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Top moments in Rutgers Athletics History

After Rutgers defeated Princeton in the first collegiate game on Nov. 6, 1869, college football went on to become one of the most popular sports in the United States. – Photo by The Daily Targum

The history of Rutgers Athletics dates all the way back to the 1800s. On May 2, 1866, the Scarlet Knights baseball team held the University’s first sports game, losing to Princeton 40-2. The end of the Civil War and former President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination preceded this by a little more than a year. After that one-sided loss, Rutgers would go on to achieve greatness in several different sport areas. Here are a few of those special moments for Scarlet Knights fans looking to brush up on their history.

1869: Rutgers plays the first intercollegiate football game

NCAA football began on Nov. 6, 1869, when Rutgers beat Princeton 6-4. The game was played on a field that has since been replaced by the Rutgers gymnasium. College football went on to become one of the most popular sports in the United States, and it all started with a low-scoring defensive battle in the Garden State.

1976: Rutgers men’s basketball reaches the Final Four 

The 1975-76 season is still the only time this program has made the Final Four. With a 31-0 record, the Scarlet Knights ripped through the competition with a stacked team that included Eddie Jordan and Phil “The Thrill” Sellers. Although Rutgers lost to Michigan, the season still set the standard for the program.

1982: Rutgers women’s basketball wins the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) title 

The Scarlet Knights came into the game as underdogs but were able to secure the 83-77 victory. Head coach Theresa Grentz oversaw the program in its only championship, and Patty Coyle was the MVP with a 30-point performance. 

1991: Alexi Lalas leads Rutgers soccer to its first Final Four and a No. 1 ranking 

Although the Scarlet Knights could not complete their Tournament run with a championship, this season helped propel Lalas into becoming one of the largest American soccer figures of all time. He not only won the prestigious Hermann Trophy, awarded to the best player of the season, but he also went on to have a prosperous career for the United States National Team.

2006: Rutgers football beats No. 3 Louisville in a primetime upset

This game went a long way toward cementing head coach Greg Schiano’s legendary status on the Banks. The No. 15-ranked Scarlet Knights hosted the Cardinals on an ESPN Thursday night matchup that showcased two undefeated teams. 

Both sitting at 8-0, this game was a must-win for both programs as they were each trying to take control of the Big East. In a tight, back-and-forth affair, Rutgers came out on top 28-25 on a last-minute field goal. The Empire State Building lit up red, and the night would be dubbed “Pandemonium in Piscataway.”

2006: Rutgers football wins its first bowl game with a 37-10 win over Kansas State in the Texas Bowl 

The Scarlet Knights were able to ride the momentum from the Louisville game, finishing the regular season 11-2 and ranked 12 in the AP Poll. This finally qualified the program for its first bowl game, 137 years after that first match against Princeton. Running back Ray Rice anchored the offense with 170 rushing yards to cement his status as Big East MVP. At long last, Rutgers achieved glory.

2007: Head coach C. Vivian Stringer leads Rutgers women’s basketball to the National Championship

Stringer checked a major box on her Hall of Fame application when she led the No. 4-ranked Scarlet Knights past Duke, Arizona State and LSU in the NCAA Tournament. Unfortunately for Rutgers, it came up short against Tennessee, which had future WNBA- legend Candace Parker. Still, it was a historic run for a program that was not previously well-known outside of the tri-state area.

2009: Stringer is inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame

As the winningest coach in Rutgers and the sixth-winningest in NCAA history, Coach Stringer has put together the best sports resume in Scarlet Knights history. The only thing missing from her list of accomplishments is bringing a championship to Piscataway, but she will have an opportunity to try again this upcoming season.

2014: Rutgers is introduced into the Big Ten 

In 2014, the Scarlet Knights climbed up the ladder of college athletics and never looked back. With the University now in a Power Five conference, it transformed the mentality across the entire sports program. Each team knew it would have to step up, with yearly competitions against prestigious athletic programs like Ohio State and Michigan.

2019: Nick Suriano and Anthony Ashnault both win national championships for Rutgers wrestling

On March 23, 2019, the Scarlet Knights saw two of their athletes win NCAA National Championships on the same night. Suriano secured a 4-2 victory in the 133-pound match, and Ashnault later had a 9-4 win in the 149-pound bout. 

It’s by far the greatest night in the program’s history, and both men have now moved on to Olympic ambitions. It’s safe to say that these two are not done making the Rutgers faithful proud.

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