It’s stupid to care, right? If something brings you fleeting moments of joy that is always – fucking ALWAYS – eventually eclipsed by a more lasting crushing disappointment, and that thing doesn’t even matter to begin with, shouldn’t one simply discard the thing in question from one’s life? Shouldn’t that be an easy thing to do? Apparently not. Because Rutgers’ football team still has fans after nights like last night, games like that 20-17 loss to Louisville with a Big East title and BCS bowl on the line, where they blew a 14-3 halftime lead, where they for a brief glorious moment appeared to take a 21-3 lead on a fake field goal.
But that’s the thing with Rutgers sports: the glorious moments are always brief. Each big win is followed by a corresponding awful loss. Take the program’s best season ever, 2006: one week, the biggest win in school history (which came, funnily enough, against Louisville) happens. The next week: Rutgers gets demolished in Cincinnati. Then there’s a rebound win over Syracuse, setting up a showdown with West Virginia in the season finale. RU wins that, they win the Big East (sound familiar?). The result: a 41-39, triple overtime loss I can barely bring myself to think about to this day.
Six years later, here we are again. Maybe this is Rutgers’ destiny, to blow golden opportunities at BCS bowl games every six years. I’m already dreading what 2018 has in store. Because I’ll still care. All I can think about now is Squinky, the unseen mystical force Grantland’s Brian Phillips is convinced exists to crush Oklahoma State’s football fortunes. Either Rutgers has its own corresponding beast, or Squinky likes to pull double duty.
This game. This goddamned stupid-ass game. That 90-yard drive for Louisville’s first touchdown. The second touchdown that followed quickly thanks to a fumbled kickoff return. That last pass. That last pass. I don’t know what happened. I’m not sure anyone quite knows what happened… except that it fell harmlessly into the arms of Louisville’s Terrell Floyd, since he was the only one anywhere near the ball. And that brings up another point: Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova has to feel awful. That entire team has to feel awful. Worse than I feel, that’s for sure. Fans often care more than the players they root for, but seeing things like this, I don’t think that was the case here.
Which makes all this come off as a pretty vain exercise in melodramatic self-pity. I’ve come to terms with that. I know it won’t actually affect my life and I’m going on living and every other thing you tell yourself when you’re torn to bits by something this ultimately inconsequential. And yeah, I’ll grudgingly acknowledge there’s another side to this, that Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater earned the moment by willing his team to a win while playing hurt, that Louisville coach Charlie Strong earned the moment by turning the program around after waiting way, way longer than he should have to get a head coaching job.
But I don’t care. Louisvile’s happy. Its fans are happy. Good for them. But Rutgers fans are miserable again. And I’m sitting here, sifting through pictures of Louisville players kissing a championship trophy in the stadium I stood in for three hours last night hoping to see the exact opposite, to put in this post I’m writing from my brother’s apartment at Rutgers because the game ended too late for me to get back to my own place. That’s right – we’re a Rutgers family. There’s no escape.
And I’ll be right back here next year. It’ll be no different, because it’s Rutgers. It’s never different. “The longest running tragic opera in the NCAA,” torture porn on loop, rooted for by only the most insatiable gluttons for punishment. I have to wonder: are we just rooting for this team so we can all inevitably feel sorry for ourselves over how tough we have it? Because really, we don’t – seven bowls in eight years and a Big Ten invite. But the big prize, a conference championship, was right there. Again. It eluded Rutgers’ grasp. Again.
So now all us Rutgers fans can shake our heads and curse and generally marvel at the ways this program will crush us over and over in new and inventive ways. There’s that, anyway – the communal sense of unending letdowns. We share in our misery. It’s something. This morning, in fact, it’s all we’ve got – and mornings like this make it easy to envision a future where it’s all we ever have.
Getty photos, by Rich Schultz