Friday, November 10, 2006

A Red State You Can Celebrate

I have been trying all morning to think of one of those "simmons-esque" real-life analogies, or even other sports analogies for what is going on in the great state of New Jersey right now with Rutgers Football being in the national spotlight. I need to say that again: with Rutgers football being in the national spotlight! For the life of me, I can't come up with anything. The closest I can come up with is something that is just so Jersey that I am not even sure people outside of Jersey will understand it: see, in almost every town in New Jersey there is the story of one guy (or gal) from that town who went on to make it huge. In Jersey City it is Queen Latifah. And, literally, almost everybody from that town, even though they probably dumped on and/or ignored said person, now feels vindicated that the person made it huge, and feels like they have a right to celebrate for that person, live vicariously through them, point fingers at everyone else and say "I told you so." Look, this is by no means to say that Jersey is some ghetto from which springs one or two blessed souls, who make it against the odds. That's just not the case. But it is the nature of being from a place that nobody else truly understands that we should want to celebrate when our people make it big, and are accepted and heralded by the outside world. I mean, it is odd to be from a place that is immediately outside of Manhattan (did you pick that up from last night's broadcast?!) and yet to have the rest of America treat you like you are from a different planet (and a smelly, cockroach-infested one, at that.) And it is odder still that being from this place just naturally puts one on the defensive. I imagine in a different way it is like being from West Virginia, and having to prove day-in-and-day-out that you are not the product of incest, and in fact, nobody from West Virginia really is.

What's odd is the image of New Jersey that has been broadcast by everyone from ESPN (New Yorkers don't know what a Rutgers is) to Chris "Mad Dog" Russo, proclaiming he was broadcasting from the hinterlands in the Rutgers parking lot yesterday, while offensive and annoying, really isn't all that far from the truth. People who aren't from here just don't understand what it is like to deal with the constant crap you get for it. I went to college in Oregon for a year and actually had a professor tell me she was heartened I made it to college coming from New Jersey (even though NJ has the highest graduation rate of any public school system in the country! and even though I graduated from a private school, where both of my parents were educators.) I then went to school in Pennsylvania, where 30 % of the students had to over-embelish how great Jersey is just to detract from the constant barrage of negativity being bounced off us by people from "superior" states like Connecticut, and Massachusetts. One time, in an elevator at the Boston Hyatt, I got into a screaming match with a random stranger who insisted Princeton was not in New Jersey. She was wearing a Harvard sweatshirt! And I have sat at a barstool in Hoboken and listened to a recently transplanted Connecticut girl tell me "Jersey is trash. I hate this place. I hate everyone here. I can't wait to leave." She was from the suburbs of that heavenly city to the North, Hartford. Now she is engaged to a Jersey native, Rutgers grad, and just brought property in North Bergen. Funny how people's perceptions change when they give this place a chance.

I feel the need to dispel some sports-analogies that will inevitably surface over the next few days as the sportsradio-types and the Gene Worhfbfshdskys of the world will certainly try to make parallels about this program because they don't want to actually research the program. 2006 Rutgers football is NOT:

The Cubs--the Cubs won some championships, started losing, have always been fairly competitive, and yet just can't seem to win the big games. Rutgers never played any big games before last night, never won any championships, and NEVER sold out their stadium the way the Cubs do on a yearly basis.

The 1995 Northwestern Football Wildcats-- The Wildcats were a team on the rise for a few years prior to 1995 under Gary Barnett. Their record may not have shown it, but that was due to schedule more than anything else. People saw Northwestern coming, and when they opened up the season beating Notre Dame it was the end of an era for the Golden Domers, and the beginning of an era for Northwestern. They played an annually brutal schedule, which they struggled through for a few years before rising to national prominence in 1995. Were a good team, who won some big games and lost one big game during the season And then got shellacked in the Rose Bowl. Nobody saw Rutgers coming. They got screwed in scheduling becuase nobody outside of the Big East in big conferences will schedule the Big East for fear of weakening their schedule, resulting in a weaker schedule for Big East teams. Its unfortunate, unfair, and they will not play in the championship game because of it.

The 2006 Detroit Tigers-- Heard this one on NYC radio on Tuesday and Boston Radio this morning as I was checking in on Hot Stove stuff (still no word on Matsuzaka.) Man does this one piss me off. This plays directly into the "hinterlands" image that I am talking about. The idea that poor little Jersey is in despair and needs Rutgers to put us on the map. Mularkey. The Tigers won championships, the Tigers sucked for a brief while, and the Tigers made a valiant, and lucky run to the World Series and lost. Rutgers sucked for a LONG long time, and suddenly (but not inexplicably, more on that later) are a National contender. Plus Detroit is literally in economic despair. Jersey is doing alright for itself, outside of Newark, Trenton, and Camden.

If we must make one of these stupid sports analogies, try this one: The Jamaican Bobsled team, but the movie version, where they are actually competitive. That's right, it's absurd, silly, and nonsensical for New Jersey football to win over the hearts of non-believers, it is happening suddenly and happily, and it is giving its homeland all kinds of good cheer, but soon enough, surely, it will be a footnote.

Two fabricated storylines about this game that I am already tired of hearing about:

1. The Louisville offense sputtered, the off-sides call was unfortunate because it wouldn't have affected the kick (Kirk Herbstreit) and Rutgers doesn't deserve to be taken seriosuly because their offense struggled for a half (argued by the same folks who said Louisville and WVU shouldnt be taken seriously because they were an all-offense brand of football.)
2. Greg Schiano going to Miami?

Allow me to address these people: shut up. Louisville's offense sputtered because the second best defense in the country finally got sharp, ran their LBs all over the Louisville backfield, and pressured Louisville's biggest weapon, Brohm (pronounced, BROWM, apparently.) They are a different brand of football than Ohio State, sure. They rely on solid running, rarely-utilized but effective passing, and unbelievable defense. If they were an NFL team, people would be going nuts over them. Remember when Rice got hot in the fourth quarter? That's what Rutgers Football has looked like all year. And Kirk, you have to be kidding me. Sprinting into the kickers field of vision before the snap isnt going to affect the play? A Linebacker dropping trou and taking a dump while the QB is calling an audible probably wouldn't affect the play either, but I am pretty sure you would see a flag. Off-sides is off-sides. It's a penalty. Sucks that it effected the way the game was decided, but had he blocked the kick after being off-sides, you'd be hollering injustice from the mountaintops, Kirk. And folks, Greg Schiano back to Miami?! Greg Schiano is on the way to making himself a legend in this state. Should he make Rutgers football relevant, and someday win a BCS title, he would be on par with Springsteen, Dick Vitale, James Gandolfini, and Jersey Mike's Subs. He has a chance to make his home state proud of a football program that was once a laughing stock, and is now on its way to being a National spotlight program. Why in the WORLD would he leave that for a program that was once a National powerhouse and is now well on its way to being a complete laughing stock? Take a seat at the diner booth, Greg. There's no sports-analogy for what you've given us. Others wouldn't understand. It's a Jersey thing.


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