Monday, May 07, 2007

(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.

Fan Support

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!

20 Comments:

At Tue May 08, 12:40:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great call to arms! Great cri de couer (not sure about my French)! Being a Columbia fan, of course, rrepresents the triumph of hope over experience. But I really think that we are on to something with NW.

 
At Tue May 08, 12:46:00 AM GMT+7, Blogger Jake said...

I think so too... this will be a pivotal year for Norries, when you consider that Bob Shoop looked good until year 2 as well, (although after Columbia was badly plastered by Brown at the end of year 1, I had some serious doubts).

Wilson has had a very good offseason so far, making all the right moves. Let's see what happens.

 
At Tue May 08, 04:00:00 AM GMT+7, Blogger dabull said...

I still think you were right earlier in saying that another 5-5 season would be tough to match considering the slightly tougher schedule this year. However I think they can do this but I wouldn't be too disheartened if it was the best they could muster. This is an extremely young team and I think the big breakout could come in 2008. But if this is an exeptional group of freshman coming in and Hormann can be ready in time-watch out!

 
At Tue May 08, 04:16:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Craig Hormann of the Cornell and Brown games -- provided he is ready -- will be the best passing QB in the Ivy League. Our OL will have Partain, DeBernardo and Brune as returning 3 year starters. Stoll at FB will open up the running lanes for Davis and Rangel. Knowlin at WR is the Ivy rookie of the year. Evangelista and Russell will be a potent 2 TE combination. I look for us to be contenders this year.

 
At Tue May 08, 01:26:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a current CU football player, I think I can speak for all of us in saying that having 10 grand in the stands for home games would be unbelievable motivation. It would be impossible to not get fired up with crowds like that.

 
At Tue May 08, 08:00:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks to the current player for putting it on the line. I have been a season ticket holder for many years, and I can sense the excitement when we have more people in the stands. some support from Spec, urging people to attend, would also help. And a decent story or two in the NYTimes would bring out more people. Good luck this season.

 
At Tue May 08, 08:29:00 PM GMT+7, Blogger Jake said...

The key is the alumni. I actually think the students and certainly the players' friends and families do their share. It's silly for the administration to only put together events for individual classes on Homecoming. Every home game presents an opportunity to connect with a given class or some group of alums that has been overlooked. I know they try with staff and faculty days, etc. but last season's free beer and picnic area idea was more on the right track. If I get the radio gig, I was thinking of hosting some kind of pre-game event in the picnic area honoring a player or group of players that I could interview live with Q & A from the crowd... something like that.

 
At Tue May 08, 10:45:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Any news on the "official" list?

 
At Wed May 09, 12:09:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous john cosgrove said...

does anyone rememeber a Columbia running back from Buffalo NY class of 1982 or 83 ? smith

very tough hardnosed kid

john cosgrove
harvard football, '79

 
At Wed May 09, 12:30:00 AM GMT+7, Blogger Jake said...

John, thanks so much for commenting. I don't recall a regular starter named Smith from that era off the top of my head, but let me check my archives and get back to you on this board.

 
At Wed May 09, 01:31:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

your secret weapon on offense is whoever plays tight end! If Craig comes back healthy he'll have the size to make throws over the middle and keep the linebackers and safety honest. That'll open a lot of seams for a lot of other players.

 
At Wed May 09, 01:36:00 AM GMT+7, Blogger Jake said...

You are correct sir! One of our problems last season was that our starting TE was Jamal Russell and he is not tall for a TE. Evangelist needs to step up this year, (and he looked good in the spring game), to help Craig take advantage of the mis-matches.

 
At Wed May 09, 02:37:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Go Lions!!!

 
At Wed May 09, 04:42:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jamal Russell can be an Ivy version of Shannon Sharpe if he can hold onto the ball. He does get open, and he has pretty good speed for a TE. He needs to work on catching the ball. He needs to look it into his hands before starting to think about what he is going to do with the ball after he catches it. He is too fast to be covered by a LB and too strong to be defended by a defensive back. The big quesiton markis how Evangelista comes along. We have recruited a huge TE from Westchester (Pope, as I recall), who might provide some competition. What frustrated me last season was that some of our opponents consistently worked the seam in the defense with the TE and picked up some easy yards. No reason why we cna't run two TE sets, or split Russell out with Knowlin.

 
At Wed May 09, 07:49:00 AM GMT+7, Blogger Jake said...

Russell has a lot to prove this season, but as his TD against Cornell proved, he does have that speed. I'm just not sure he's tall enough to justify continuing to start him over Evangelist.

 
At Wed May 09, 09:09:00 AM GMT+7, Blogger dabull said...

I think you might be overrating the height thing a little. There are a lot of short wide receivers and I think it is harder to hit a little short guy on an out or sideline than it is to find them on a post or in route. Plus I think the biggest thing on finding open guys is that the qb has good height, like Hormann. If the tight end is good a getting seperation or finding seams in a zone he will get his catches, even if he is fairly short for a TE.

 
At Wed May 09, 09:27:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Your Dad said...

Jim Pritchard was Class of '82 running back from Buffalo, N.Y. Just saw him yesterday at the annual golf outing. "Hard-nosed runner" would be apt description, and he had deceptive speed. Looks like he could still do some damage.

 
At Wed May 09, 09:18:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

All you Friends of Columbia football who attended the golf outing: anything you can tell us about the incoming class? Jake listed 25; we heard various reports of 31 and 37; anything about impact type guys which can safely be reported without fear of a Bagnoli raid?

 
At Wed May 09, 11:09:00 PM GMT+7, Blogger Jake said...

Your Dad:

Thanks so much for clarifying... I was put off by the random "Smith" in John Cosgrove's comment.

 
At Wed May 09, 11:10:00 PM GMT+7, Blogger Jake said...

Looks like the number is 31 recruits. We will know for sure on Friday.

 

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