Friday, November 19, 2010

On The Banks Of The Ol' Raritan

When you talk college fight songs, you naturally start with how they "Cheer, Cheer For Old Notre Dame," and it's not too long until you join with the rest of the crowd and give "Hail, Hail To Michigan, The Champions Of the West."

The USC fight song is another good one. It's the one that was used for the credits of the 1970s college football highlight show that ran on Sunday mornings before the NFL games and was narrated by Bill Fleming.

The Rutgers fight song isn't usually thought of when the great ones of college athletics are mentioned, and that's something of a shame. TigerBlog is a huge fan of the song, with its great up-tempo melody that ends when the entire band yells "RU, Rah-Rah, RU, Rah-Rah, Hoo-Rah, Hoo-Rah, Rutgers Rah. Upstream, Red Team, Red Team, Upstream, Rah-Rah Rutgers Rah."

TigerBlog knows this song, because he's heard it so many times through the years. Of course, he's heard all of the Ivy League fight songs as well and can't remember any of those other than Princeton's, Penn's and Cornell's.

TB heard the RU pep band last night at the women's basketball game, which Rutgers won 54-53 on a shot with 4.4 seconds to go that ended what was just a great early-season game. The Rutgers band, seated in the student section to the left of Princeton's bench, sounded as it always does, which is a solid A.

The Princeton-Rutgers rivalry is an interesting one for TigerBlog.

Here are two schools separated by 15 miles (though on a weeknight at 5:30 or so, those 15 miles aren't easy to cover) who operate in completely different athletic worlds, one in the Big East and the other in the Ivy League.

Rutgers made the commitment a long time ago to go "big-time," as it were, and the result is a financial and institutional commitment to fielding teams that compete on the BCS level. Making that commitment entails a bunch of things, such as having a football coach with a great deal of power and resources, the reality that all of the school's programs are going to be competing against national championship contenders, the need to generate revenue by having successful teams who draw fans and the knowledge that football and men's and women's basketball are going to be more equal than the other teams.

In the Big East, money rules. It's just how it is these days. Money from football bowl games and NCAA basketball and such. Money from corporate sponsorship. Money from luxury boxes at football.

Princeton, when it joined the Ivy League, went in a different direction. Princeton has 38 varsity teams, and the commitment is essentially the same to all of them. Of course, the Ivy League's approach to athletics is well-known, with rules in place governing admissions, out-of-season practice/competition, financial aid and any number of other areas.

And yet Princeton and Rutgers have fashioned a pretty good rivalry in a bunch of different sports. Rutgers has 24 varsity teams, and maybe 15 of those will play Princeton in most years. Some years, it's even more.

There are eight Division I schools in New Jersey. Princeton almost never if ever plays St. Peters and NJIT and rarely plays Monmouth, FDU and Seton Hall in most sports.

Rider, which is six miles away, is a very rare opponent for Princeton.

And yet Rutgers, which has the biggest student-body and what TB assumes is the highest (by far) athletic budget, is a team that almost always plays Princeton. Oh, and Princeton wins more than it loses across all sports against Rutgers.

The reason there are so many games between the schools, of course, is history. For starters, Princeton and Rutgers played the first football game ever, back in 1869, and played 71 football games before the series ended in the 1970s when RU headed to the Division IA route.

Going back in the record book, there are any number of examples of long-standing rivalries between the schools, including men's basketball (first game in the 1916-17 season), men's lacrosse (first game in 1888), baseball (first game in 1866, before the football game) and men's fencing (1927).

On the women's side, Rutgers' first-ever women's basketball game was against Princeton.

As for the most recent women's basketball game between the schools, it was a great one.

Princeton rallied from down 15 with 18 minutes to go to take the lead, and the second half featured eight lead changes. The Tigers led 53-52 and had possession in the final minute, but Rutgers got a stop and was able to score the winning basket with 4.4 seconds to go.

TB was struck by a few things from the game.

First, the 54-53 score was the same as the 1976 NCAA tournament men's game between Princeton and Rutgers, back in the year when RU made it to the Final Four.

Second, the game didn't have the feel of November. It felt more like major big conference game in February or an NCAA game in March. It was intense and physical, and Princeton stood toe-to-toe with Rutgers the entire time. Had RU not made 4 of 5 three-pointers in the first half, then Princeton wouldn't have been playing catch-up and it might have been different. Hey, if Rutgers' Khadijah Rushdan didn't make a tough shot over Devonna Allgood - one that Allgood later said she got a piece of - then Princeton would have won despite falling behind.

Ultimately, TB couldn't help but be impressed by the Tigers. They play fast, they can score in any number of ways, they rebound, they cause turnovers. There's a reason they were 26-3 a year ago.

It was a great night of basketball at Rutgers. One team, Rutgers, is built to go after UConn and Notre Dame and the rest of the Big East, as well as compete for NCAA tournament bids and Final Fours. The other, Princeton, is an Ivy League school that is every bit the equal of the Knights.

Had history played out a little differently, Rutgers might have been an Ivy League school. Instead, Princeton went one way and Rutgers went another.

Still, they intersect often enough to have a great rivalry going.


Anonymous said...

Well written and an enjoyable read.

CZ said...

If memory serves me correctly the last RU vs Princeton football game was in 1980 -- the year before I entered Rutgers & you at Penn. I only wish I had had the opportunity to witness firsthand that RU/Princeton football game if for no other reason than being a part of that long and storied history.

I couldn't make the women's basketball game last Friday but heard from several people who were there that it was very exciting from start to finish. I only hope their paths cross again in the NCAA tourny.

GO RU and GO Lady Tigers -- both are much better representatives of NJ than the dreck MTV puts out there!