The notification arose in the top right corner of my laptop screen, a welcome distraction amidst a finals week study break. “FREE Quick Lane Bowl Tickets for Undergrad Students!” I looked up at my two teammates, studying along with myself in the student lounge of the Communication department building.
“Did you see that email?” I inquired aloud.
“Let’s do it” they responded, unequivocally.
Just like that, the plan had been set into motion. Within minutes, my Internet browser was filled with a half-dozen tabs, featuring Google Maps directions from New Jersey to Ford Field, Detroit, where the game was to be played, as well as hotel rates around the stadium.
The game was scheduled for December 26, at 4:30 pm, against the University of North Carolina. After surviving finals week, we put the finishing touches on the logistics for the trip. My parents, graciously allowed us to take the trek in our family SUV, which could accommodate six willing travelers. Ultimately, myself and three teammates, as well as my teammates roommate and my own classmate, committed to the excursion.
With a mid-afternoon kickoff on the day after Christmas, and an undergraduates budget that only allowed for one night’s hotel stay, we were let with two options- depart early on gameday, or drive through the night before. We decided upon the latter, assembling most of the caravan in South Jersey before grabbing our last traveler from Mountain Lakes. At just after 1 am, we began the 600-mile journey onto Interstate 80 west.
I drove the first leg of the journey, finally acquiescing to my gas gauge’s demand just as the sun was breaking through the morning sky. After refueling with some Christmas dinner leftovers, we resumed our drive. I graciously eschewed driving duties, and managed to catch my first few hours of shut-eye with my teammate at the helm. We arrived to the city just before 11 am, almost 10 hours since we departed, welcomed by an unseasonably warm 50 degree day. After gorging ourselves on some much needed breakfast fare courtesy of Cadillac Diner, we managed to secure an early hotel check-in, before making some pregame preparations.
Having made the half-day drive across the country, we decided that we ought to display our support of the Scarlet Knights in true collegiate fashion-by painting R-U-T-G-E-R-S across our respective chests. Realizing we were one body-canvas short, we resorted to some ingenuity, utilizing a cardboard box for the final letter, and headed for the stadium.
Despite an underwhelming crowd split evenly between Rutgers supporters, UNC fans, and local college football enthusiasts, we made sure our fandom was on full display. Throughout the first half, surrounding fans complimented our display of support, with a half dozen or so requesting to join us for a picture. Rutgers dominating performance made it easy to maintain our high spirits, as the Scarlet Knights secured a 16-0 halftime lead.
Midway through the third quarter, our body-painting efforts were recognized by the broadcast production from ESPN, as they granted us three seconds of airtime on the nationally televised broadcast. Within minutes my phone was in a frenzy, as friends and family from home, watching the game, congratulated us on our brief moment of glory. The Scarlet Knights gave us more to cheer about, as they finished the game with a 40-21 victory.
After grabbing some dinner, we returned to the hotel, exhausted from the day’s journey. A few members of our party managed to summon the strength to venture into the Detroit nightlife, but my body refused to rise from the hotel bed until the sun rose the next morning.
We returned home that night, some 1200 miles later, having spent almost 20 hours in the confines of the car. The trip was a tremendous experience with my teammates, and a memorable part of winter break that will set the precedent for years to come.