Prior to the Garden State Bowl, there had been only a few attempts to
stage a post-season bowl game in the Northeast because of unpredictable
weather conditions in mid- or late-December. The Liberty Bowl was
started in 1960 in Philadelphia and was staged there through 1964, then
moved indoors in Atlantic City in 1965 before going to warmer climates
in Memphis, Tenn., in 1966. The Gotham Bowl was held in the Polo Grounds
in 1961, with Baylor defeating Utah State, 24-9, and, in its second try
in 1962 in Yankee Stadium, Nebraska defeated Miami, 36-34, reportedly in
But, on Dec. 16, 1978, the thermometer in Giants Stadium read an
unseasonable 40 degrees. And, despite the pre-game hope by the Rutgers
squad that it would be much colder as it entertained an Arizona State
team accustomed to playing in warm weather, Rutgers was hot at the
A two- or three-touchdown underdog to the 8-3 Sun Devils (who had
defeated rival Arizona in the regular season finale and also owned a
victory over the otherwise undefeated Southern Cal), Rutgers gained
possession after an Arizona State punt at its own 32 and moved to the
Sun Devil 47 in four plays. David Dorn then went off his right tackle,
reversed his field and raced the distance down the left side for the
game’s first score. Kennan Startzell’s extra point made it a 7-0 ball
game early and the visitors were shocked further when Ed Steward
recovered a fumble and Startzell booted his longest-ever field goal to
that point in his career. The 46-yarder gave the Scarlet a 10-0 lead.
On the next Arizona State possession, Bob Hynoski intercepted a Mark
Malone pass and raced 36 yards to the Sun Devil four-yard line. The
count might have gone to 17-0 but Dorn fumbled at the two and the
visitors took over.
Unable to add to the lead, Rutgers gave up the ball at the Scarlet 44
with 1:53 remaining in the half and the Sun Devils got on the scoreboard
when Malone hit Bob Weathers in the end zone from the 14. A play
earlier, Malone was trapped on a fourth and 10 play but shook loose to
connect for a first down. Instead of 17-0 or 10-0, it was a 10-7 game at
Malone tossed 26 and 47-yard touchdowns in the third period to MVP John
Mistler and Chris DeFrance to give Arizona State a 21-10 lead and ran in
from the one early in the final frame for a 28-10 lead.
Lethargic for a period and a half, Rutgers rebounded with 5:49 left in
the game when Ted Blackwell scored on a five-yard run and then caught a
two-point conversion pass from Ed McMichael.
“They were on their way to a nice, neat orderly finish,” wrote
syndicated columnist Jerry Izenberg. “And then, Kennan Startzell kicked
the ball. “Mechanically, it was the perfect squibbler. It had been done
on a million football fields and when it works the kicking team
recovers. The ball bounced off of Arizona State’s Morris Williams...it
bounced off of Rutgers’ Mark Freeman...it skidded under the belly of
Arizona State’s Henry Pollard and came to rest underneath Rutgers’ Craig
Nielsen - in the Arizona State endzone. This is not unlike bunting for a
“One official signaled touchdown - six points for Rutgers. A second
apparently signaled touchback, Arizona’s ball on its own 20. A third
signaled toward the heavens with outstretched hands, which according to
the annotated NCAA Hymnal and Prayer Book means: Why me, O Lord?
“But, back upfield lay a yellow flag. Rutgers was said to have been
off-sides on the kickoff and that ruling held. Instead of a 28-24 count
and a possible 28-26 ballgame, the score reverted to 28-18 with 4:44 to
go. In the game’s final minute, Malone scored on a four-yard run for the
closing 34-18 scoreboard count.
The weather had cooperated, the 33,402 fans had had their fill, the ball
had nearly bounced in Rutgers’ favor and it was a devil of a day. The
Garden State Bowl would continue for three more years and would give way
to the current post-season classic format.