Brewing coffee at our hotel as we make our own game day preparations and get ready to head out. Flew in last night to Newark, drove past Rutgers' HIgh Point Stadium to check it out, and then hit a little sports bar near the hotel for dinner. All good and now GAMEDAY! We are staying in Somerset NJ, just west of the Rutgers High Point Stadium and are hearts are with George and the Iowa team on their trip east as the effort to rebound continues (as it always does until the next game and the next win!). So today it is the Scarlet Knights of Rutgers!!!
Some Firsts: This is the first ever college football game to be played between Iowa and Rutgers. This is also the first Big 10 Conference game of the season for both teams. And for Iowa this is their first road trip of the season. So a lot of firsts with plenty of motivation to get things straightened out, play well, and get home with a victory.
Iowa Ties: Rutgers has a new head coach who was born in Iowa, played at Drake, and was at ISU for about a decade of games against Iowa and as an assistant coach there he had a record of 4-4 against Iowa. He has also coached at WI and OSU so is familiar with Big 10 ball. Rutgers also has as their defensive coordinator Jay Niemann, who is from Iowa and is father to sons on the Iowa football team. And the Offensive Line coach (AJ Blazek) played OL at Iowa for Coach Ferentz so he also has a connection to Iowa. Lots of interesting relationships and connections in this game.
Birthplace of College Football: But when you think of Rutgers you have to think of the very first ever college football game, played at Rutgers on November 6, 1869 against Princeton. The game was a little different back then, more like a blend of rugby and soccer they say, but that is what
got it all started. And Iowa did not play its first football game until about 30 years later. A lot of history with Rutgers that they are trying to use to develop pride in their program, and get back on the winning track.
So while things have changed over the years, I am sure other things have not, such as pride in the university, the desire to win, the thrill of competition, playing in front of a crowd (a bit larger now of course), but all exciting and should lend itself for a great day of college football.
But as I was thinking about this being the first road trip I was thinking about all the things that go into that. Like getting on the plane, landing and then loading the buses, police escort to the hotel, checking in, meetings, meals, getting to bed, then waking up on game day and getting to the stadium. While it is great to play at home, there is something very different and very exciting about heading into someone else's home stadium to play there, to get in and take a victory from them in their own stadium, their "house." But one thing about a road trip that was always very special to me, is the bus ride from the hotel into the stadium...
On game day after waking up, you come down for breakfast, have some meetings, get taped, deal with last minute issues with your position coach, get one more inspirational speech from the head coach, watch the motivational highlight tape, and then out of the hotel onto the bus, and with the police escort start to make your way to the stadium.
Usually you stay at a hotel far enough away to avoid any distractions. But as you get closer and closer to the stadium there are more and more fans, both your own and those for the home team. Usually much more of the home team though, in their team colors, all excited and whooping it up. Often tailgating and enjoying a great day at the stadium, together with friends and family. As you get closer there is more and more traffic and you slow down because of the crowd and weaving through everything, and then you get a good feel of things. The police escort gets everyone’s attention and they watch as you pull in. Now your heart is pumping a bit faster as you know you will soon be getting off the bus and into the final prep for the game (but kickoff is still 2+ hours away so not time to go yet).
But as you pull into the stadium, and before you get out, the first familiar thing you usually see is the team equipment truck (this picture was taken at Rutgers stadium Friday night, where the truck was parked just outside the stadium unloading). The semi all tricked out in your team colors that drives across the country to bring all of your equipment to the opposing stadium. This includes the helmets, balls, cleats, jerseys, pants, tape, and the rest of anything that anyone will need for your team to play the game. They are the first to arrive at the stadium, usually getting in Friday night. But the equipment truck is there, with your team colors proudly flying, backed up against the stadium, having unloaded and set up the locker room for you, making it your locker room for this day. This is the first "invasion" of your university/team into the stadium and I always found it a welcome sight. (Below is driver Mike Riggan with Jan, Claire, and Marty, on Friday night as equipment staff unload the truck at Rutger's Stadium).
And then your caravan of buses finally stops. You get to exit the bus with your teammates into the crowd, into the stadium, and then the locker room, to begin the very ritualistic practice of your final pre-game prep. Now the energy is high, you know what is coming, your teammates know what is coming, and you can’t wait for it to come.
And you know in a different space somewhere in that same stadium, another team has arrived, has gone through their morning ritual, has had their bus ride, and are preparing to meet you. You know they are feeling what you are and you know soon the game will start; what you have worked so hard to prepare for will finally begin again.
So hoping for a great day for the Hawks in New Jersey, and that their bus ride in is a good one. And our thanks and appreciation to all of the equipment folks who do so much work to get things set up for the team. Have a great day!