Thursday, September 14, 2006



I've decided to introduce the "chic" of roman numerals to add hype to Columbia's annual opener against Fordham. But first, I do want to make sure everyone remembers the circumstances surrounding the decision to make this game a special one for both the schools and the people of New York City.

In 2000, the Ivy League executed its once-in-every-25-years schedule change and had every team start its season against a non-Ivy opponent. For Columbia, that would be Fordham, its neighbor just to the north in the Rose Hill section of the Bronx. The first game, played under the lights at Wien Stadium, was an exciting contest for Lion fans as Columbia erased a small halftime deficit and ran away with a nice win in the first of many huge games that season for running back Jonathan Reese.

A year later, the game was scheduled for September 15th at Fordham in a daytime contest. I know I don't have to tell anyone what happened four days earlier. Interestingly, both teams very much wanted to play the game as scheduled as a way to show that homicidal maniacs don't get to have a say in when we play sports in this city. But after Major League Baseball and the NFL decided to postpone games, most of the college football world simply canceled their contests. But since Columbia and Fordham are so close to each other and it technically wasn't a "road" game for either team, the Lion-Ram contest was rescheduled for Thanksgiving Day. Fordham won that game with ease in what would be a sad ending to Reese's brilliant Columbia career.

In the early months of 2002, both schools decided to commemorate the spirit of the teams' reaction to 9/11 by setting up a special fund for survivors of the attacks from the city, with an emphasis on families of fallen firefighters and cops. The Liberty CUP, with a nice huge trophy to go the winner every year, was created.


Columbia and Fordham played a thrilling contest under the lights at Wien Stadium in a game televised by the YES Network. Leading most of the game, Columbia suddenly found itself trailing 11-10 with less than three minutes remaining. But a remarkable defensive stand and a clutch pass completion on 4th and long set the Lions up with a chance to win with a last second field goal. Sophomore place kicker Nick Rudd, who had had a kick blocked just minutes earlier, delivered with a perfect boot to give Columbia a 13-11 victory.

In a strange twist of fate, that would be the last game Columbia would win that season and the final victory of head coach Ray Tellier's career. Meanwhile, Fordham would shake off the loss and go on to win the Patriot League title and a 1st round Division IAA playoff game before falling in the next round. Columbia remains the only Ivy team to defeat a Patriot League squad that went on to win a playoff game.


Fordham held off a strong Columbia rally in the Bronx to give new Lion head coach Bob Shoop a loss in his first game at the helm. Kirwan Watson did most of the damage for the Rams as he rushed for 163 yards and three touchdowns. Travis Chmelka's 90+ yard punt return for a TD brought Columbia close, but the Lions could not move the ball on their next possession and they fell 37-30.


The game returned to Baker Field and the YES Network for another night contest. Without injured star tight end Wade Fletcher, the Lions offense struggled and Columbia found itself down 17-0 at the half. But a blocked punt returned for a touchdown and a fumble recovery returned for another score brought Columbia within a field goal. That's as close as they would get however, as the Rams held on for the 17-14 win.


In the first night game on Jack Coffey Field in decades, the Lions overcame a slow first half and held off Fordham 23-17. Prosper Nwokocha's kickoff return for a TD provided the big spark. Both teams went on to awful seasons however, and Columbia's Bob Shoop and Fordham's Ed Foley found themselves out of a job at season's end.


Columbia leads 10-4 in a series that began in 1890. The Lions and Rams played one game at the Polo Grounds back when both teams had huge followings and routinely needed bigger venues for games. (Columbia won that Polo Grounds contest versus Fordham by the way). The two schools rarely met after the 20's, and an attempt to renew the series in the early 70's was scrapped when the Lions routed the Rams 44-0. But things got on better footing when Fordham joined the Patriot League in the early 1990's. Fordham overcame a 16-7 deficit with two late TD's to beat Columbia at Wien Stadium in 1991, 20-16. Then the Lions put together wins over the Rams in 1992, 1993, and 1996. The series became an annual event in 2000.


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