Rutgers fans in New York City search for hope, Pac-12 Network as Chris Ash era begins
NEW YORK — Finnerty’s has been a go-to destination for Bay Area sports fans in Manhattan for nearly a decade.
The San Francisco 49ers’ 2016 schedule is on a big chalkboard near the entrance. Memorabilia from all of the professional and collegiate Northern California teams is evident. One of the female bartenders wore a Golden State Warriors blue-and-gold tank top Saturday that said “Bae Area.”
Naturally, the place was filled. The San Francisco Giants were at Wrigley Field to face the Chicago Cubs in an afternoon showdown between two of baseball’s best teams behind two of MLB’s best pitchers: Jake Arrieta and Madison Bumgarner.
This was not a typical Saturday, though. A large burst of clapping and cheering happened, but it certainly wasn’t for Arrieta stepping off the mound after a Giants hitter called for time.
The Rutgers defense had just stopped the Washington Huskies short of a first-down marker, prompting about two dozen red-and-white clad fans to voice their approval. The opening game of the Chris Ash era for Rutgers football was broadcast only on the Pac-12 Network, so Scarlet Knights fans throughout the region scrambled to find local establishments that had the channel and were showing the game.
“A lot of Internet research,” said Matt Gomez, a Class of 2013 alum who lives in Manhattan. “Really tried to check out places in Manhattan first, but Hoboken [N.J.] was an option. When I learned that it was only on the Pac-12 Network, I started looking for Pac-12 bars. Even other Pac-12 schools like Oregon or USC, because I figured those places would have it.”
Finnerty’s is typically a great place to watch Stanford or Cal, but it became a gathering point for Rutgers fans in the East Village. It was the first game of the day in the Pac-12, with an 11 a.m. start time in Seattle, so there wasn’t a conflict with other conference teams. There were a few disgruntled Giants fans who were surprised to see the baseball game only on two screens.
Tom McIntosh graduated from Rutgers in 1985 and lives in Jersey City, N.J. He’s been a season-ticket holder for more than a decade, and his typical watering hole of choice for road games is Cadillac Cantina in Hoboken, N.J.
He planed to meet people at the U.S. Open tennis tournament in Queens after the game, so he wanted to find a place in Manhattan along the way to watch the game and ended up at Finnerty’s. McIntosh found Finnerty’s on a list of places showing the game at the Rivals’ Rutgers site, ScarletNation.com.
He echoed the sentiments of other fans in the bar before kickoff. There was plenty of nervous excitement.
“This guy has incredible pedigree, but he’s never been a head coach. So we have to wait and see,” McIntosh said. “We have no clue about this year right now.”
Other bars in Manhattan traditionally associated with Pac-12 teams also showed the game. The Central Bar near Astor Place filled with Oregon fans, but Rutgers-Washington was shown on one of the TVs as the Huskies raced out to an early lead.
The Rutgers Club of New York City typically has viewing parties at McGettigan’s in Midtown. When the Scarlet Knights look for their first victory of the season next week against Howard, Rutgers fans will fill the pub not far from Herald Square. McGettigan’s wasn’t showing Rutgers-Washington, instead opting for the U.S. Open.
Gomez does not have cable at his apartment, but said he rarely has any trouble finding Rutgers games at bars in Manhattan. Part of the move for Rutgers to the Big Ten was about helping the conference, and the school, gain more exposure in the city.
“We want to be New York’s school,” said Dan Shapiro, a lifelong fan whose dad went to Rutgers and graduated with former basketball coach Eddie Jordan. “I think we can be. Hopefully, we can have a lot more Rutgers bars here soon. I’m 25 and living in New York, and I love the idea of playing Michigan and Ohio State.”
Shapiro and Joaquin Manzanarez were two of about a dozen Rutgers fans in a sea of purple at Feile, another Irish pub near Herald Square. Feile is the official Washington Huskies bar in the Big Apple.
It was standing room only Saturday as the No. 14-ranked Huskies began a much-anticipated season.
“I knew this was a Washington bar, so it was kind of the last-cast scenario,” Shapiro said. “Eventually, I ended up here. The Washington fans have been great. It’s been nice to have some Rutgers fans here, too. Everyone is rallying behind Chris Ash and thinks he was a great hire. He’s brought a lot of energy. We truly think he is the right guy to turn around the culture and the performance on the field.”
Washington opened a huge lead in the first half, but Rutgers found some hope in the second quarter. One drive went deep into Huskies territory before stalling on a missed fourth-down conversion. The next drive produced a field goal.
The Huskies returned the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown and the rout was back on. A 48-13 loss was not the start these Rutgers fans envisioned.
“So far it doesn’t look much different, but there is going to be growing pains,” Manzanarez said. “There’s a whole new offensive system, a new defensive system. They haven’t quit. That’s a positive.”
There will probably be better days ahead for the new coaching staff and Scarlet Knights fans.
For fans like McIntosh and Manzanarez, who has been a season ticket holder since 2009, the memories of Rutgers rising to national relevance with Greg Schiano in charge are still fresh.
“The Big Ten has so much tradition. College football is all about tradition, history. It is the foundation of college football. It’s exciting to see Rutgers be part of that,” Manzanarez said. “My first game was UConn in 2006. My second game was Louisville [when No. 15 Rutgers upset the No. 3 team in the nation].
“The student section used to be a lot closer to the 50-yard-line and security wasn’t tight back then. Rutgers wasn’t big time. I was able to sit right there with the students, and, man, the energy, the enthusiasm, the noise. That really stuck with me. I’m getting chills right now. If I had any hair, it would be standing up.”
For younger fans like Gomez and Shapiro, there is new hope that Rutgers can again find that level of success.
For one day, they all ended up at new establishments in search of a lightly-watched network and probably made some new friends of Pac-12 teams in the process.
“Throughout the years, there has been a lot of frustration,” Shapiro said. “Now we’re trying to reach the next step, the big time. Everything this offseason with the culture has been great. The recruiting is going to help make a difference.
“Everything is going in the right direction. I think we’re heading for a good place.”