When Rutgers invited Princeton 150 years ago to take part in the first collegiate football game, on November 6, 1869, revenge was most likely the motive. Three years earlier, the Princeton baseball team had humiliated Rutgers 40–2. In the intervening years, Rutgers students had put together a team to play football. Princeton had, too. Rutgers captain William J. Leggett wrote a letter to Princeton laying down the challenge: a series of three football games. Princeton captain William S. Gummere quickly accepted. The Princeton team arrived in New Brunswick by train, and the two captains hashed out rules for the contest, one that, in the early versions of the sport as practiced by the two schools, more resembled today’s game of soccer. Each team would field 25 players. The first team to score six “games,” or points, would win. With perhaps 100 people watching, players shed their coats, vests, and hats and took their positions on the field, now occupied by the parking lot behind the College Avenue Gymnasium at Rutgers University–New Brunswick. Rutgers players donned scarlet kerchiefs and turbans; the Princeton players, yet to establish orange and black as school colors, wore street clothes. Soon after the three o’clock kickoff, mayhem ensued as the wily Rutgers team relied on finesse and guile to counter their bigger, more aggressive opponents. The Targum described the action as “headlong running, wild shouting, and frantic kicking.” Rutgers registered the first point of college football when George Dixon and Stephen Gano teamed up to score. Princeton responded. Rutgers went up 4–2. Princeton tied it again. Leggett admonished his team to “keep your kicks short and low,” and Rutgers kicked for two more points and won the game 6–4. The first collegiate football game was in the books. A week later, the teams met again, this time in Princeton, playing in a cow pasture doubling as a playing field. Princeton crushed Rutgers, winning 8–0. The third game never took place. But because they had outscored Rutgers over the two games 12–6, Princeton was considered (by some) to be the first national football champion. Inarguably, a football rivalry was born.  


Mike Teel

Leaders of the Pack

First in Career Passing Yardage
Mike Teel (2005–2008)—9,383

First in Career Pass Receptions
Mohamed Sanu (2009–2011)—210

First in Career Rushing Yardage
Ray Rice (2005–2007)—4,926

First in Career Scoring
Jeremy Ito (2004–2007)—400


1961 cartoon Rutgers undefeated


The first undefeated season for Rutgers came in 1961, when the Scarlet Knights, under coach John F. Bateman and his innovative offensive system, went 9-0 and finished ranked No. 15 in the nation. The team featured quarterback Bill Speranza and All-American center Alex Kroll, who helped lead the team to a 17-1 record over his two years playing. After the final game, a victory over Columbia, Rutgers president Mason W. Gross declared in the exuberant postgame locker room: “The greatest team, the greatest season, the greatest coach that any college ever had.” At the time, Rutgers was a member of the Middle Atlantic Conference and the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference, whose strict guidelines for intercollegiate athletics aligned with Rutgers’ philosophy about the proper place of sports in higher education.


James Gandolfini

Bowled Over 

Despite numerous winning seasons featuring players with national reputations, Rutgers didn’t appear in its first bowl game until 1978, when it lost to Arizona State University 34–18 in the Garden State Bowl. The Scarlet Knights’ second bowl appearance took place in 2005 in the Insight Bowl, with another loss to Arizona State University, 45–40. Rutgers alumnus James Gandolfini represented Rutgers for the ceremonial coin toss. Rutgers began making regular bowl appearances in the 2000s and has since posted a record of 6-2.


Coach Bear Bryant

"They Deserved to Win"

“They’re the best team we’ve played. They deserved to win, but we were just fortunate enough  to score more  points than them.” Those were the words of Alabama head coach Paul “Bear” Bryant following No. 1 Crimson Tide’s win over Rutgers 17–13 on October 11, 1980. Alabama, Notre Dame, Texas, Tennessee, Miami, West Virginia, Penn State, Boston College, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Florida. Year by year, as the Rutgers football program racked up the victories, there was a push to play the best teams in the nation. And the Scarlet Knights did, winning some and losing some. The games were competitive—and evidence that Rutgers was always forging ahead to stake its claim in college football.


running back Bill Bailey (pictured) leaping over Eagles defenders to score

The Big East and the Big Ten

In the inaugural football game played in the Big East Conference, which expanded to include football competition in 1991, Rutgers defeated Boston College 20–13. Even the first touchdown in the conference involved Rutgers, with running back Bill Bailey (pictured) leaping over Eagles defenders to score. Rutgers’ playing in the new conference was a step up in competition and a decision that Rutgers presidents Edward J. Bloustein and Francis Lawrence and New Jersey governor Tom Kean endorsed. The Scarlet Knights played in the Big East until 2012. Two years later, Rutgers entered the Big Ten Conference, which includes some of the nation’s premier public research universities. A stadium-record 53,774 fans filled High Point  Solutions Stadium on September 13, 2014, for the Big Ten opener against Penn State. The Scarlet Knights won their first Big Ten game on October 4, beating the University of Michigan 26–24.


All American Paul Robeson

A Great American, a Great All-American

The first All-American produced by Rutgers was Paul Robeson, a two-time selection who starred on offense and defense from 1915 to 1918. Those hallowed Rutgers teams, dubbed “the Scarlet Scourge” by sportswriters, were coached by George Foster  “Sandy” Sanford, who coined the phrase “Upstream, red team.” Sanford came from Columbia, where he had been the highest paid coach in college football, which was coming under scrutiny for the game’s violence and excessive commercialization. Another visionary coach, Walter Camp of Yale, chose Robeson in 1918 for his All-American team, calling him a “veritable superman.” Camp was responsible for revolutionizing the game of football, from introducing the line of scrimmage and the  quarterback position to reducing the size of the field.


Coach Burns

The Spirit of ’76

In the first collegiate football game played at Giants Stadium, in East Rutherford, New Jersey, Rutgers beat Columbia 47–0 on October 23, 1976. The Scarlet Knights, touting a nationally ranked defense and 18 straight wins over two years, went undefeated, 11-0. Rutgers was led by head coach “Flinging Frank” Burns, the winningest coach in school  history (78-43-1) and the former star quarterback for Rutgers following World War II, when college football quickly returned to its prewar  popularity.


Devin McCourty

Firsts Among Equals
Rutgers players who were chosen in the first round of the NFL Draft

Kenny Britt (30th overall)—Tennessee Titans—2009

Anthony Davis (11th overall)—San Francisco 49ers—2010

Devin McCourty (27th overall)—New England Patriots—2010

Rutgers has a long history of producing athletes who have played in the National Football League. Dozens have been drafted, with a preponderance of them being chosen since 2000—a reflection of Rutgers coaches deploying offenses and defenses patterned after the professional game, making young players easier to groom for the pros. Sixteen former Scarlet Knights are active players in the NFL. Twenty-two former players were members of teams that appeared in the Super Bowl, 15 of them on the winning team.


old illustrated post card Rutgers vs Columbia

Interstate Rivalry

In the first interstate college football game, played on November 12, 1870, on a windy Saturday in New Brunswick, Rutgers defeated Columbia 6–3. The two schools played twice in 1872 (there was no college football in 1871) as interest in the sport grew. A year later, Rutgers, along with Princeton and Yale, helped form the Intercollegiate Football Association, in part to codify rules. By the end of the season, football, in the opinion of players and fans, was the game. And the rivalry between Rutgers and Columbia would last until 1978.


Rutgers new stadium 1938

The House That Rutgers Built

Saying goodbye to Neilson Field after 45 years, Rutgers played its first game in the new Rutgers Stadium (built in Piscataway with the aid of grants from the Works Progress Administration) on October 21, 1938, defeating Hampden-Sydney 32–0 and fulfilling Rutgers president Robert Clothier’s wish “to erect a stadium of moderate size to accommodate our guests more adequately.” Joining the president two weeks later, on November 5, were Princeton president Harold Dodds and New Jersey governor A. Harry Moore. They were among the 22,500 spectators (including George Large, the only living member of the 1869 team) to witness the Queensmen’s come-from-behind win over the heavily favored Tigers, 20–18—the first time Rutgers had beaten Princeton since the 1869 game. As the popularity of football continued to grow, a new Rutgers Stadium, built at the same location, opened in 1994 and underwent renovations in 2008, bringing the seating capacity to nearly 52,500.


1969_centennial-memorabilia plate

Victory Is the Sweetest Revenge

To mark the 100th anniversary of the first collegiate football game, Rutgers played Princeton on September 27, 1969, in Piscataway, crushing them 29–0 in a game broadcast on national television. A parade through New Brunswick and a reenactment of the 1869 game preceded the centennial contest. Entertainer and Rutgers alumnus (and former quarterback) Ozzie Nelson served as the master of ceremonies. Following its last touchdown, Rutgers had to go for a two-point conversion: rapturous fans had already brought down the goal posts. Coach John Bateman and cocaptains Bob Stonebraker and Lee Schneider later appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show.


Rutgers football team and fans rushing the field

Pandemonium in Piscataway!

In November 2006, the Rutgers defense was tops in the Big East as was No. 3 Louisville’s offense when the two teams met at Rutgers Stadium, witnessed by a record home crowd of more than 44,000 and drawing ESPN’s third-largest television audience for a college football game. Rutgers Radio Network announcer Chris Carlin said it best—“There’s pandemonium in Piscataway!”—when Rutgers defeated Louisville 28–25 on the last-second field goal by Jeremy Ito, prompting fans to flood the field to celebrate the upset. The Scarlet Knights went 11-2 and, following the team’s 37–10 victory over Kansas State in the Texas Bowl, finished the season ranked No. 12.


Illustration of Bill Austin holding football

A Threat to Score

During the late 1950s, Rutgers had a bona fide star in All-American Bill Austin, a single-wing tailback who was a threat to score anywhere on the field, whether running or passing the football. He was nominated in 1958 for the Heisman Trophy, the award honoring the best football player in the nation. In a home game against Columbia on November 22, won by Rutgers 61–0, Austin, playing with a heavily padded broken hand, scored 22 points in the second quarter alone. He’s tied for third for most rushing touchdowns for a career, with 32. 


Eric LeGrand at Rutgers football game

True Believer

Over the many decades, Rutgers has produced its share of heroic players who have left an indelible impression on fans and their marks in the record books. But who can match the impact that Eric LeGrand has had on the Rutgers community? In 2012, LeGrand tackled an Army kick-returner in a violent collision that left LeGrand  paralyzed below his shoulders. In the intervening years, he has made steady progress in his recovery and believes that he will walk again. In public appearances and in words and  gestures, he has been a beacon of hope, determination, and beneficence. And he is first in the hearts of so many Rutgers fans.