Richard Dansky is a man of many things. Celebrated video game writer. Noted horror novel author. Semi-professional Family Business player. Most importantly, he is the EIC at Sportsthodoxy, The Waldorf and Statler of sports blogging!
Richard posted a great article on Temple repping Northeastern football against BROSEC the other day, which led to us chatting over the impending, undeniable, and definitely-totally-universally-agreed-upon-as-bilateral rivalry between Rutgers and the team from Pennsylvania...no, the other team from...no, not Pitt...you know what I mean...
Anyway, Mr. Dansky has seen his share of rivalries and "rivalries" during his time covering the ACC and offered up some thoughts on the RU-TTFP situation we have on our hands here. Oh also, I've bragged to Richard about the trolling prowess of the Off Tackle Empire readership, so make sure you give it to him in the comments section.
How To Build a Rivalry
by Richard Dansky
One of the positive side effect of Rutgers moving to the Rust Belt Division of college football's power structure is that it finally settles them in a conference with natural rival Penn State. Back when it was in the Big American Eastern Athletic Conference, Rutgers really had nothing approximating a rival except maybe Temple, and for all that I love the cherry and white warriors of Broad Street, a rivalry with the Owls is a lot like having a rivalry with a narcoleptic three-toed sloth. You really kind of have to work to get it in a position to do any damage to you.
But now, in the brave new era of Big Ten (Where Ten = n which does not equal Ten) football, RU and The Team From Pennsylvania are free to build a rivalry befitting their status as the two preeminent football programs in the Northeast (shut up, Pitt; you bought three used Garth Brooks CDs and insisted everyone call you "y'all" so you don't count). It's only natural, after all. Consider the epic sports tussles going on at all times of the year between teams from Pennsylvania and New Jersey: The Flyers and the Devils, the Eagles and the Giants, and most importantly, the Trenton Thunder and the Reading Phightin Phils.
But if living down here in ACC country has taught me one thing (besides "no Duke grad on the planet can define the words ‘personal foul' without help"), it's that proper rivalry doesn't just happen. Like any long-term relationship, it needs time. It needs effort. It needs an investment on everyone's part to make sure you fan that incandescent hatred to the point where it's self-sustaining enough that you print out reports of each other's NCAA violations reports and roll around in them on the floor.
With that in mind, here's a few practical hints for building that sort of rivalry, courtesy of your friends in North Carolina:
1-Both teams have to have a reasonable shot of winning at some point.
There's a reason NC State used to schedule Duke for homecoming as often as possible (and when Maryland wasn't available). It's because pre-Cutcliffe, they generally put up as much fight as a Cabbage Patch Kid. It's perfectly fine there to be long periods of imbalance in a rivalry as long as things eventually switch back and forth. Right now, Penn State holds a 22-2 advantage in the all-time rivalry, which is getting into "Mongol Horde vs. Europe" territory. Do something about that, and we'll have a rivalry worth talking about.
2-The rivalry has to be the biggest thing going when it goes.
The rivalry game has to be the game both sides are looking forward to. It has to dominate the conversation. It has to attract the majority of comments from sports talk radio callers; they don't have to be able to form complete sentences as long as they express their hatred and contempt for the other team. To be distracted by upcoming games - Penn State is no doubt looking forward to hosting the lumbering, wounded brontosaurus that is Ohio State in Happy Valley - is to diminish the rivalry. So one must get and hold the putative rival's attention by any non-felonious means necessary. Mock mascots. Infest the crowd at College GameDay with rude signs. Send anonymous tips to the NCAA alleging that the other team's starting quarterback is actually a 36-year old sasquatch whom they need to investigate immediately. Make it so that they have to focus on you, instead of whatever game three weeks down the line that might help their BCS rating more but which can't carry the same emotional weight.
3-Play for something.
A physical object, that is. It's a Big Ten specialty, after all, playing for axe handles or jugs or cheese slicers or pieces of lightly used Ikea furniture. Pick a trophy - say, a toll booth from the Delaware River Bridge - and hype up the possibility of having to find a place to store the damn thing on your campus for a year if you win. There's nothing quite like the sight of a bunch of students carting around a completely useless item like it's a triumphant Roman general while the other side seethes and plots ways to get it back.
4-Get the principals involved to say stupid things.
This one seems to be nailed down already, as freshly minted PSU coach James Franklin said that Rutgers "[doesn't] stand a chance" in the Big 10. (He said the same thing about Maryland, but let's face it; they're Maryland, which means it's probably an accurate reading of the situation.)
[editor's note: OHBURN CRAB PEOPLE]
For his part, RU coach Kyle Flood won't even mention PSU by name, which makes one wonder if their team should be renamed the Voldemorts. It's a great start, and I encourage coaches, assistants and administrators on both sides to continue ginning up outrage by keeping the stream of invective flowing.
Follow these steps and then twenty years from now when this thing is self-sustaining, we can look back on the innocent days when we all thought "they don't stand a chance" was inflammatory, and smile. Or, more likely, do bad imitation Nittany Lion noises and then fall over, but really, with a good rivalry, it's the thought that counts.