PISCATAWAY, N.J. — The scarlet red that engulfed the High Point Solutions stadium parking lot was an enormous blot sitting underneath gray skies and beside the banks of the Raritan River. In proud times, scarlet is the color of courage, valor and passion. In trying times—if you like Hawthorne or Revelations—it evokes immorality and sin.
Right now, the latter two qualities apply directly to the state of the Rutgers football program, which is both losing and disgraced. Its coach (Kyle Flood) is in the midst of a three-game suspension for illegally contacting a professor, five players were arrested and subsequently dismissed from the team earlier this month after being charged with violent crimes and its star receiver was suspended indefinitely for allegedly slamming a woman's face into the ground during a brawl on Sept. 12. (He denies the allegation.)
Tack on the ongoing disputes between the faculty and the athletic department regarding the department's $36 million deficit and its suspension of Flood—which the school's instructors have declared “insufficient"—and it all makes for a public relations nightmare.
ESPN deemed the matchup between the Scarlet Knights and Kansas on Saturday “the worst game ever," and nominated the two teams as the top candidates for “Power 5 Dumpster Fire Team of the Year." Rutgers is tainted by scandal. The Jayhawks may not win a game this season. Among the Scarlet Knights' faithful, some claimed that the gathering on Saturday was the smallest they had seen for a homecoming game since Rutgers went 1–11 in 2002. For college football fans nationwide, the game was viewed as a chance for a cheap laugh.
But one man, leaning against a light post in front of the North Gate of the stadium on Saturday morning, smiled when asked about the upcoming game.
“Oh, I'm just happy to be here," said the man with a tag dangling from his Scarlet Knights hat and a toothy grin despite the bags underneath his eyes. “I'm a bit tired, but I'm happy to be here."
Here he was. The one man happy to be at Rutgers-Kansas!
Chris Gause saw no shame in this. Whatever troubles were hounding the Scarlet Knights weren't his concern on Saturday. He may not even know how serious the problems are.
But he had found a free weekend to travel south and watch his nephew, Quentin Gause.
Chris arrived in Piscataway fresh off consecutive double shifts at Heritage Christian Services—a home in Rochester, N.Y, for people with developmental disabilities—and a five-hour car ride across state lines. He had considered canceling due to exhaustion, but his brother and sister-in-law wouldn't let him. Not much of a football fan, he tries to catch Rutgers games if the residents at Heritage Christian Services want to watch them on Saturday afternoons. Quentin is a starting linebacker and a team captain. You can find his number 50 on the front of the team program and a large poster of him in the Scarlet Knights' team meeting room. He's played in 42 games for Rutgers and started 16. Saturday was the first time that Chris had made the trip to see him play.
“We had a breakfast date before the start of the semester," Chris says. “We talked about life and his goals for the year before he reminded me that he's entering his senior year and I've never been to one of his games."
Typically, Gause is too deep into his work when games are played. As a direct support professional—a fancy title for nursing, he says—he rotates among the Rochester centers that provide total care (patients who need help getting dressed, going to the bathroom and taking their medication) to those with more independent residents. He works both daytime and overnight shifts, which start at 11 p.m. and end at 7 a.m. The few hours of sleep that he has are when he returns home in the morning before heading back in the afternoon. When he sleeps, he can only hope that an emergency call isn't made.
Courtesy of Quentin Gause
“That man has a good heart," Quentin says of his uncle. “He just grinds. Whenever he's not working and I call him, he's on the treadmill. He just has that work ethic like my whole family has, but Chris is special."
On Saturday, Chris was transfixed by the band performing the Rutgers alma mater, “On the Banks of the Old Raritan."
“How can you not love college bands?" Chris asked. “No wonder Quentin loves Rutgers and the community here. I am so proud of what he's achieved and now I get to watch him play. What he's overcome and achieved is remarkable."
In trying times for the athletic department, Quentin may be the least likely player to run afoul of the law or his coaches. He's a semifinalist for the Campbell Trophy, billed as the “Academic Heisman," and has been named to the conference all-academic team in each of the past two seasons. With aspirations of becoming a sports broadcaster, Gause recently interned for SportsNet New York (SNY). A product of Bishop Kearney High in Rochester, he started toward his dream in junior high, when he broadcast the morning news at East Irondequoit Middle School. His wants to play in the NFL first, but he made sure to familiarize himself this summer with each facet of production at SNY, including graphics and camerawork. It's important, he says, to know how everything works.
Suffering from a learning disability as a kindergartener, Gause was unable to grasp concepts as quickly as other students and unable to complete tests in the time given. His mother, Vielka, begged school officials to get Quentin the help he needed and was often rebuked. Some teachers refused to have him in class, some students belittled his apparent lack of intelligence. Chris reminded Quentin that he simply learned differently, and that the key was to remain focused on his books.
“I was placed in smaller classrooms when I was young," he says. “I'd even ride to class in the small bus sometimes and think to myself, 'Wow, I really am on the small bus.' "
But when he reached high school, Quentin “took off," according to Chris. Bishop Kearney offered him an opportunity to chase his broadcast journalism dreams and play football at a high level. It also offered him a positive academic environment that didn't stigmatize his disability. By the time his senior year of high school arrived, he had football scholarship offers from the Scarlet Knights and Syracuse. He headed to Rutgers in 2012. Now he's been joined by his younger brother, JoJo, who is redshirting his first year. On Saturday, Chris got to see them both—one at strongside linebacker, the other on the sidelines—for the first time.
When the game kicked off, maybe 50% of High Point Solutions stadium was filled. It swelled to, at best, 80% by the second quarter (perhaps fans weren't done tailgating by the noon kickoff), and by the end, a good 90% of the student section had departed even though the game remained close. For the record, the Scarlet Knights came away with a 27–14 victory.
Those seeking chuckles got their wishes. The Rutgers fog machine went off too early before the team ran onto field, so instead of emerging from an artificial fog bank, players ran through ankle-deep vapor as the contraption choked out its remaining fluid. A potential interception bounced off a Kansas player's helmet. A Scarlet Knights player lined up a solid two yards offside on a pivotal play that the Jayhawks converted into a touchdown—only to have their score negated by an illegal formation penalty. Unaware of the offsetting penalties, a Kansas offensive lineman held his arms up signalling a touchdown for a good 10 seconds before he was notified by a teammate that the score didn't count.
And there sat Chris, joined by a horde of Gause family members, taking in his first football game in a long while. He watched Quentin line up out wide to defend the Jayhawks' spread offense and hurry the quarterback on the third play of the game.
From his vantage point, it didn't look like the worst game ever. In fact, it may have been the best.