It was 8:30 p.m. on Friday night, and offensive coordinator Sean Gleeson had to make the most important play call of the 2020 Rutgers season — and, truth be told, probably his marriage. Run or pass? Not here, in a hospital delivery room. This was different. This was not a game.
Should he stay?
Or should be go?
Despite the best attempts of Gleeson and his wife, Lauren, to plan the birth of their third child around the Scarlet Knights’ schedule, the baby was in no hurry to make his grand entrance. They had arrived early that morning at Princeton Medical Center to induce labor, planning on a time table of between six and 12 hours.
That window, however, had come and gone. And now Gleeson faced a choice: Leave the hospital and catch his flight to West Lafayette, Ind., where Rutgers was set to play Purdue the following afternoon? Or hunker down and prepare to hand off play-calling duties to someone else on Greg Schiano’s coaching staff at the last minute?
Or his team?
“We had to have the conversation of, ‘What are we going to do if this baby doesn’t come?’” Gleeson told NJ Advance Media this week. “It was not a fun delivery room for the brain trust of the Gleeson household.”
They reached an understandable decision: They punted. The couple decided to take a deep breath and hope for the best, and within a few minutes, both the expectant mother and father fell asleep. That’s when the hospital staff called for the hurry-up offense.
A midwife, who had been watching the delivery’s progress on a monitor, rushed into the room with this unexpected declaration: We’re going to have this baby now. Just a few pushes later, William Gleeson — a healthy 7 pounds, 3 ounces — had entered the world at 10:16 p.m.
Sean Gleeson stayed with his son for the first few hours of his life and then, around 1:30 a.m., Lauren cemented herself in Rutgers lore with this demand:
“Would you go win the damn game now?!”
Rutgers did win that damn game, a 37-30 thriller that might be their most unexpected victory since joining the Big Ten. And it is not an exaggeration to say that, without Gleeson on the sideline, the outcome might have been much different.
The first-year offensive coordinator, running on fumes, was brilliant. With his starting quarterback, Noah Vedral, scratched as a starter because of an injury just minutes before kickoff, Gleeson had to adjust on the fly with two backup quarterbacks — Artur Sitkowski and Johnny Langan — who have completely different skill sets.
In the second half, Rutgers was often running two contrasting offenses on the same drive. Sitkowski, who has the strongest arm on the team, came on in passing situations. Langan, a bruising runner who has had a big role in short-yardage situations, took over when it was time to quite literally pound Purdue into submission and run out the clock.
“We’ve worked very hard and we’ve been very close, to see them get over the hump was great,” Gleeson said. “Once I saw the guys and how elated they were in the locker room, I just became a spectator to see the joy on their faces.”
He had another valid reason for not joining in the raucous celebration: He thought he might fall asleep on his feet.
Gleeson had left the hospital at 1:30 am, driven home for a quick shower, before boarding a small jet to West Lafayette at 5 in the morning. The only sleep he had was interrupted with a dream in which he was trying to land that plane on a busy highway.
“I woke up in a disturbed state like, ‘Oh my god, what is happening right now?’” he said.
He arrived at the team hotel in time for breakfast with the other coaches and about a hundred or so congratulatory hugs. A few hours later, the team was loading up its buses for the short trip to Ross-Ade Stadium.
Somewhere during this wild journey, Gleeson misplaced his wedding ring — he figures if that’s the worst thing to happen, given the circumstances, he would have signed for that. Healthy baby? Check. Healthy wife? Check.
Big Ten victory? Check.
The team landed back in New Jersey at 1 a.m., and that’s when Lauren Gleeson did something else to solidify her status as a Rutgers legend: She told her husband to forget coming to the hospital at that hour. He needed to go home and get some sleep, she said, so he wouldn’t be dragging when he got back to work given the upcoming opponent.
“It’s Penn State week,” she said.
The happy dad picked up mom and the baby the next morning, bringing William home to meet his two brothers — Eamon, 4, and Patrick, who is almost 3. The older boy wasn’t too interested in his new brother, but Patrick kept cooing, “New baby? Happy?”
Dad was, of course.
“Best moments of my life,” he said. “The first one was when my oldest met my middle guy, and right there after that was when I brought the two of them over to meet the little one.”
For years to come, the little one’s birthday always will be associated with a huge victory for his father’s team. “Andddd William is 1-0,” Gleeson tweeted with a photo of the sleeping baby. Just wait until the kid is old enough to hear the entire story.
“In true Irish-Catholic family fashion, we’ll probably embellish it 10 times over,” Gleeson said with a laugh.
Then again, as crazy as the weekend was, does he even have to?
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Steve Politi may be reached at [email protected].