“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.”
— Matthew 5:13 (ESV)
Henry Rutgers was there. As George Washington and the Continental Army crossed the Hudson River at Peekskill, having been chased out of New York City by victorious British armies, Rutgers, a captain, was surely present for the retreat. The American Revolution appeared to be on the verge of collapse, with New York City and its vast resources in the hands of British forces and the Continental Army disintegrating as it fled across the Hudson and eventually into New Jersey. After Washington’s army continued to retreat through the fall, the British were able to occupy New Jersey, including the town of New Brunswick.
Yet even as Henry Rutgers fled across Peekskill and into New Jersey, he would probably still agree that Michigan’s 78-0 victory in Piscataway was more embarrassing than the Continental Army’s retreat from New York City. After all, George Washington kept the main part of his army intact. The Revolution endured. The town of New Brunswick eventually became part of the United States and the town’s local Queen’s College was renamed after Henry Rutgers, who saved the school from financial ruin with a hefty donation. Eventually, that school would decide to join the Big Ten for similar financial reasons. History repeats itself.
And here we are in the present day, living through a weekend in which Rutgers lost 78-0 to Michigan.
Is it not true that football is a modern substitute for battle? Is the gridiron anything but a battlefield, in which our young men risk life and limb for pride? As we all know, football is nothing but a vehicle for martial metaphors. A quarterback is a “field general”. The linemen work “in the trenches”. Each game plan is a battle plan. Each formation is an order of battle.
Throughout the history of mankind, there have been a good number of close battles. But there are a great number of battles that have been between unequal forces. Numerical superiority, technological superiority and troop quality create a vast separation in the history of war. The same goes for football. Sometimes you have close games, and sometimes you have blowouts. It’s the way the game works.
However, there are some moments in history of complete catastrophe occurring on the battlefield. The Romans at the Battle of Cannae, for example, were outsmarted and then completely destroyed by Hannibal’s Carthaginians. Rome’s armies took a full decade to recover. At the English victory over the French in the Battle of Poitiers in 1356, the entire French army fell apart and the French king was captured. Significant parts of France would remain under English rule for nearly a century.
Michigan 78, Rutgers 0 is worse than any of that. At least the French could claim that they brought an army to Poitiers. At least the Romans can take pride in the fact they had a plan whatsoever, even if it was incredibly dumb. Rutgers could not do anything. It was immobilized through lack of competence. The closest historical comparison is the Battle of Ulm, in which Napoleon was able to capture a huge Austrian army simply through highly skilled movement over the course of three days. And even then, it’s hard to compare. It took Michigan three hours.
Rutgers was immolated in disaster before it took the field. For all intents and purposes, there was no Rutgers. Rutgers had no plan. The team walked up to the line and was fed into a yellow wood chipper.
Watching a Rutger
The last time I made fun of Rutger, I claimed its basketball team had turned into a postmodernist study being conducted within the framework of college basketball. This time, I have only pity for Rutger. With football being a sport rooted in evangelical Christian thought, I’m going to have to take the complete opposite position from the cynical existentialist and resort to ever-reliable theology to explain this one. I have no other option. The Scarlet Knights lost by 78 points at home. Yes, this is a good Michigan team, but this was completely and utterly farcical. Heck, it was the worst Big Ten loss since 2000. Even Rutgers basketball couldn’t manage that.
Jim Harbaugh is supposed to be a good Catholic. He is supposed to show pity to the weak and have mercy on those who cannot stand by themselves. But I can only imagine that Jim Harbaugh was invoking the passage from Matthew I quoted at the beginning of this article. We all may be the salt of the earth, but Jim Harbaugh clearly believed that Rutgers had lost its saltiness. Thus, Jim Harbaugh ordered Jabrill Peppers and Co. to defenestrate and emasculate Rutgers. Oh, and there were upwards of 200 Rutgers recruits present as Chris Ash tries to win the school’s own state back on the recruiting trail.
Perhaps Jim Harbaugh believes in the Old Testament God, and simply determined that, like the ancient Israelites, Rutgers had committed a grievous act of arrogance and greed by deciding to join the Big Ten. Rutgers, the unrighteous interlopers, had even had the gall to defeat Michigan on the road in 2014. That was Rutgers’ first season in the Big Ten. Michigan was a complete disaster. But Jim Harbaugh did not forget Rutgers’ perfidy by polluting the Big Ten. And so Jim Harbaugh struck them down.
Oh boy, did he strike them down.
Okay Jim, they’re already down 27, can you just kick an extra point like a sane person?
Jim, was that really necessary? Please, you’ve proved your point.
Michigan-Rutgers update.— SB Nation (@SBNation) October 9, 2016
Is this bad? pic.twitter.com/aXsLThVUYZ
I guess not then. Look it’s not like Rutgers has any recruiting advantage in the state of New Jersey anyway. This is a state that gets pillaged by plenty of better football schools. You’ve proved —
Rutgers' twitter account stopped providing live updates of the Michigan game at 14-0. Seven touchdowns ago pic.twitter.com/q3aQfuK9G9— Rodger Sherman (@rodger_sherman) October 9, 2016
Look Michigan, even the wrath of Old Testament God has its limits. The Egyptians only had to deal with 10 plagues, you know? He could’ve have had 78 plagues, but God stopped at 10. God didn’t go for a fake Plague After Attempt up by 4 plagues in the first quarter. Anything more would have been overkill. Michigan could have stopped at 50. But no, it ended 78-0. This is a good representation of what occurred.
Rutgers punted for three more yards (603) than Michigan gained (600).
I totally get where Harbaugh is coming from. He didn’t even bother to call passing plays in the second half. It’s not like he’s going to order his fourth-string running backs to lie down and waste clock. If Rutgers is going to let Michigan running backs walk into the end zone multiple times, than so be it.
But still, 78 points?! That’s some biblical destruction.
Maybe Harbaugh was not evoking the orders of the Christian god, but instead invoking John Heisman, who once decided to beat a college football team 222-0. That was 100 years and one day ago. As seen in this excellent Jon Bois video, Heisman, the god of college football, was a psychopathic jerk. Maybe Michigan was just following the spirit of John Heisman.
What have we learned? Rutgers is bad at football. It is not as bad as you think, considering it only lost by seven at home to Iowa a few weeks ago, but the Scarlet Knights are still very, very bad. If the Big Ten is this top-heavy, Northwestern might have a serious problem when it goes to OSU (though we already suspected that).
But Northwestern is not Rutgers. There is no Rutgers but Rutgers — there never will be — and Jim Harbaugh's mission is to obliterate Rutgers.
The line between a nihilist reading of 78-0 and the religious explanation is very thin. Either you think football is meaningless and cruel, or you think it's merely the unbending will of a higher being. Football is fate, fate is football. Rutgers is trash. End of story.
Henry Rutgers stares across the Hudson. He does not contemplate his legacy. He simply wants to get his men to safety. Someday he will fight again. Someday he will recline in his home and write the check to fund Rutgers University in the nascent United States. The fight will set him free.