If you want the college football world to pay attention, you have to make a splash in some way. Perhaps no program in the country understands this line of thinking better than the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. Whether it was the “Pandemonium in Piscataway” in 2006 or the surprising move to the stately Big Ten Conference in 2014, RU doesn’t shy away from a moment in the spotlight.
The debut of Rutgers football wasn’t just the start of gridiron contests in New Jersey; it’s also considered to be the first intercollegiate game ever. On November 6, 1869, the university squared off with Princeton, and the rest, as they say, was history. As the years went on and the game evolved, Rutgers was fairly competitive but didn’t truly break through until an electric run that stretched from 1915 to ‘18. Over the course of those four seasons, the Scarlet Knights posted a record of 22-6-3 and were powered by All-American Paul Robeson, who would go on to become a star of stage and screen, as well as an activist and a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.
While the squad wouldn’t appear in a bowl game until ‘78, Rutgers fans remained steadfast and celebrated when they could. In ‘61, coach John Bateman led RU to a record of 9-0 and a top 15 finish in the AP poll. Eight years later, the Scarlet Knights downed Princeton again in a centennial rematch. Both the spring and fall of ‘76 proved to be exciting, as the men’s basketball team advanced all the way to the Final Four during March Madness, while the school’s gridiron crew turned heads across the country on their way to an undefeated season. Finally in ‘78, Rutgers was invited to compete in the Garden State Bowl, marking the first postseason appearance in program history.
Inspired by the celebrated tower on campus, the school fight song is called “The Bells Must Ring.” An actual bell was originally used to signal the end of classes, but the lyrics are a well-known staple of the Scarlet Knights’ game-day experience. Students chant “RU, Rah, Rah!” over and over again as the start of the game approaches. The bell has also been utilized to cap off thrilling football seasons, and in recent years, has gotten quite the workout as Rutgers registered nine bowl showings between ‘05 and ‘14.
In June of 2013, it was announced that Rutgers would be joining the Big Ten Conference in ‘14 to continue their athletic pursuits. While there is a myriad of reasons that could explain the decision, you have to figure that at least part of it stems from the surge of success on the gridiron. During their first year of play in the new league, RU won 8 games and emerged victorious on the Quick Lane Bowl stage. Maybe better competition is what the Scarlet Knights have needed all along. They’ve certainly proved that they have the heart.