The Rutgers bandwagon starts rolling again tonight against Buffalo in the first game of a home season that is entirely sold out, a scalper’s paradise.
The metropolitan New York area hasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t had a big-time college football power in decades. Fordham was one, known for the Ã¢â‚¬Å“Seven Blocks of GraniteÃ¢â‚¬? offensive line that included Vince Lombardi and Alex Wojciehowicz in 1936 and 1937.
Army was another, winning national championships in 1944 and 1945, and a share of national titles in 1914 and 1946, and boasting three Heisman winners Ã¢â‚¬â€ Felix Ã¢â‚¬Å“DocÃ¢â‚¬? Blanchard (Ã¢â‚¬Ëœ45), Glenn Davis (Ã¢â‚¬â„¢46) and Pete Dawkins (Ã¢â‚¬Ëœ58). The Cadets were top-25 poll material as recently as the mid-1980s and played in bowl games as recently as 1988 and 1996.
How about Rutgers? How about a laughingstock until last season?
Its previous claim to football fame is that Rutgers beat Princeton 6-4 in the first college football game, Nov. 6, 1869, and it has a very cool statue of a wool-cap-wearing runner outside the stadium to commemorate that moment.
But last year everything clicked. There was the football-earth-shaking home win over Louisville, one of the great sporting events ever played in this area, and if not for a slip-up against Cincinnati and a loss to a very powerful West Virginia, the Knights might have been in the BCS playoffs instead of the Texas Bowl, which they won going away.
So expectations are soaring, as much as the Scarlet KnightsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ popularity. They have been adopted by a four-state area starved for college football.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I think the New Jersey-New York-Philadelphia metropolitan areas are event-driven areas,Ã¢â‚¬? Schiano said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“So when your event becomes the event to be at, not only do they embrace it but it almost becomes Ã¢â‚¬Ëœgotta have it.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ And for somenthing to be Ã¢â‚¬Ëœgotta have itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s got to be fun, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s got to be winning, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s got to be all those things.Ã¢â‚¬?
ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s always easy to jump aboard a winner. But this team has some extra qualities. It is easy to root for Rutgers.
For one, how can you not like Ray Rice, the undersized superstar who remains humble and team-oriented and fiercely loyal to his family and his New Ro roots? Rutgers has a Heisman Web site dedicated to him (SeeRayRun.com).
How do you not admire a guy like Schiano, who stayed when the U. of Miami came calling?
Or a guy like the graduated Brian Leonard, who planted seeds here? Although NFL-bound himself, he accepted a lesser role as a blocker and pass-catcher when Rice emerged as the featured back.
They also play the right way.
Schiano said that if he werenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t coach, thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s what would make him a fan of this team.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“What IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d like is the way we carry ourselves, the way we play the game,Ã¢â‚¬? he said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not about individuals. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s about the team. You donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t see any showboating. People hand the ball to the officials. That kind of stuff. I think thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the way the gameÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s supposed to be played, so I think thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a lot of people out there who enjoy that. In a day and age when itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s only about Ã¢â‚¬ËœmeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ this team is really not about Ã¢â‚¬Ëœme.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s about the team, and thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s neat.Ã¢â‚¬?