On a dreary Thanksgiving morning in New Jersey, UConn football secured its first bowl berth
#10 - vs. Pittsburgh, 2006
It remains the oddest kickoff time for a UConn football game – 10 a.m. on Thanksgiving morning.
Like most of eastern Connecticut, I was in Manchester preparing to run in the annual Manchester Road Race. But my thoughts were in New Jersey, as UConn got ready to play Rutgers to lock up a bowl berth.
Despite being 6-4, there were a lot fewer bowl games – a mere 28, compared to 35 last year and 38 this year – so the Huskies needed to hit 7 wins to be guaranteed its first postseason berth in program history.
Rutgers in 2004 was, to put it politely, putrid. They entered the game at 4-6. They had lost at home to New Hampshire in September. Just five days before Thanksgiving, they had given up 54 points in a humiliating loss to Navy. Only 20,000 fans decided to show up for the UConn game.
In a vacuum, it should have been an easy victory for UConn. But pressure does funny things to people. And for Rutgers, they had nothing better to do than to show a national television audience that they were at least superior to UConn.
It was not an easy victory for UConn. In a game that featured over 900 yards of total offense, the game was tied at 21 at halftime.
The game was tied at 28 in the third quarter when Dan Orlovsky hit Dan Murray for a 32-yard touchdown pass that put UConn up for good. It was a two-play, 52-yard drive that seemed to signal that the fight had finally gone out of Rutgers.
UConn went up 41-28 with just over two minutes to go when Rutgers returned the ensuing kickoff to make it 41-35. There would be one last onside kick to overcome and then, mercifully, it was over.
How can you ever forget the first bowl berth? I vividly remember high-fiving my Dad as we frightened Aunts and Uncles with our celebration. We both felt UConn deserved a bowl bid in 2003, when they went 9-3 and ended the season by dropping a 50-spot on Wake Forest. As a Big East team in 2004, that bowl bid would be granted. Detroit the day after Christmas is no one’s idea of a good time – but it was our idea of a reward.
UConn went on to pummel Toledo in the Motor City Bowl and more bowl victories would follow.
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