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.
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.