11/12/11 8:15 PM EST
Rutgers wins Yankee Stadium clash with Army
Scarlet trumps Black in battle of Knights
By Spencer Fordin / MLB.com
Army, despite the setback, was in its element. Both end zones spelled out Army in its familiar font, and the Black Knights logo was at midfield. The cadets filled the left-field bleachers of the stadium, and the field ran from the location of home plate out to the fence in front of Monument Park.
"The guys love playing here. It's an exciting place to walk into," said Army coach Rich Ellerson. "Especially the guys who grew up playing baseball ... they were tourists there for a while. We needed a little while to settle down, quit taking pictures of each other and get back to work."
And if you had just awakened, you may have thought you were in a time warp. Army had played at Yankee Stadium 38 times between 1925 and 1969 -- a bygone era in which it had been one of college football's greatest powers. Twenty-two of those games were against rival Notre Dame, a combination of teams and venue that resulted in some of college football's most unforgettable moments.
First, there was the "Win one for the Gipper" game, a 1928 collision immortalized by a speech from legendary Notre Dame coach Knute Rockne. Eighteen years later, the two teams -- ranked No. 1 and No. 2 -- played to a scoreless tie in a game that featured four Heisman Trophy winners.
That was the old Yankee Stadium, though, and another version of Army football. The Black Knights had only played once in the new Yankee Stadium, a loss to Notre Dame last year. Last year's game against Rutgers -- a 23-20 loss in overtime -- was played at the New Meadowlands Stadium.
"From the minute we rolled in, [it was] neat," said Rutgers coach Greg Schiano of his trip to Yankee Stadium. "We don't come to the stadium the day before. That's just not what we do. We came a little bit early today because I knew [our players'] eyes would be [big], and they were.
"What a beautiful facility, and then to go out on the field, I told them, 'Enjoy it. Soak it up. ... Take your phones out and take pictures. And then when you walk back up those steps, get ready to play.'"
Army, keeper of a unique tradition, has all of its players wear "West Point" instead of names on the backs of their jerseys, and its media guide lists Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant as distinguished graduates. And then, once the game began, Army seized control early.
The Black Knights returned the opening kickoff to the 40-yard-line, and two plays later, freshman running back Larry Dixon went 55 yards to the three-yard line. Army (3-7) settled for a field goal and later took a 6-0 lead, but Rutgers (7-3) tied the game on a touchdown and missed extra point.
Rutgers, which has won eight straight games against Army, took command in the first drive of the third quarter. The Scarlet Knights methodically drove down the field, starting from their own 33, and took a 13-6 lead on a 38-yard touchdown pass from Chas Dodd to Brandon Coleman.
Army made things interesting by intercepting Dodd late in the third quarter, and Dixon plunged into the end zone from three yards out to make it a one-point game. Army missed the extra point, though, and later had a long run erased on a penalty. Rutgers put the game away by returning a blocked punt for a touchdown, and Jawan Jamison added a 56-yard score in the final two minutes.
"I don't feel like we dominated them. We've been able to find a way to win," said Schiano, who improved to 5-0 against Army. "Those guys played their rear ends off, and Coach Ellerson, I can't say enough good things about him as a person and as a football coach. His staff does an excellent job."
The game was perhaps most notable for the presence of former Rutgers player Eric LeGrand, who was living through an important milestone. LeGrand suffered a severe spinal cord injury when Army and Rutgers last played, and doctors feared that he would be paralyzed from the neck down.
LeGrand has steadily regained sensation in his limbs, and he walked for an hour on a treadmill on Wednesday for the first time since his paralysis. LeGrand served as a captain for Rutgers on Saturday, and he credited both teams for supporting him -- and football for making him mentally strong.
"It's been a rough year," said LeGrand. "But like I've said, it's probably been the best year of my life because of how many people I've been able to touch. It's been a fast year, actually."
LeGrand, who fractured his C-3 and C-4 vertebrae, called the coin toss for Rutgers and later appeared in the broadcast booth to speak with the game's commentators. He said that he hopes to visit West Point one day, and he also said that his family has helped him keep a positive mindset.
"As soon as I was in the hospital, everything was just so positive around me," said LeGrand, who got around Yankee Stadium in a motorized wheelchair. "That's just how I was brought up, and that's how I am today. That's why I continue to be, because it's the only way I'm going to beat this thing. Just imagine if I was negative through this whole thing. No one would know who I was, no one would be inspired by my story. Who knows where I would be? I might still be on a ventilator."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.