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To Be, or Not to Be (on the cover)

A Reflection

On November 9, 2006, a few days before the magazine was sent to the printer, the Scarlet Knights football team pulled off a remarkable comeback in the second half of their game against the Louisville Cardinals, then ranked third in the nation.

Rutgers, at that point, was 9–0 and there was talk about a major bowl for the first time in school history. But the possibility of this milestone went down the drain in the following weeks when the team lost to Cincinnati and West Virginia.

Following an interview with David Stern at the Rutgers Student Center, I had a discussion with University Relations Vice President Kim Manning and her top lieutenant, Pam Blake, about replacing a cover about young alumni who had served in Iraq with a football cover. The consensus was to make the change. As acting editor and the writer of the Iraq story, I didn’t disagree. Rutgers football was a national story, and resonating with the alumni base as never before. In my view, the key factor was the mission of the magazine; not the more important story. The magazine’s role was to capture the tenor of the university, at that point in time.

With about a day to get the new cover in place, art director John Van Cleaf and I visited the athletics communications office and reviewed images. We also scoured our own archives and some photo service company options. John assembled three covers. I found an image that I thought would be sensational: Star running back Brian Leonard spontaneously grabbing the Scarlet Knight sword (a win against Syracuse in his last home game), jumping on a podium, and hailing the students in the corner of the end zone. John and I agreed that it was, by far, the most powerful image for the cover.

I was directed to take the three cover options over to athletics and allow them to decide. The athletics administrators picked Coach Greg Schiano, who was giving the thumbs up sign while exiting the tunnel with his players. I’m not really sure what their reasoning was. Perhaps they felt that it was more appropriate to focus on the coach who had brought the program back from the brink. I can see that. But for pure drama, the Brian Leonard cover would have completely killed.