EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Shaun O'Hara has spent much of his life playing football in New Jersey. He was an all-state offensive tackle and defensive end at Hillsborough High School. O'Hara began his career at Rutgers as a walk-on tight end and finished it in 1999 as a first-team All-Big East offensive tackle. After playing four seasons for the Cleveland Browns, O'Hara joined the Giants as a free agent in 2004. Since then, he has started all 81 regular season and postseason games in which he's played, been a team captain, won a Super Bowl ring, anchored a line that last season led the NFL and set a franchise record in rushing yardage and was selected to the Pro Bowl.
O'Hara takes pride in his associations with Rutgers University and the Giants.
"A New Jersey connection is definitely there, being from Hillsborough, getting to basically stay at home and play at Rutgers and then coming back and playing for the Giants. I call it the trifecta, playing at all three levels in New Jersey. It's something that I'm definitely proud of and I don't think I would have anticipated everything happening the way that it did. The great thing for me now, I have a good connection with the university, some of the players and some of the coaches, even though I didn't play with any of these guys and I didn't play for some of these coaches. I still feel a connection and I don't think I would have as good of a connection if I was playing in another city or for another team.
"It's been really great to see the progress the program has made. When I was there we all talked about wanting to be that team that really got Rutgers over the hump and wanted to be that team that turned the program around. I think everybody that has come through Rutgers as an athlete and has played football there always felt like it had that potential and it just was going to take a culmination of the right amount of talent and the right coaching staff with the right ability to establish the program in the right way. They're not one-hit wonders; they've established some consistency. It's great to just see the program flourish and I'm really happy for the kids playing there, because they made a commitment to go to Rutgers and a lot of the Jersey kids they made a commitment to stay home and now they're getting to experience big time college football and stay in there home state.
*"When I was redshirting, we played Penn State in Giants Stadium and the next year we played Army there. It was a great opportunity for the players. I think for all college football players, their role models are NFL players. So to be able to play in an NFL venue, dress in the same locker room that NFL teams are dressing in, and playing on the same field as an NFL team and in their stadium, it really adds to the atmosphere, it really adds to the excitement of the game."
Pat Flaherty is in his sixth season as the Giants' offensive line coach. Last year, the line helped the Giants finish with 427 points and 338 first downs, both the second-highest totals in franchise history. The Giants gained 5,695 yards, the third-highest total in their history. The line's blocking enabled the Giants to lead the NFL and set franchise records in both rushing yards per game (157.4) and yards per carry (5.0). Center Shaun O'Hara and right guard Chris Snee were selected to the Pro Bowl and left tackle David Diehl was elected to the All-NFC team by the Pro Football Writers Association.
Flaherty was the offensive line coach at Rutgers from 1984-91 and recalls his time with the Scarlet Knights fondly:
"I coached at Rutgers for eight years. It was a time of transition, because Rutgers was upgrading its schedule and facilities so they could compete on the Division I level. I got there in 1984 and they put down an outdoor Astroturf field, built their bubble and the Hale Center, which is their training facility.
"When I was there we played a quite a few games in Giants Stadium (21). It was a thrill for our players to play in Giants Stadium. As a matter of fact, during our recruiting process we make a Sunday morning trip to Giant Stadium to show the recruits the facility where they were going to play. In my time there we always included a recruiting visit to Giant Stadium. It was very impressive to the kids we were recruiting. As coaches, we needed them to see that they were going to play in a big time facility.
*"I'm happy to see how far the Rutgers program has progressed. Greg Schiano is a good friend of mine, he was on the staff when I was there with (then head coach) Dick Anderson. And (new athletic director) Tim Pernetti was a player for us when I was there. So there are a lot of ties that I still have, contacts that I have there and you know its good to see that they are doing as well as they are."
The Giants played their first game in 1925, or 56 years after Rutgers defeated Princeton in the first intercollegiate football game on Nov. 6, 1869. Since then, several Rutgers players went on to play for the Giants.
|Stephens, Reggie||(C)||1999-00, '02|
Rutgers University played 47 football games in Giants Stadium, far more than any other college program. The Scarlet Knights played in some of the most significant collegiate games in the stadium's history. Rutgers won the first college game in Giants Stadium history, a 47-0 rout of Columbia on Oct. 27, 1976. The Knights played in the inaugural Garden State Bowl, losing to Arizona State in 1978. And they hosted the nation's top-ranked team in consecutive seasons in Giants Stadium, falling to Alabama in 1980 and Pittsburgh in 1981. They have faced national powers such as Penn State, Tennessee, Florida and Michigan State in Giants Stadium. When Rutgers Stadium was undergoing a renovation in 1993, the Knights played their entire home schedule in East Rutherford.
Here is a complete rundown of Rutgers football games in Giants Stadium:
|1977||Sept. 2||Penn State (No. 2)||L||45-7|
|1980||Oct. 11||Alabama (No. 1)||L||17-13|
|1981||Nov. 7||Pittsburgh (No. 1)||L||47-3|
|1982||Nov. 11||West Virginia (No. 19)||L||44-14|
|1983||Sept. 17||Boston College||L||42-22|
|1983||Oct. 1||Penn State||L||36-25|
|1984||Nov. 10||West Virgina (No. 19)||W||23-19|
|1985||Sept. 28||Penn State (No. 9)||L||20-10|
|1985||Oct. 5||Boston College||L||20-10|
|1986||Nov. 8||West Virginia||L||24-17|
|1988||Nov. 12||West Virginia (No. 4)||L||35-25|
|1989||Sept. 16||Boston College||W||9-7|
|1989||Oct. 7||Penn State||L||17-0|
|1990||Sept. 29||Michigan State (No. 22)||L||34-10|
|1990||Nov. 10||West Virginia||L||28-3|
|1991||Oct. 26||Syracuse (No. 18)||L||21-7|
|1992||Oct. 3||Penn State (No. 8)||L||28-24|
|1993||Oct. 9||Boston College||L||31-21|
|1995||Sept. 23||Penn State (No. 6)||L||59-34|
The Giants-Rutgers Expressway is not just a one-way street. From 1976-96, Rutgers played 47 football games in Giants Stadium. But the Giants also made one journey to New Jersey's state university. In the 1993 postseason, inclement weather threatened to hamper the Giants' preparation for their NFC Divisional Playoff Game in San Francisco. The practice bubble outside Giants Stadium had not yet been constructed. So then-head coach Dan Reeves put his team on busses and headed down the New Jersey Turnpike to practice in Rutgers' bubble. The practices went well, but alas, the Giants lost the game.