(Exorcise) The Spirit of '72
Nixon's Big Win, another thing that disappointed most Columbia fans in 1972
Columbia enters the 2007 season with the high expectations, but perhaps no Lion team in the last 40 years was expected to do more than the 1972 squad. The team was coming off a spectacular 6-3 1971 campaign and was returning all of its key players.
While most of the pundits expected Dartmouth to win the title, a large minority thought Columbia would pull it out. And those CU supporters had a strong body of evidence on their side. The 1971 squad played everyone tough, almost beating Ed Marinaro's Big Red in Ithaca, and pulling out heart-stopping wins so often that New York Times sportswriter Michael Strauss re-named Baker Field "Cardiac Plains."
The stars on that team included the spectacular linebacker/kicker Paul Kaliades, exciting QB Don Jackson, and scrappy runner George Georges, (the back so nice they named him twice?).
But after an opening day 44-0 rout of Fordham, (back when Fordham was basically what we would call a Division III team today), the rain began to fall on the Lions' parade both literally and figuratively. A tropical storm-like Nor'Easter made conditions horrific in a 0-0 tie at Princeton the following week. Then, missed extra points cost Columbia in a 20-18 loss to Harvard at Baker Field. After Yale came back to beat the Lions at the Bowl, rain again played a big role in a 6-3 loss against Rutgers.
The last four games of the season produced mixed results, with the Lions playing well and winning at home against Cornell and Brown, but falling hard at Dartmouth by 30 points and losing sloppily at Penn despite taking an early 14-0 lead. The 3-5-1 final record was not only sad, but a bit inexplicable. Unlike the sad ending to the 1995 season, there was no major injury to explain the missed opportunities and the dashed expectations. Columbia ended the season a bit shell-shocked, and the team wasn't really competitive again for decades. 1972 is still a tough year to remember for most long-time Lion fans.
Revenge is a Dish Best Served... Whenever
Anyone who follows sports closely will tell you that rooting for your favorite teams isn't just about winning and losing in a given year; it's also about erasing bad memories and exorcising some old demons. That's why the Red Sox great run in 2004 was that much sweeter as it included the incredible ALCS comeback against the hated Yankees who had sorely beaten them in 1949, 1978, 2003, among many other seasons. It was why Dallas Cowboy fans didn't mind that their 1995 Super Bowl win wasn't the most spectacular of victories... it didn't matter because the win came over the Pittsburgh Steelers who had narrowly defeated the Cowboys in Super Bowls X and XIII.
A successful 2007 season would go a long way toward erasing the disappointment that characterized not only the '72 season, but the many seasons of disappointments that followed it.
Something Old, Something New...
A little vigilance might help. There's considerable buzz around the league this year about Columbia's opponents adjusting to the 3-5-3 Lion defense that so confused everyone last season. I'm not sure that will make such a difference since all the teams could just as easily have adjusted during the season and still no one scored more than 24 points against Columbia all year. I think everyone should just concede that the Lion defense is made up of an unusually strong and fast group of guys coached by a true master in Lou Ferrari.
But that said, Columbia is losing enough key players on defense to give anyone pause. The Lions will need inspired play from the nose tackle and free safety positions in particular to keep opponents honest.
More than that, I think Columbia needs to throw a few new weapons into the mix. Such a weapon could be a frosh recruit with exceptional raw talent who gets inserted at a key moment, or perhaps some new kind of formation now and then to bring back the confusion factor.
Of course if Columbia's offense picks things up, especially in the running game, that would probably be enough of a change to keep our opponents on their heels for quite a while. There are few things more frightening in football than a team with a strong defense and a strong running game to go with it, (ask the teams who tried to beat the N.Y. Giants in the 1980's). If the Lions can control the ball more and score more points on offense at the same time, opposing offenses won't have enough time to adjust in the first place.
Finally, this post will end with what will become this site's first serious "call out" to the fans to show up and support this team in big numbers this season. With all the publicity anti-athletic sentiment seems to be getting on campus, I think the team would respond extremely favorably to home crowds of 10,000 or more each week. We should all remember that there are really only about six or seven thousand undergrads at Columbia in any given year, so the real responsibility is on the alumni who need to come out to Wien Stadium in bigger numbers. In the coming days, I'll be publishing my special "Insider's Guide to Attending a Columbia Football Game," to make the whole thing easier and more enjoyable for everyone. In other words... no excuses!