College football returns to New York City Friday as Rutgers of the Big East and Iowa State of the Big XII will meet Friday at 3:30 PM at the New Era Pinstripe Bowl in Yankee Stadium.
This will be the second edition of the Pinstripe Bowl, an effort by the New York Yankees organization to host big time college football in New York City at their new ballpark. It is the second college football game of to be played at the Stadium this year, as Rutgers defeated Army in November as part of the "Army at Yankee Stadium" series of games.
Last year Army played Notre Dame at a sold-out Yankee Stadium in a renewal of one of college football's most historic rivalries. Army has additional games with Boston College and Rutgers in future years. Background comments have been heard from both the Yankees and West Point about future Army-Notre Dame games which may include another game at Yankee Stadium.
Last year's inaugural Pinstripe Bowl between Syracuse and Kansas State was played after the region and stadium were hit with a major snow fall that week; snow piles were left on the sidelines for atmosphere. The day generated high scoring and an entertaining game won in the last moments by the Orange.
This year we have the Scarlet Knights, who rebounded to 8-4 on the year after a disappointing season in 2010. They suffered a loss to Connecticut on the last day of the season that cost them a chance at a BCS bowl. Rutgers has become a regular in the postseason in the Greg Schiano era, winning their last four bowl appearances.
Their opponent Iowa State is 6-6, earning bowl eligibility with a memorable late season win over then undefeated Oklahoma State.
On our Monday radio show, the Pinstripe Bowl's executive director, Mark Holtzman, described the enthusiasm of the two schools to play in a New York City bowl game.
"We have two very excited fan bases. Neither team was in a bowl game last year; there is pent-up demand."
About the participation of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights from nearby New Jersey and Iowa State from the Midwest, he said,
"We have a slot to make the third pick of teams from the Big East and the sixth pick of teams from the Big Twelve. The Rutgers team is a local team. They had a very tough year last year. They did very well this year at 8-4. They had big wins against Navy, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.
"Iowa State had two huge wins. Over Oklahoma State, at that time the number two in the country, they knocked them from the unbeaten ranks. Then they beat their cross-town rival Iowa, always a big win for them. Iowa State is bringing five thousand fans with them."
For Iowa State this is a chance for many of the players and fans to visit New York City for the first time. The Cyclones arrived on Christmas Day and have been practising at Hofstra on long Island.
The two teams were hosted at a banquet at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday night. Their coaches rang the bell at the New York Stock Exchange. The players visited "Ground Zero" and enjoyed a boat cruise to see the Statue of Liberty and the New York skyline. Some even visited the top of the Empire State Building.
Playing football at Yankee Stadium provides a reminder of the great days of college football in New York City from the the 1920s to the 1950s when Bronx based New York University and Fordham had nationally competitive teams often playing at Yankee Stadium or the Polo Grounds.
Of course the Black Knights of Army played some of the most famous games of those eras at the old Yankee Stadium against Notre Dame. Then the New York Giants played at Yankee Stadium in the 1950s and 1960s, including the landmark 1958 NFL championship game won by the Johnny Unitas-led Colts.
Mark Holtzman spoke about why the Yankees decided to get back into hosting college football at their billion dollar ballpark in the Bronx.
"This is something George Steinbrenner wanted us to do a long time ago. The new stadium comfortably accommodates the field going out towards center field. The game will be played on the same beautiful Bermuda grass we have for the Yankees during the season, just the mound is leveled and covered by sod. It is an amazing transformation."
With the weather forecast in the 40s for Friday, the day looks like an enjoyable one to come out to Yankee Stadium for the 3:20 start.
One of the best elements of college football are the bands which play at the games to support the teams, sometimes blasting at each other as heard at the Army-Navy game. The 200 member Rutgers band, who performed at the Army game, will be back. The Iowa State band, numbering 400 musicians and performers, will be making the cross-country trip to be in attendance.
A unique story at the Pinstripe Bowl will be the appearance of Rutgers player Eric LeGrand, paralysed while making a tackle against Army last year. Sports Illustrated recently conducted a voting poll of readers to decide the "2011 Moment of the Year." Over 78 million votes were recorded by SI from Twitter and Facebook. Eric LeGrand's appearance at a Rutgers game in October, leading his team out onto the field amidst a snowstorm, won and the scene is on the cover of SI's "Pictures of the Year" edition.
LeGrand visited Yankee Stadium in November when the Scarlet Knights played Army. A large crowd at on Friday will wish LeGrand well and see big time college football in New York City.