Breathe in. Imagine the following scenario. Rutgers Football in just a few short years goes from being this mediocre team speckled with a few bright spots to a National Championship Team. The season begins. We’ve steamrolled our three solid non-conference opponents to start 3-0, but we’ve done that before, no reason to get super excited at this point if you’re anything but a Rutgers fan. After this, we win our first conference game, say we beat Michigan State. Now 4-0, but not a fluke, we’ve beaten MSU out of the gate before in 2020. Next, we beat our first Western Division crossover. 5-0, but hey the B1G West isn’t so tough, maybe it was Illinois or Purdue. THEN... we get our big upset, this one over Michigan. Okay, a 6-0, bowl eligible Rutgers. “So they’re having a good year, impressive, they got the upset they were due for, good for them. It was bound to happen sooner or later.”
Following this stunning event, we beat our next Big Ten West crossover team. Northwestern. 7-0, but whatever, right? It’s already been established Rutgers is having a good year. We go on to beat Indiana, 8-0, but it’s Indiana. It was our Homecoming. Next, we beat the other Big Ten West team. Nebraska or something. Now we’re 9-0 and some might say we got the weak West teams this year. Then... THEN we beat we beat Ohio State, by TWO touchdowns. Holy moly, Rutgers is 10-0, they beat two Big Ten powerhouses and are the talk of the Big Ten and College Football world. “Are they good? Or is it just a down year for the Big Ten,” sportscasters and writers ponder. We beat Maryland in our second to last game. 11-0. Finally, we beat Penn State at last, and comfortably, in their own stadium. Absolute dream regular season. Rutgers is 12-0. We beat Wisconsin (finally) in the Big Ten Championship. Rutgers is the comfortable winner of the Big Ten Conference, the globally shocking shoe-in for the College Football Playoff.
For some reason the CFP Playoff is still four teams. Rutgers beats the first with ease. Maybe it’s Clemson, maybe it’s Oklahoma. Maybe it’s a whole new College Football world with a new team. Now it’s the Championship. In an exciting gripping game, Rutgers wins by 3 points. Say we beat Alabama, or maybe USC, or Georgia, whoever. Doesn’t matter. Rutgers Football just won the CFP National Championship. Do you understand... the absolute indescribable joy I and so many would feel? Just typing this out was euphoric. Imagining the excitement, the energy, the merchandise, the takes, the exposure, the history. This is a team they could make a movie about. From here on out Rutgers Football would be respected, appreciated. A team worth getting behind. People would buy in to Rutgers Football. It’s not just one season of joy, it’d be years. I would 100% trade the last 5 years of my life to experience this. What a dream. The sheer happiness I could call upon at any waking moment for the rest of my life... it would be worth it.
But sooner or later... you have to wake up.
You know, I don’t think the scenario I laid out above is impossible. I won’t give it odds, but it’s not impossible. However, this is not about asking whether or not I think getting to and winning the CFP National Championship is possible, this is about establishing a healthy relationship between myself and Rutgers Football. Because you know, I can’t broker a deal between a supernatural force that’d take years off my life to help my college football team win the National Championship. But beyond that, and something that is far more reasonable to ponder and realize is that I can’t control recruiting, coaching, scheduling, gameday decisions, and other factors that lead to a game’s outcome. What can I do as a fan of Rutgers Football? I can enjoy the process. I can enjoy individual wins. I can enjoy the moral victories. This is not saying to sit back and do nothing. No no, donations and fan support are important. I can do all of that too. However, that alone doesn’t lead to the types of victories in the scenario laid out above. There is a lot about the sport that is out of the hands of fans like me. I used to hate the futility. Asking myself after a tough loss, “Why can’t we just be good like those other teams?? I want them to be so badly! It’s not fair.” But it’s just... not fair. It is not fair that because of decisions long past Rutgers Football was unable to establish the Football programs of its current peers. At the same time though, it is also not fair to feel this animosity towards now dead decision makers who couldn’t see the future. The phrase, “It is what it is,” however trite, really stands out here. Rutgers is behind. Rutgers lacks the rabid alumni support of programs like Penn State and Ohio State. These are things I’ve just come to accept over the years. However, I am not being defeatist. I watch Rutgers Football with keen, forward looking eyes, putting trust into leaders like Greg Schiano to build back better our program. And I can only hope he will be able to. I won’t be a cynic or a pessimist. I will hope and believe that he and his staff can do right by Rutgers Football until they prove me wrong, prove my belief misplaced. If that happens? I will put the same hope and trust into the next coach and staff and so on and so forth. Because there is nothing else reasonable to do that I am in control of in changing game outcomes. Not Tweeting at recruits. Not getting so angry at losses that my week is ruined. Not writing articles for Off Tackle Empire.
On gamedays, Rutgers will win or they won’t. All wins are good. Some losses are good. Some losses are bad, but can have good moments. FUN can be had at all types of gameday outcomes. You know, fun? The reason we watch and go to these GAMES. Some of the best tailgates of my life preceded losses. Some of my best marching band days were during horrible losses. Don’t let go of the fun, people. Believe me I know it’s easy and the widening parity gap between teams is disheartening. But what can we do to fight this greedy, money-driven purposefully stratified industry? Nothing. You know if Ohio State is gonna beat us by 5 touchdowns, I want Rutgers to show me a cool trick play that Fox Sports talks about on its show. One that’s Tweeted about. Give me highlight reels of the plays of the game showing stunning sacks and beautiful punts. Give me that modicum of false hope where we get a groove early on, and just chalk it up as, “hey you know it was pretty close in the first half!” Give me the fun. Give me the positives. Give me the joy. We all need it because boy is the world fucking miserable.
I can be passionate for and thoroughly enjoy the good that Rutgers has produced in these last few years. My favorite win last year in the 2021 season was over Syracuse, an old Big East rival. My favorite moral victory was the Michigan game. So close! And how awesome and hilarious was it that we went to a bowl game at 5-7?? Replacing a COVID stricken Texas A&M team about a week before the game was to played because we had good grades. That was awesome. The year before that in 2020 I loved our overtime win against Maryland as beating Maryland is always good. The away win against Purdue felt great and oh man what a moral victory was that triple overtime loss to Michigan. That was a good game. Almost had them! That’s all we can ask for. I always feel like it needs to be conveyed to myself and to others that, hey, one team has to lose here. That’s how these competitions work.
Rutgers doesn’t have to be a National Championship team for me to keep adorning my home with Rutgers memorabilia, wearing my Rutgers gear all around Los Angeles, during travel, and telling people with pride that my team is Rutgers. I love Rutgers and I always will, but I’ve transformed my love into something better for myself. And you all should too. Even if your team is one like Ohio State.