Parts of this article were written by John Bruns, former long-time sports writer for the Home News and the Easton Times-Express.
When Rutgers defeated Princeton in 1869, the setting was quite different than it is today. The game was contested on a field along College Avenue in New Brunswick. There were not tens of thousands of cheering fans in a multi-million dollar stadium. There was no manicured grass field or electronic scoreboard. There was no elaborate athletic equipment or television cameras. But on that fall day in 1869, those students established a tradition of quality football programs, competitiveness and school spirit that continues at Rutgers, the birthplace of intercollegiate football.
Now 147 years later entering the 2016 season, Rutgers has had many historical moments, outstanding athletes and memorable triumphs over the years.
However, those historic moments were difficult to predict during the early years when intercollegiate football scheduling was inconsistent. For example, Rutgers won six of 10 games in 1882, but played only one game in 1885. Similarly, the Scarlet Knights went 8-6 in 1891, but two years later played only four games. By the early 1900s, scheduling had become more consistent and football became more popular across the country.
The eight wins of 1891 were not matched until Rutgers went 8-1 in 1947 with one of the most successful teams of coach Harvey Harman in the Golden Era immediately following World War II. That team, quarterbacked by Frank Burns, who would later become Rutgers' most successful coach, lost its opener to Columbia and then swept through eight-straight opponents.
In 1913, coach George Foster Sanford began a tradition of success among Rutgers coaches in their inaugural year by leading his team to a 6-3 mark. He then flirted with two perfect seasons, improving the team to 7-1 in 1915 and 7-1-1 in 1917.
Those two seasons, which featured All-American Paul Robeson, were among Rutgers' best. The Scarlet Knights outscored opponents by an average of 44-3 in 1915 and 33-2 in 1917. Sanford, a member of Rutgers' Hall of Fame, also helped to introduce Rutgers to the New York metropolitan area, playing games at the Polo Grounds against teams like Notre Dame, Nebraska, Louisiana State and West Virginia. A few years later, in 1924, two-time All-America end and fullback Homer Hazel helped coach John Wallace continue the tradition of first-year coaching success, as Rutgers posted a 7-1-1 mark.
Harvey Harman also had a successful first season, going 7-1 in 1938, the year Rutgers dedicated the original Rutgers Stadium. Rutgers won the dedication game, 20-18, over Princeton.
Harman, however, was replaced by former coach Harry Rockafeller during World War II. His tenure included an 8-1 season in 1947 when Rutgers, dominated by WWII veterans, registered a combined record of 27-7 from 1945-48.
When John Steigman coached Rutgers from 1956-59, he brought back the single-wing formation to the Scarlet Knight offense, and led Rutgers to an 8-1 mark in 1958. The only loss of that season, 13-12 to the Quantico Marines, came when All-American tailback Billy Austin had to miss a game due to a broken hand.
Another first-year coach got off to an impressive start when John Bateman went 8-1 in 1960. That campaign was followed by Rutgers' first undefeated season in 1961, when the team went 9-0, capping the season with a fourth-quarter, 25-point comeback win over Columbia. That team included All-American center Alex Kroll, and was ranked 15th nationally. In his 11 seasons, Bateman led Rutgers to 73 wins in 124 games.
In 1973, Frank Burns took the reins of Rutgers football and became the most successful Rutgers coach ever by building teams recognized for fundamentals and defense. Burns himself was also known as a fierce linebacker and won the Most Valuable Player Award in the 1949 College All-Star game, when he made 17 tackles against the New York Giants. The Burns' defenses were led by linebackers Ed Steward, Jim Hughes, Jim Dumont and defensive end Nate Toran. Burns' first team went 6-5, while running back "JJ" Jennings rushed for 1,353 yards (third in Rutgers history) and 21 touchdowns (second).
Over the next five seasons, Burns' teams won at least seven games each season, including a five-season stretch from 1975-79 when Rutgers' winning percentage was .803 with a record of 45-11. The jewel in the crown of Burns' tenure as Rutgers' coach was the 1976 season, when the team was perfect at 11-0, establishing the best season ever at Rutgers. During Burns' 11 seasons at Rutgers, the Scarlet Knights won nearly two-thirds of their games (78-44). He also took Rutgers to its first bowl appearance - the Garden State Bowl - at Giants Stadium against Arizona State in 1978.
Doubtless, the biggest win of the Burns era was the 13-7 upset of Tennessee on November 3, 1979 in Knoxville. Burns called it "the greatest of my coaching career."
The following year, 1980, Rutgers had one of its great "near-misses" of its long history when the Scarlet bowed, 17-13, to a highly-favored Alabama team coached by Bear Bryant at Giants Stadium. The gracious Bryant said, "We didn't beat Rutgers. All I can say is we won."
In 1984 when Dick Anderson was named head coach, a renewed commitment to football at Rutgers was backed by a $3 million state-funded package. Those funds helped finance the artificial surface practice fields, the practice "Bubble" and the Hale Center, which includes locker rooms, offices, a weight-training area and medical facilities for the football team.
Anderson won seven of 10 games in his inaugural season. Other highlights of his years at Rutgers include upset wins over such nationally-ranked teams as Penn State and Michigan State, and a nationally-televised victory over Northwestern in the program's 1,000th game. Anderson's teams produced some of the most exciting players in Rutgers history, including record-breaking passer Scott Erney, career tackles leader Tyronne Stowe (533 from 1983-86) and football/baseball star Eric Young. Anderson's last game at Rutgers was a memorable one. It was the 1989 Emerald Isle Classic versus Pittsburgh in Dublin, Ireland, the first time a Rutgers team played overseas.
Doug Graber became the Scarlet Knights' 23rd coach in 1990 and placed an emphasis on recruiting the best talent in the state of New Jersey. His first recruiting class included three first team all-state selections and two second-team All-State selections among the 12 recruits from New Jersey.
Another major boost for Rutgers came in 1991 when Rutgers joined the Big East Conference and won its first league game over Boston College, 20-13. The team went 13-9 in its first two years in the league, including a 4-2 mark in 1992.
The 1994 season celebrated not only the 125 years of college football, but also the return of the newly-renovated and expanded Rutgers Stadium. The return was a welcomed one. Rutgers teams have been at their best at the stadium, compiling a 237-120-4 (.662) record there since 1938. The new stadium has been quite a different setting than that of the first college football game played 130 years ago, as the Scarlet Knights are playing for their own place in history as they continue the college football tradition that was born "On the Banks of the Old Raritan."
1998 Big East Coach of the Year Terry Shea concluded his tenure in 2000, as the Scarlet Knights opted to take the program in a different direction for the 2001 season. On Dec. 1, 2000, Director of Athletics Bob Mulcahy introduced the newest coach in the storied history of Rutgers football - Greg Schiano.
Schiano's first three recruiting classes rejuvenated the football program. In 2003, the team closed strong, upsetting Syracuse, 24-7, in the season finale. In 2004, before the largest crowd ever at the time at Rutgers Stadium (42,612), the Scarlet Knights defeated Michigan State, 19-14.
In 2005, Schiano coached Rutgers to its best record in over a decade, 7-5, and its first bowl bid since 1978. In a Wild West shootout staged at Chase Field in Phoenix, Rutgers fell just short, losing to Arizona State, 45-40, at the Insight Bowl Dec. 27.
In 2006 Schiano was named the National Coach of the Year and Big East Coach of the Year, as the Scarlet Knights earned their first national top-10 ranking in 2006 and won 11 games for the second time in school history. The campaign included a thrilling win 28-25 over No. 3/4 Louisville in front of a Thursday night national audience on ESPN. The comeback victory, with RU overcoming an 18-point deficit, became one of the turning points in modern Rutgers history as fans stormed the field to ignite "Pandemonium in Piscataway." Rutgers ended the season with a ranking of No. 12 in the national polls.
The success Rutgers achieved on the field was something Schiano envisioned from the first day he became the leader of the Scarlet Knights. At his introductory press conference, Schiano stated, "We're going to win at Rutgers and we're going to do it the right way." The 2006 season was complete with a convincing 37-10 victory over Kansas State in the Texas Bowl, the first bowl championship in school history. In addition, Brian Leonard was the recipient of the Draddy Trophy, known as the Academic Heisman.
The program won eight more games in 2007, including the highest ranked win in program history with a 30-27 victory over No. 2 USF. The season concluded with a dominating 52-30 victory over Ball State at the International Bowl in Toronto. Ray Rice ran for a school-record 280 rushing yards on the day to bring his career total to 4,926, a program high. An All-America pick and Heisman Trophy candidate, the running back also set the Scarlet Knight standards for attempts (910), touchdowns (49) and 100-yard games (25).
The 2008 campaign for the Scarlet Knights started slowly, but the program relied on a strong foundation built by Schiano and together as a family Rutgers turned in seven consecutive victories to close out the season - culminating in a 29-23 victory over NC State in the PapaJohns.com Bowl. In 2009, the Scarlet Knights saw a number of milestones set en route to a record of 9-4, including a 45-24 victory over UCF in the St. Petersburg Bowl.
Prior to Schiano's arrival at Rutgers, the Scarlet Knights had never fielded a receiver who had gained 1,000 yards in a season. In 2009, Tim Brown became the fourth during his tenure to eclipse the mark. Brown also became the school's all-time leader in receiving touchdowns, passing RU's initial first round draft pick Kenny Britt. RU had two first round picks in 2010, with Anthony Davis being the highest pick in program history at No. 11 by the San Francisco 49ers. Devin McCourty was selected at No. 27 by the New England Patriots.
While the results on the field did not favor Rutgers in 2010, the world was introduced to Eric LeGrand. The junior defensive tackle suffered a spinal cord injury at MetLife Stadium Oct. 16 against Army, but he did not let the condition bring him down. LeGrand has become a public figure and has raised countless dollars towards spinal cord research. He became the first Scarlet Knight in the 144 years of the football program to have his number retired during halftime of the Sept. 14, 2013 game against Eastern Michigan.
Rutgers returned to a bowl game in 2011 with a trip to the New Era Pinstripe Bowl. It was the second game of the season for the team at Yankee Stadium. The Scarlet Knights defeated Army during the regular season before beating Iowa State in the bowl game. Wide receiver Mohamed Sanu set the school record with 115 receptions on the season and was drafted in the third round of the NFL Draft by the Cincinnati Bengals.
Following the season, head coach Greg Schiano took the head coaching job with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to end an 11-year tenure. Kyle Flood, who joined the program in 2005, was promoted from the staff to the lead position several days later.
Flood made an immediate impact on the Rutgers program with a successful first season, as he led the school to its first Big East Championship in 2012, ending with a 9-4 record and 5-2 record in the league. Flood was named the Big East Coach of the Year, an honor he shared with Louisville's Charlie Strong. Flood's nine regular season victories were the most by any first-year coach in Rutgers history, as eight players garnered All-Big East honors. Khaseem Greene totaled 136 tackles to earn Big East Defensive Player of the Year for the second consecutive season, in addition to All-America status. The defensive unit was among the best in school history, ranking fourth nationally in scoring defense, tied for ninth in turnovers gained and 10th in total defense.
Offensively, wide receiver Brandon Coleman established himself as one of the nation's premier deep threats by scoring 10 touchdowns during the season, tied for the most in school history. He would end up with 20 in his career, tied with Brown for the school record.
The year culminated with a trip to the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando to face Virginia Tech. However, the Scarlet Knights fell 13-10 in overtime. In the offseason, Rutgers had 12 players signed by NFL teams, with a school-record seven selected in the NFL Draft.
Rutgers came out of the gates in 2013 with a 4-1 start through September. Following a 52-51 loss in overtime at Fresno State, RU rattled off four straight wins. The winning streak was highlighted by a comeback win over Arkansas in the first visit by an SEC team to High Point Solutions Stadium. In its first American Athletic Conference game, Rutgers won in triple overtime at SMU, 55-52. Other conference victories included a late fourth quarter win with the hurry-up offense versus Temple and a postseason-clinching performance on Senior Night against USF. The 2013 New Era Pinstripe Bowl was the eighth bowl trip in nine years for Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights took on a ranked Notre Dame team inside a sold-out Yankee Stadium.
On July 1, 2014, Rutgers officially joined the Big Ten Conference to usher in a new era in its deep and storied history. Support for the program reached new levels for the Big Ten opener, as a stadium-record 53,774 fans packed High Point Solutions Stadium for a game against Penn State. The Scarlet Knights won their first Big Ten game Oct. 4 over Michigan, with Kemoko Turay leaping to block a potential go-ahead field goal to seal the win and set off a storming of the field. The first road win in conference play came at Maryland after RU erased a 35-10 deficit to win 41-38 in the biggest comeback in school history, which would be matched a year later at Indiana. Senior quarterback Gary Nova threw for 347 yards on a career-best 28 completions in the 2014 win versus the Terrapins, ending his career as the all-time touchdown passing leader (73).
The first year in the Big Ten would be capped off with a convincing 40-21 win over North Carolina in the Quick Lane Bowl, hosted by the Detroit Lions. The Scarlet Knights went 8-5 and earned the Lambert-Meadowlands Trophy, emblematic of the top team in the East in the Bowl Subdivision.
In the second year in the Big Ten, Leonte Carroo closed his time as a Scarlet Knight with 10 receiving touchdowns to raise his school-record total to 29 over 31 games at the position. He averaged a score once every 4.2 receptions over his career, racking up 2,373 yards to join the list of standout wide receivers.
On Dec. 7, 2015, Chris Ash, a national-championship winning defensive coordinator at Ohio State, took over the program as the Scarlet Knights continue to establish a presence in the Big Ten and nationally.