Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Don't Call them Losers (1st in a series)

Wien Stadium was almost new in 1987 (CREDIT:

They say the two biggest lies told in corporate America are 1) "I played a little college ball." and 2) "I served in Vietnam."

The 15 senior members of the 1987 varsity Columbia football team can not only truly say they played college ball, but it must have felt like they had fought in the Vietnam War every time they left the field.

Those young men went a collective 0-30 in their three years on the varsity. They not only never tasted victory, they often came so agonizingly close that it must have felt like losing an armed conflict week after week.

And they were not given the luxury of losing in private. As the Lions neared and eventually broke the record for most consecutive losses, the media attention and presence grew at game after game.

We know how the story ended on the field for those players. But what happened after that? 20 years after that final 30th straight loss on a cold day in Providence, Rhode Island, I've set out to talk to the 15 men who were the seniors on the 1987 Lions.

The results so far?

Almost every one of them is a success in a way that exceeds the average financial and career success of even the typical Columbia graduate. And it is for that reason -- the chance to demonstrate the value of adversity and the value of participation in Ivy League sports no matter what the result -- that I have decided to tell their stories. One by one. For as long as it takes.

Full Disclosure: I intend to publish excerpts from this project on this site, in the hopes of making it into an actual book one day. Would it sell? Well, that would be nice, but the idea is to embark on a worthwhile project and if you try to start to write a book with sales in mind, you'll probably fail.

For now, I just want to mention the names of each one of those seniors from the '87 team. They have our admiration always.

Michael Bissinger (Captain)

Joseph D’Angelo

Kurt Dasbach (senior year only)

Philip Fusco

George Gianfrancisco

Hugh Giffords

Michael Lavelle

Nicholas Leone

John Miller

Anthony Natola

David Putelo

Richard Ritter

Paul San Filippo

Matt Sodl

Sean Wright


At Thu Dec 20, 12:47:00 AM GMT+7, Blogger Jake said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At Thu Dec 20, 02:15:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dasbach was pulled over from the soccer team his senior year--he didn't go through 30 losses with these other guys.

At Thu Dec 20, 02:22:00 AM GMT+7, Blogger Jake said...

Good point on Dasbach, but I want to keep him on the list for persevering as well.

At Thu Dec 20, 02:39:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not sure I agree with you Jake. All those other guys were recruited to play football& played all 4 years under 3 different coaches. Dasbach is to be credited for stepping in midseason when they needed a kicker but he hardly "persevered"..just my opinion--ask the other 14 guys what they think--it's their opinion that counts...

At Thu Dec 20, 02:44:00 AM GMT+7, Blogger Jake said...

I totally agree... I just don't like taking people's names off lists once I put them there.

At Thu Dec 20, 04:13:00 AM GMT+7, Blogger dabull said...

I like the idea and I'd buy the book.

At Thu Dec 20, 10:30:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a devoted Columbia football fan, I'm interested in almost anything that's written about the Lions, but I dare say there just isn't enough here for a book that would appeal to even diehard Columbia fans. First of all, most sports fans,including Columbia fans, are interested in reading about wins not losses, and second, another pretty good writer named Pat Conway beat you to the punch with his book about the miserable losing ways of the Citadel basketball team in the sixties. If you haven't read that book, Jake, you should, because it is one of the best sports books of all time, and actually has an interesting chapter about the basketball game between Conway's Citadel team and a Columbia team led by Roger Waleszek who was an outstanding basketball player at Columbia. Sure, I would like to know what happened to the Columbia players who endured the 30 game losing streak, but frankly I'm more interested in reading something positive about the current players and the incoming freshman.

At Thu Dec 20, 11:29:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you really, really, really, really want (as the Spice Girls sang) to do a story about how losses prove character, it might be useful to compare 1987's Lions seniors to players from Prairie View A&M, since their football team's losing streak (along with that of a few other schools) exceeded Columbia's own. Then you might compare the value of a Columbia education vs. that of one from Prairie View in later life. It's probably quite easier to get over a losing streak if one has subsequent success. Wherever you went to college.

And as other, now-seemingly-erased comments also noted, the reference to Vietnam was simply wrongheaded.

Yes, too, Pat Conroy's book (not "Conway's) is pretty darn good (and lacks his usual whininess). For the longest time it was the only one of his you could actually buy in the Citadel's bookstore, not surprisingly given how much "love" he showed his alma mater in novels like "The Lords Of Discipline."


At Fri Dec 21, 04:12:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks rs for your comment. Pat Conroy had a miserable father who verbally abused him every time he appeared on court. He also was subjected to some vicious phycsical and mental hazing while at the Citadel. No wonder he has very little nice to say about his alma mater although it is a much more civilized place today. Actually,Conway was a pretty good point guard, who made a big mistake by attending the Citadel rather than an Ivy League School like Columbia where he would have flourished in the classroom as well as on the basketball court. I wonder if Jake could interest Mr. Conroy in his project. It certainly would be fun to involve a great writer like Pat Conway in Columbia sports and Roar Lion Roar.

At Fri Dec 21, 06:54:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...'d have to include Keith Mano(used to write for playboy)Betty Armstrong(her father was last and maybe only 11 varsity letterman at CU-she has since passed away) and Marion Lang in your book. They sat through every CU win and loss for a period of 30 some odd years. Their tailgates and loyalty to CU football was legendary and unrivaled

At Sat Dec 22, 04:31:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jake, I would respectfully urge you not to write a book on this subject. It does not hekp alma mater, and I daresay it does not help these former players.

At Sat Dec 22, 05:49:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like the book idea Jake. Most of us will agree that Lions supporters are interested in the "win-lose-it was it a great game-did you see that play-who is the most outstanding recruit-who might go on to the NFL" aspects of the sport. That's why we're here on this site.

Yet, the bigger picture is what does it really matter in the end to say, "I played college football."? It matters because football mirrors life - so much more than any other sport. You knock yourself out to prepare for your moment in time on the field, often a time that never comes, but if/when it does you hope you can make a difference. Then, what can go wrong usually does. You get knocked around, dirty, wet, cold, hot, hurt, and you keep fighting - trying to play by the rules, even when others may not be, and no matter what you think, or how badly you feel - because you're are part of the whole - the team, the organization at large. You can be part of this "whole" but feel completely isolated when the success or failure falls only on your own shoulders. You can fail miserably but you get up and go on. Sometimes you win, if only for your own dignity and self-respect. Every so often, in that magic moment in time, you might win big - for everyone.

I grew to love this sport later in life - especially at the high school and college level because it's one of the only places you can openly see the making of boys into men. In a world where too often character takes a backseat to the drive for success, where there are too few men that boys can look to now as valid role models, we should never tire of hearing about anyone who overcomes overcomes disappointing odds and still finds a way and a reason to succeed. Tell their stories with the passion for life. It will always be a valuable read.

At Wed Jan 02, 09:46:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This Week in College Football History: Jan. 1-7

Courtesy of The National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame

DALLAS - As part of an on-going series throughout the fall, The National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame posts in advance This Week in College Football History, which takes a look back at some of college football's landmark moments over the last 139 years. During the season, many of these events are featured in a changing exhibit at the College Football Hall of Fame in South Bend, Ind.


Jan 1, 1934: Columbia upends Stanford 7-0 in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena as NFF Hall of Fame coach Lou Little's heavy underdogs pull off the upset. Lions' quarterback Cliff Montgomery is named the game's MVP. It's the final appearance by an Ivy League school in the Grandaddy of bowls, finishing with a 2-2 record.

At Sun Jan 20, 04:06:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You forgot to include Durc Savini in you're list. He stuck around another year to try for a win and got it.

At Sat Jan 24, 04:14:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kurt Dasbach was the best soccer player and one of the smartest kids at the high school he and I both attended, but he was also considered one of the biggest jerks - an incredibly arrogant, selfish, egotistical jock who looked down his nose at anyone (basically everyone) who didn't measure up to his lofty athletic and academic standards.

A cherry picker, he missed a chip shot field goal attempt in 1987 that would have ended Columbia's infamous losing streak - and boy did a lot of people in Bethesda, Md., get a lot of satisfaction out of seeing the wunderkind get his comeuppance.

What goes around comes around. I suspect life and the real world have shown Mr. Dasbach that he's not such a big shot anymore - he who missed that chip shot that my grandmother could have kicked through the uprights.


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