is, most of it is on the diffuse brain cloud that made up our tailgate. So as Howard Jones sang in the 80s, “No One Is To Blame”.
Many of the tailgate friends stayed in close touch even after the breakup; we’d still see each other at barbecues and kids’ birthday parties (to the extent they took place, though they’re mostly back now). Earlier this year, on a group text thread with three other tailgate folks, I posed the question – “Do we come back for 2021?”
One friend was immediately in, the second was a bit reticent but came around quickly, and the third needed some convincing. After a few months of occasional prodding by yours truly, we decided this was the time. One quick call to our season ticket consultant (who was surprisingly accommodating about our two – really one – season lapse in season tickets) and it was settled. We’ll be back this season, in the Black Lot, grilling steak and listening to The Weeknd (the radio-friendly versions because impressionable kids will be throwing a football alongside the tent).
I can’t wait for the tailgate, but I also can’t wait for the football. At a high level, Rutgers football should be exciting to watch in a way it hasn’t been in at least seven seasons. Win or lose, the above statement I don’t think is debatable — but also, Rutgers might win a few games this season, and winning is fun.
Individually and collectively, this is a fun team to root for – I’m sure On The Banks as a site will get into the details in the weeks and months ahead, but at minimum, think about what the seniors (4th, 5th, and 6th year) have been through on this team. Those players deserve every opportunity to be applauded by a big home crowd during the 2021 season.
All of this is to say, if you’re considering season tickets, now’s the time to buy low on Rutgers football, folks – it’s probably not going to get easier to get the seats you want in 2022 than it is right now. Join the ambiance, join the fun, enjoy the football, because there’s a lot to be joyful about this season. And stop by the Black Lot for a hello and a chat about Rutgers football, if you’d like.