Thursday, May 17, 2007

Runs to Glory

The 1947 Columbia Lions: Lou Kusserow's Team (CREDIT: Columbia Athletics)

Columbia rushing attack seems primed for big improvements this year, but as any longtime Lion fan can tell you, running the ball has rarely been Columbia's greatest asset. The great teams on the 30's and 40's were known for passing at a time when passing was still a novelty in the college game. But of course, some Lion rushers have stood out over the years. Here are my top 3:

3) Doug Jackson

Jackson played on some pretty unspectacular Columbia varsity teams from 1973-75. Those Lions had a 4-22-1 record during that three-year span, 3-18 Ivy. But Doug Jackson's 1975 effort was so good that he became the first Columbia player to ever win the Bushnell Cup for Ivy League MVP. His 914 yards stood out, (remember they played only 9 games back then), even though he was playing for a 6th place team.

Jackson averaged 5.3 yards per carry and scored 10 touchdowns in '75. His best game was probably against Penn, when he ran for 194 yards on 33 carries and scored three touchdowns in a 28-25 win at Baker Field.

And 1975 was an especially strong year for Ivy seniors, with future NFL draftees Dan Jiggetts, Gary Fencik and Reggie Williams all playing their final collegiate seasons.

Jackson can be a little hard to defend as a top-3 choice, considering he was mostly a senior year sensation. But that one season was so strong at what was such a dark time for the Lions that you have to give him his due.

Jackson returned to Columbia as an assistant coach, first under Bill Campbell and then under Larry McElreavy. But when McElreavy was let go for personal reasons after the 1988 season, Jackson left too. The Columbia Spectator reported at the time that McElreavy and Jackson had been feuding and apparently then-athletic director Al Paul decided to get rid of both of them. It's hard to tell how much truth to all of that there really was, but it's sad that Jackson didn't get the chance to fulfill a longer legacy at Columbia.

Sadly, I have no idea what Doug Jackson has been up to since or what he's doing now.

2) Jonathan Reese

The fact that Reese owns every major Columbia rushing record ensures his place in the top 3. The St. Louis native had a great combination of speed and strength to make things happen in the Ivy League.

While Reese had been putting up good stats in the early part of his freshman season of 1998, for some reason I didn't really realize how good he really was until the final game of the year against Brown. In that game, the Lions were looking to close out the season at 5-5 after a pair of nice wins over Dartmouth and Cornell. In their way was a Brown offensive juggernaut that came into the game with an outside shot at sharing the title with Penn. To everyone's surprise, the game turned out to be a defensive struggle, with a missed Lion tackle leading to Brown's only TD and a 10-3 lead in the game with time for one more Columbia drive. Almost every play of that 10-play 59-yard drive was a pitch out to Reese, an incredible vote of confidence for a freshmen runner in a nail-biting season finale. The drive ended with an interception in the end zone, and the Lions fell by that 10-3 score, but I left Wien Stadium that day with visions of three more great seasons for Jonathan Reese.

The first of those three seasons wasn't that great. Reese suffered through some nagging injuries in 1999 and finished with just 607 yards and four touchdowns in a 3-7, 1-6 Ivy season.

Reese had a career day vs. Dartmouth in 2000 (CREDIT: Columbia College Today)

But 2000 made up for all of that. Reese ripped up the CU record book that year with 1330 yards and 18 TD's. His most impressive game that year came against Dartmouth in a 49-21 homecoming win. Reese set Columbia's single season rushing record after that 236-yard, four-touchdown game and he needed only three more yards to break the career rushing record after that. Sadly, the Lions would not win another game that year, finishing 3-7 and 1-6 in the Ivies. The most frustrating loss came at home against Cornell when a clock malfunction left the Lions guessing about just how much time was left in a desperate final drive that ended at the Big Red two yard line and a 35-31 loss. Apparently, the Columbia didn't get their last snap off in time... but we'll never know.

2001 was bit anti-climactic for Reese. He rushed for 967 yards and 8 touchdowns and seemed to be hampered by a depleted offensive line. But as far as clutch performances, he turned in his best as a Lion in a dramatic 35-28 win over Cornell in Ithaca. Reese did his best John Riggins impression in that game, giving Columbia the win on a long TD run on a 4th and short play.

1) Lou Kusserow

It's true that Kusserow doesn't have the overall numbers to compare with Reese, but the impact he had on the greatest three-year stretch in Columbia football history puts him at the top of my list as the greatest Lions running back of all time, especially because of his scoring ability and consistency. He also was an extremely talented defensive back, and he went on to break several defensive records at safety.

During his 4-year career, Columbia went 25-11.

Kusserow grew up not far from Pittsburgh in Glassport, PA. He was able to play four varsity seasons at Columbia because of WW II-era rules that eliminated freshman ineligibility. He made an immediate impact his freshman year on the 1945 Lion team that went 8-1. Only Columbia's self-imposed "no bowl" policy kept them out of the hunt for post season glory. The lone loss of the year came against a strong Penn team that year in front of about 65,000 at Franklin Field.

Kusserow's best game may have been at Princeton, when he was a powerful running weapon and serious passing target for Lion QB Gene Rossides in a 32-7 win over the Tigers. Columbia wouldn't win again at Princeton for another 58 years.

Some of the 1947 team members at the 1997 Homecoming Game (CREDIT: Columbia College Today)

Kusserow was all ready to transfer from CU to Army at the end of his freshman year, but with Glen Davis and Doc Blanchard anchoring the backfield, he thought better of it and stayed at Columbia. He may have regretted that decision after the Lions lost to Army at West Point 48-14, but sweet revenge would come later in Columbia's 21-20 win over the Cadets that ended Army's historic 32-game unbeaten streak. Kusserow scored two TD's in that game, and before his TD no team had even scored against Army that whole season.

In his senior season of 1948, he scored an incredible 108 points.

Kusserow still holds 6 major Columbia records: 1) season rushing average (5.9 yards per attempt, 1948) 2) career touchdowns (45), 3) career scoring (270 points), 4) pass interceptions in a game (4, vs. Yale, 1945), 5) career pass interceptions (tied with Phillip Murray at 16), and 6) longest kickoff return in Columbia history (100 yards, vs. Dartmouth, 1948).

After a brief pro career here in the states with the New York Yankees of the All-America Football Conference and the National Football League, Kusserow played for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats from 1952 to 1956. He was a dominant offensive and defensive halfback who achieved legendary status in the 1953 Grey Cup game when he deflected a sure touchdown pass in his own end zone, thus ensuring a Hamilton victory over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Kusserow then worked as a producer for NBC Sports, where he was credited with creating the "TV time out." He was behind NBC's coverage of 6 World Series, 5 Super Bowls, 15 years of golf and 12 years of baseball's game of the week.

He died in July of 2001 of prostate cancer. He was 73.

Honorable Mentions:

In 2003, Ayo Oluwale came out of nowhere to lead the team with 903 yards and 5 TD's. He seemingly never fumbled as Columbia finished 4-6 after a 1-9 season in 2002. Oluwale's senior season never got going as he was forced to split running duties with Rashad Biggers in 2004.

Gregg Abbruzzese and Solomon Johnson had big seasons as sophomores in 1988, but injuries in 1989 slowed them down for the rest of their careers. They still put up some strong numbers and Johnson was the Ivy League Rookie of the Year in 1988.


At Fri May 18, 02:10:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Love it! Though I would challenge you with Morley, Koppisch and Smith.

I have seen Jackson at HC several times in recent years.

At Fri May 18, 02:16:00 AM GMT+7, Blogger Jake said...

There's a lot of room for discussion for the #3 spot... but I think Kusserow and Reese have 1-2 locked up.

At Fri May 18, 08:02:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Would be nice to have "Dougie Fresh" back involved in the program again. Same with McElreavy.

At Fri May 18, 08:07:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let's not forget Columbia's outstanding running backs from the Fifties and Sixties such as Harvey Brookins '60, Don Savini '61, Tom Haggerty '62, Russ Warren '62, Tom O'Connor '63 Al Butts '64 and Ed Malmstrom '65. Haggerty and Warren were both tailbacks on the 1961 Ivy Championship Team which scored a mere 240 points in just nine games, including 50 points against Brown in the season's opener. Incidentally, I believe the 50-0 victory over Brown in 1961 still represents the widest margin of victory in modern Columbia football history. Am I right?

At Fri May 18, 06:29:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The single greatest performance was by a then unsung Al Butts in the 1961 Yale game. Yale was undefeated over a two year period and was nationally ranked. It was the dominant Ivy team of its era. We had just lost a heartbreaker in our opener at Princeton. Our starting tailbacks were nicked up and could not go. Butts got the nod and led us to an incredible 10 to 0 win in New Haven. A game for the ages.

At Fri May 18, 08:28:00 PM GMT+7, Blogger Jake said...

Good point about Butts, but the final score was 11-0.

As far as Doug Jackson goes, I'd love to know what he's up to now.

At Sat May 19, 02:04:00 AM GMT+7, Blogger DOC said...

Why has Columbia been so pass oriented for the past 30 years? Is this because they lacked the O-line to push people around at the line of scrimage or rather a function of having some QBs with better than average throwing ability? In my humble opinion , unless we can run the ball and dominate the run game , we"ll never win an Ivy title.

At Sat May 19, 02:38:00 AM GMT+7, Blogger Jake said...


Well said... Columbia's lack of size up front usually was the reason why the running game was de-emphasized and that's just not going to cut it anymore. We can't keep using the pass to disguise our problems.

At Sat May 19, 03:24:00 AM GMT+7, Blogger DOC said...

Lack of running game--->shorter scoring drives---or worse yet increased turnovers---> defense is
burned out--->4th quarter collapses.
Jake, as a future topic could you research famous Columbia 4th quarter collapses? If we're going to support the program, we first have to relive some of the ugly moments as a form of catharsis.

At Sat May 19, 03:33:00 AM GMT+7, Blogger Jake said...


That will be a painful topic indeed, but yes, I will write about that soon. The worst collapse in the last 5 years was the 2004 game vs. Cornell. Worst I ever saw was the collapse against Colgate in 1993.

At Sat May 19, 03:37:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why is taking pride in bad moments necessary as 'catharsis'?

It is unneccessarily mean-spirited towards the student-athletes... and solipsistic at best.

And it helps our enemies...

At Sat May 19, 03:44:00 AM GMT+7, Blogger Jake said...

Well, first let me say that I don't think there's any inherent greatness in rooting for a team that never wins. HOWEVER, there is something to be said for remembering the failings of the past and rejoicing when you face the same situations and finally succeed. That was why the win over Brown last season was so significant. Anyone who didn't suffer through the losses against Brown at the end of the 1998, 2003, and even 1994 seasons would not have appreciated the 22-21 win in 2006 as much as I did.

Last season all of Columbia's losses included no collapses and the only close call as far as choking was concerned was the Georgetown game and the Lions pulled that out. That's a huge step forward for the program and as much as I'd like to forget every painful loss, there's no way to understand Columbia football and how far this group has already come without rememvbering them.

At Sat May 19, 04:01:00 AM GMT+7, Blogger DOC said...

Anonymous, I never meant this as "taking pride in bad moments" but rather as a learning and bonding experience. It is to see where we've been, how far we've come,
and to dream about what can be. Death to our enemies...

At Sat May 19, 05:16:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jake, let's leave the bad karma from painful losses in the dustbin of history. Our current players and parents don't need this. any you were right about the '61 Yale game. I am pretty sure that teh Yale teams of '60 and the early part of '61 were nationally ranked.

At Sun May 20, 04:25:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Literary Lion said...

I think I'm with the last poster on this. Our current players, who do visit this blog, don't need to be revisiting our past failures. If anything, alumni should make sure that the administration never again treats athletics as an unwelcome step-child. As Jake has written in another thread, we should also make sure that alumni fill Wien Stadium on a regular. This will keep our recruits playing for their entire Columbia careers and give our coaches the roster depth they need to keep 4th quarter collapses from happening.

At Sun May 20, 05:26:00 AM GMT+7, Blogger Jake said...

Okay, I don't need any more reasons to hold off on writing about the bad past. Those who know, know. However, I think every time CU wins a big game like the one at Brown last season, I will take some time to show how the Lions have overcome a bugaboo of the past, etc.

At Mon Feb 08, 10:49:00 PM GMT+7, Blogger Douglas A Jackson said...

Love your articles Doug Jackson

At Tue Sep 26, 11:41:00 PM GMT+7, Blogger Douglas A Jackson said...

Im the head baseball coach at prince tech in Hartford ct and a football coach at vinal tech in middletown ct


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