December 2011

This One’s for Big E

December 30, 2011 – Last year’s Pinstripe Bowl ended in dramatic fashion with Syracuse holding on to a two-point win despite a mad-dash comeback by Kansas State in the final minutes of the contest.

Well, I guess this bowl is meant to have exciting finishes because the fourth quarter of the 2011 game was almost as thrilling.

At the start of the fourth quarter, Rutgers held a 20-6 lead. Iowa State capped a long drive when running back Jeff Woody dashed 20 yards for a touchdown with 10 minutes to play. Woody’s run brought Iowa State to within a touchdown of Rutgers at 20-13.

Rutgers quarterback Chas Dodd connected with Brandon Coleman on an 86-yard pass that expanded Rutgers’ lead to 27-13, before Iowa State put together a drive that led them Rutgers’ 10-yard line. Iowa State couldn’t convert on a fourth down pass attempt with five minutes left to play, and they would not score again.

The noise level seemed to be twice as loud in the second half, as Rutgers took the well-earned New Era Pinstripe Bowl trophy from the Bronx to it’s new home in Piscataway, New Jersey.

A few seconds after Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano hoisted the Pinstripe Bowl trophy above his head, he delivered what may have been the quickest celebration speech in college football history.

“Big E,” Schiano shouted as he pointed to the suite where Eric LeGrand (who was paralyzed from the neck down in a 2010 game) watched the game from. “This one’s for you.”

–Alfred Santasiere III

Exciting Atmosphere at the 2011 New Era Pinstripe Bowl

December 30, 2011 – At the start of the second half, Rutgers University is leading Iowa State University by a score of 17-6 in the 2011 New Era Pinstripe Bowl.

Rutgers came into the game with an 8-4 record including a victory against Army at Yankee Stadium in November. Iowa State entered the contest with a 6-6 record. Iowa State’s last win of the regular season came against Oklahoma State University, which posted an 11-1 record, and which will be playing in the Fiesta Bowl next week. That Oklahoma State team scored 59 or more points in five games this season, and were defeated in double overtime by the Cyclones of Iowa State.

Rutgers, which is located about an hour from Yankee Stadium, didn’t play as difficult of a schedule as Iowa State, but they did defeat Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Navy and Cincinnati earlier this season.

Needless to say, the play on the field is competitive. Meanwhile, the atmosphere in the stands is electric.

Rutgers’ fan base is well represented today. From my vantage point in the press box behind the end zone, the left-field bleachers are packed tightly with Rutgers followers (donning scarlet red) and about three quarters of the seats in the first two levels of the Stadium are also packed with Scarlet Knight fans.

The remaining seats in the first two decks of the Stadium, along with nearly all of the space in the right-field bleachers, are filled with Iowa State loyalists.

All in all, the Stadium atmosphere favors Rutgers, but it’s hard not to be impressed with the way Iowa State traveled to New York for this game.

Eric LeGrand, the Rutgers player who suffered spinal cord damage and two fractured vertebrae in a 2010 game and who is paralyzed from the neck down, was interviewed on the centerfield video board at the start of the third quarter.

In a touching moment, the entire crowd of 38,328 applauded each time LeGrand answered a question. I would be hard pressed to write much of what LeGrand said, because it was one of the loudest moments of the game — and that’s saying something considering that it’s been an energetic atmosphere since the kickoff.

–Alfred Santasiere III

Sacred Ground

December 30, 2011 — A few nights ago, I had to the opportunity to cover a visit that both teams made to the National September 11 Memorial.

It was my first trip to the sacred grounds, and I will never forget the moment I first saw the two reflecting pools, which are in the exact places that the twin towers stood.

When I first saw the size of each reflecting pool (they are each more than one square acre), it gave me greater perspective of the enormity of the tragedy.

But the site of the beautiful waterfalls, which flow into large pools, also gave me a sense of pride for everyone who lost their life on Sept. 11, 2001. The reflecting pools are not overstated, but are instead a perfect tribute to thousands of mothers, fathers, sons and daughters who didn’t come home on that our country’s worst day.

I read as many names — which are engraved on the exterior of each pool — as I possibly could during the time in between each team’s visit to the site. And when the wind came though the area, I got splashed by the water in each pool.

It was a cold night, and the water on my face didn’t make it any warmer, but in a way, the mist added the peacefulness of what is now a placid place to remember so many people.

Following Iowa State’s visit, I spoke to Cyclone running back Jeff Woody, who is from Iowa, and who was 10 years on in 2001.

From the minute our conversation began, it was obvious that Woody had a special sense of compassion for the victims of a tragedy that took place at a time when he was too young to fully grasp it.

“To look at a structures in New York City that appear to be as stable as can be, and to think that there were 3,000 people who can’t go home to see their families is a reminder of the greatness and the depths of humanity all in one,” Woody said. “At times like this, I really don’t think about football. This is a grave site for 3,000 people, and I can’t even put that into words to give you an idea of what I am feeling right now.”

“We got our schedule for this week after our game against Kansas State,” Woody continued. “This was the thing I was looking forward to the most, not because of excitement but because of respect. I circled this night on the calendar.”

–Alfred Santasiere III