The rivalry between Rutgers and Princeton is legendary. The first intercollegiate football game ever was Rutgers v. Princeton in 1869. The two schools were engaged in a vicious “Cannon War” less than a decade later. But nothing can top the story of pure class warfare told by West Orange native Chris Gethard on This American Life this past week about his ambush on his Princeton nemesis in 1998, when he was a freshman at Rutgers.
I’ll let you discover on your own what the feud was all about. I’ll just say that the story’s quintessential moment, when the 16 miles between the two schools is revealed to be an unfathomable divide between privilege and despair, comes when Gethard and his buddies get to Princeton, find the enemy’s dorm and walk in to find a group of sweater-wearing kids standing around a grand piano singing Christmas carols.
Driving from the banks of the muddy Raritan — from the 400 person classes, from the bug-infested living areas, from the realization that every day of the next four years was going to be a lackluster one, to this, to Christmas carols, to the blind unbothered let’s-get-together-and-belt-out-a-good-Silent-Night world of Princeton — pushed a button inside all three of us. Andy, Jeff and I all froze, our seething resentment mixing with our collective self-loathing into a dangerously combustible mixture. This wasn’t just cheesy. This wasn’t just white bread in a way that would never survive at Rutgers. This was a rallying call to war.
You may remember Gethard as the host of a strange public-access and internet TV show in Manhattan, as a veteran of the Upright Citizens Brigade or the star of a brief-lived sitcom, “Big Lake.” But as it turns out, he’s a hell of a good storyteller too.
To hear the whole story, “A Tale of Two Jerseys,” click here and go 39 minutes into the show. Or you can wait a few weeks until Gethard’s book, “A Bad Idea I’m About to Do” comes out. This is the first story in the collection.