Returning to the Banks: a trip back to my alma mater

Published On November 8, 2012 | By Kathryn Tappen

There’s something special about rooting on your alma mater.

The passion that comes with the powerful cheers from the student body that now sits in the stands you once inhabited is unlike any other. It brings a feeling of nostalgia, excitement, and for me, satisfaction that, unlike during those four wonderful years, I no longer have to borrow money from my parents.

For the first time in a long time, I am returning to the “Banks of the Old Raritan”, as Howard N. Fuller affectionately wrote in 1873 in what became the Rutgers University alma mater.

The song is sung at the conclusion of athletic events on RU campus in New Jersey, and I cannot wait to hear its lyrics on Saturday afternoon.

The 7-and-1 Scarlet Knights will take on Army at High Point Solutions Stadium with over 52,000 fans sporting Scarlet pride.

I have fond memories of my days on the banks. As a member of the Rutgers Cross Country and Track & Field team, I was fortunate to attend many football games after my Saturday morning meets. The athletic department always honored the entire student-athlete body at one of the first home games of the season.

I remember my Junior year in particular. Gary Brackett (Super Bowl XLI champ), Shawn Seabrooks, and L.J. Smith (Eagles ’03-‘08/Ravens ‘09) were the captains. The team was not very good- go figure with those NFL guys leading the pack!

The third home game of the year was the first and only victory for that Scarlet Knights team, who went 1-11/ 0-7 in the Big East. It was a dominating 44-0 defeat of Army that gave the entire University and its fans hope that the season would turnaround. Such was not the case.

I remember four years later when Rutgers earned national recognition under then-head coach Greg Schiano in 2006 with the program going 11-2 and earning a bowl berth for the first time in the modern day era. I was a proud broadcaster in Boston at the time, forcing my producers to give me an extra 30 seconds to read the RU highlights from the games on the nightly sportscast. The story was not just about Rutgers football, but it was about passion and hope for sports fans across the nation. A feel-good story will get you every time, even if it occurs 250 miles south of Boston.

I remember the news ticker on October 16, 2010. RU defensive tackle Eric LeGrand suffered a severe spinal injury during the Scarlet Knights game against the Army Black Knights in New Meadowlands Stadium . It was one of those moments in sports where you absolutely cringe, and wish you could rewind the tape and erase the tragedy.

But with personal strength and the nation behind him, LeGrand became an inspiration to all of us. In July 2011, LeGrand tweeted photos of himself standing upright and announced that he was steadily regaining movement in his arms. LeGrand believes he will walk again, and so do the rest of us.

I remember all of these memories, like so many other graduates who root for and follow their alma mater.

Throughout my career, I have always mentioned my roots as a Rutgers student athlete, because I truly believe the experience I had there and the many wonderful people I met along the way helped shape me. My journalism professors still reach out to me; my roommates and teammates are still my close friends.

And this post-college journey has allowed me to follow the wonderful school that I had the honor to attend for four years.

On Saturday, my mentor in the business and friend, Rutgers athletic director Tim Pernetti, has invited my family and me to join him in the Athletic Director’s suite to watch the Scarlet Knights football team take on Army. Here’s to another defeat of the Black Knights like the one I witnessed in 2002.

I can’t wait to see the team charge the field, and hear the thunderous roars from the crowd. I’m excited to see how things have changed On the Banks since the last time I was on campus. I am going to enjoy seeing my proud parents once again take in an RU football game, as they did for the years I was enrolled and the many years following my graduation. And rumor has it that Eric LeGrand will also be at Rutgers on Saturday, the programs’ second meeting since that fateful day he was injured more than two years ago.

But what I’m most looking forward to is seeing firsthand the outpouring of support that Rutgers Athletics has contributed to Hurricane Sandy relief efforts. No region was devastated more by the storm than the New Jersey and New York coastline. As the State University of New Jersey, I know that the staff and student body at Rutgers have done their part in assisting those in need.

In the team’s first home game since the devastation, I have no doubt that I will be a part of a memorable weekend because there’s just something special about rooting on your alma mater.

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About The Author

Kathryn Tappen is the host of NHL Tonight on the NHL Network. Kathryn previously worked for NESN as a studio host for Bruins games and as the lead anchor for SportsDesk. Kathryn is also an athlete, as she was an Academic All-American as a member of the track and cross country teams at Rutgers. She is a former record holder in the women's 3,000 meter steeplechase.