Thursday, May 31, 2007

Tears in My Eyes

Jose Valentin is close to coming back after an ACL Tear

Columbia Looks for a Little Mets Magic

Everyone in the Columbia program that I've spoken too has been very optimistic about QB Craig Hormann's recovery from an ACL tear. Most seem to believe he'll be ready for the season opener. I have to admit I've been optimistic too, but also a little leery of those predictions.

But then I read about the Mets' Jose Valentin and his expected quick return from an ACL tear.

Now, I realize Valentin has only a partial tear, but I suppose it's possible Hormann was also not the victim of a full-blown tear as well. Of course, I'm not a doctor, but there does seem to be a little more evidence to back up the optimism in Hormann's case. Considering how well he finished the 2006 season, there is certainly good reason to hope Craig be back to start all 10 games in 2007.

Where are the Ivies?

I live just 8 minutes away from Hofstra's Shuart Stadium where this year's New York City vs. Long Island all-star high school football game, known as the Empire Challenge, will be played on June 28th. So, I'm more than a little bummed that only one incoming Ivy freshman is going to be playing, and its Brian Giesecke, a defensive end recruit going to Penn from Chaminade High School in Manhasset. There are a good number of incoming Ivy players from New York City and Long Island, but I guess they either weren't chosen to play or could not make the commitment.

Call for Stories!!!

And I'm still waiting to hear from more of you about your first memories of Columbia football. Tell me about it in the comments section or email me at and I'll put it all up in a real post for our own "For Lions Fans Only!" chronicle.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Stupidity of Crowds

A Jam-Packed Crowd at Ohio Stadium... where the blowouts just keep coming!

Obviously, I'm a fan of Ivy League football. But I also enjoy so-called "big-time" college ball too. During my years in the Midwest, I spent most fall weekends going to different Big 10 stadiums. The excitement generated by the huge crowds from the tailgate period to the end of the day is just great.

There's only one problem, "big-time" Division I-A football games aren't always so exciting. In fact, they're usually blowouts. And while I highly recommend that every Ivy football fan experience what it's like to go to a Big 10 or SEC game... we should all realize how lucky we have it to be fans of league where most of the games are really close.

I did a little research on the 2006 in-conference seasons for the Ivies, Big 10, Pac 10, ACC, Big East, Big 12, the WAC, and the SEC and the numbers back me up:

Ivy League

Total Games: 28

Avg. Margin of Victory: 10.2 points

Games Decided by Two Scores or More: 15 (53.5%)

Games Decided by Three Scores of More: 7 (25%)

Overtime Games: 4

Big 10

Total Games: 44

Avg. Margin of Victory: 16.8

Games Decided by Two Scores or More: 31 (70.4%)

Games Decided by Three Scores of More: 18 (40.9%)

Overtime Games: 0

Pac 10

Total Games: 45

Avg. Margin of Victory: 16.5 points

Games Decided by Two Scores or More: 32 (71.1%)

Games Decided by Three Scores of More: 21 (46.6%)

Overtime Games: 2


Total Games: 50

Avg. Margin of Victory: 12.7 points

Games Decided by Two Scores or More: 24 (48%)

Games Decided by Three Scores of More: 18 (36%)

Overtime Games: 1

Big East

Total Games: 28

Avg. Margin of Victory: 14.1 points

Games Decided by Two Scores or More: 20 (71.4%)

Games Decided by Three Scores or More: 14 (50%)

Overtime Games: 2


Total Games: 36

Avg. Margin of Victory: 22.3 points

Games Decided by Two Scores or More: 29 (80.5%)

Games Decided by Three Scores or More: 20 (55.5%)

Overtime Games: 0

Big 12

Total Games: 49

Avg. Margin of Victory: 14.0 Points

Games Decided by 2 Scores or More: 31 (63.2%)

Games Decided by 3 Score or More: 22 (44.8%)

Overtime Games: 3


Total Games: 48

Avg. Margin of Victory: 10.8 points

Games Decided by Two Scores or More: 23 (47.9%)

Games Decided by Three Scores or More: 16 (33.3%)

Overtime Games: 3

When you compare the Ivies to the three biggest football conferences in the BCS, no one but the SEC comes close. And to be fair, 2006 was an unusually competitive year for the SEC with teams like Kentucky and Vanderbilt playing well and perennial powers like Alabama falling off a bit.

The mid-majors are often even less competitive, as those conference usually sport one team that's BCS-Bowl bound and everyone else is far behind.

And as anyone who has been watching Ivy football for more than a few years can tell you, there is something about a late-game lead in an Ivy game that makes it feel less safe than any other kind of football you're likely to watch.

Add the fact that the Ivy players are actually students first, (something we just can't say about the overwhelming majority of "big-time" college players), and you have a wholesome and entertaining product to sell.

So why aren't more people showing up to the average Ivy game despite the facts that the contests are close and the players aren't thugs? For one thing, I think there are fewer sports fans graduating from Ivy schools these days. And since the alumni base is still the #1 source for fans on gameday, this is a problem.

But I think the real reason is what I call the "stupidity of crowds." Sorry, no disrespect intended to The Wisdom of Crowds author James Surowiecki, but sometimes the large crowds flocking to certain sporting events attract more interest than they deserve. Younger fans see all the TV coverage of huge crowds at D-IA games and they're convinced they're must be a good reason for it. TV sponsors salivate at the numbers, even though there are often better retail consumer demographics watching the Home Shopping Network.

Look at the other "popular" attractions in this country. Millions eat at that garbage disposal known as McDonald's. Coke is still the top soft drink in America, and that stuff is basically sugar water. But you know, everyone else is doing it.

If you and your friends and/or family go to an Ivy League football game you are MORE likely to see an exciting game for a lot less money and hassle than almost any other major sporting event in the country. Okay, so the game won't be given its own segment on ESPN... but ESPN is spending more time discussing "Dancing with the Stars" anyway these days. Just try it. Believe me, you'll like it.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Oh those Lazy, Hazy Days of Summer... NOT!

Hot Fun in the Summertime

So what's it like in the summer for the typical Columbia football player? Maybe an a hour or two a day of working out and then it's off to the beach? Not exactly.

One Lion parent told me this is what a "normal" day for her son is like this summer break:

6:30am: Get up, shower, eat breakfast.

7:00am: Leave for work, drive 55 miles to the internship that may launch a career one day.

5:00pm: Leave work, drive 75 miles into CU Mondays and Wednesdays for team lift. The remainder of the week is spent in the local gym, meet with the trainer and team doctor if needed.

9:00pm: Leave CU, drive a teammate home (even though it is out of the way, but teams stick together and otherwise the guy would have to take the local bus that would get him in at midnight)

10:00pm: Arrive back home, shower, eat dinner, and go to bed.

I know kids are growing up these days with jam-packed schedules, but that's still a pretty heavy summer schedule for a 19-21 year-old. Of course, it's that kind of summer dedication that leads to more wins and making All-Ivy. And with more Columbia football players sticking aroung campus this summer, hopefully this dedication will be contagious.

Randy Murff (CREDIT: Columbia College Today)

MEMORIAL DAY WEEKEND NOTE (UPDATED): If anyone out there knows any names of former Columbia athletes who fell in service to our country, please let me know. It would be nice to compile a list. Of course, one person we know is former Lion captain Randy Murff '97. May his memory be a blessing.

And a commenter has alerted me to the memory of Russ Equi, class of '66. Rest in peace.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Stormin' the Beach

CU Owned this Place!

Former Columbia captain Matt Sodl '88 tells me that about 30 people showed up for the dinner last night in Manhattan Beach with Coach Wilson. The crowd included former players, former cheerleaders, and just regular alums.

Some of the boldface names there included:

Bill Strack '86

Charles Johnson, ’71

Billy Hicks, ’87

Bob Giannini, ’89

Duane Bartsch, ’89

Bill Greenberg, mid-50’s?

Jason Tarbart, late 90’s?

Matt says the overriding message from the alums was they want to be more plugged in to the program. He did tell a lot of them about this very blog, so hopefully they'll be happy with it.

Matt also reports that Coach Wilson wants to make retention a serious priority. He's working on ways to make the experience more rewarding and fun for them.

And once again, I'd really love it if anyone who went to either last night's dinner in Manhattan Beach or Wednesday night's affair in Palo Alto could email me some highlights and their own impressions or just let us know in the comments section. My email is

Happy Memorial Day Weekend!

Super Shalbrack

Shalbrack wore Des Werthman's #49 last season... a good omen (CREDIT: Columbia Athletics Dept.)

Okay, I want to take a break from spotlighting the incoming freshmen for just a bit and make sure I don't short-change the stars of Columbia's very encouraging 2006 season.

In a year when so many freshmen made an impact on the Lions, I thought none of them was as important as Andy Shalbrack out of St. Joseph's Prep in Philadelphia, (you just have to love it more when we grab someone from under Penn's nose).

Shalbrack, (#6) closes in on a ball carrier during his HS days at St. Joseph's (CREDIT: Ted

Shalbrack cracked the starting lineup right out of the gate, starting in the opener against Fordham and notching 3 tackles and forced Ram QB T.J. Jordan to cough up the ball and his helmet in a bone-jarring hit that led to the Lions first score of 2006. Columbia rolled, 37-7.

Shalbrack celebrates after his helmet-jarring forced fumble against Fordham (CREDIT: Columbia Athletics Dept.)

But Andy was just warming up. In just his second varsity game, Shalbrack led the team with 11 tackles, including a crucial 1/2 sack with Tad Crawford that helped the Lions hold off Georgetown in the 23-21 victory. A few days later, he was named Ivy League Rookie of the Week.

Shalbrack was one of the bright spots in Columbia's 19-6 loss to Princeton at Homecoming. He had just one tackle, but it was for a 3-yard loss and he also grabbed his first interception of the season and ran it back 13 yards. Shalbrack would finish the season with an Ivy League leading five pickoffs.

In the 24-0 shutout of Iona in week four, Shalbrack put in another strong performance with 6 tackles, including one and a half for a loss and another half sack.

A week later Columbia was shut out at Penn, 16-0, but Shalbrack made his presence felt with 7 tackles, two pass break-ups, and his second interception of the season, which he returned for 22 yards. I named him a Columbia game MVP for the first time.

The week 6 20-7 loss to Dartmouth was extremely frustrating, but Shalbrack helped set up our only score with an interception and 11-yard return that eventually led to the M.A. Olawale TD. I was actually at field level when Shalbrack made that interception and for some reason I was focusing on him that entire play. It was clear that Shalbrack read Dartmouth QB Mike Fritz's eyes the entire way, and it was almost like he picked it off before it was even thrown. He also had seven tackles and was named Ivy League Rookie of the Week for the second time.

The following week was a quiet one, as Shalbrack notched just one tackle and a pass break-up in the 21-3 loss at Yale. But he led the team in tackles with 12 the following week in the final loss of the season at Harvard.

Shalbrack had six tackles in the breakthrough 21-14 win over Cornell, but his finished his with a bang in the 22-21 comeback win over Brown.

I love looking at this picture (CREDIT: Columbia University Marching Band)

In that game, Shalbrack picked off Brown Qb Joe DiGiacomo late in the first half and returned it 10 yards to the Brown 21. Then, he made a crucial 3rd quarter interception at the Columbia goal line to end a long Brown drive.

Shalbrack finished the season with a remarkable 55 tackles, (5 for a loss), 5 interceptions, four passes broken up and one full sack and a forced fumble. All as a FRESHMAN, and his strong play was a major catalyst in a defense that reduced its points allowed total by more than 50% from 2005.

And to top it all off, Shalbrack intercepted a pass and returned it for a touchdown in the spring game last month.

It appears the Columbia coaches will shift him back into the defensive backfield instead of playing him at spur linebacker like they did last season. He's also probably going to take a new number, #6 from his high school days, possibly freeing up Des Werthman-lookalike Justin Masorti to grab that #49 for 2007.

There are a lot of reasons why Columbia fans should be optimistic about the future, and the fact that Shalbrack should be around for another three seasons is one of the biggest.

Recruit in Focus: Josh Smith

Columbia fans know we need some workhorse defensive linemen to do some heavy lifting in Coach Ferrari's 3-5-3 defense. One promising incoming frosh is Josh Smith of Forest Hills Northern HS in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Checking out his player profile I was particularly comforted to see that he likes AC/DC as his pregame "get pumped" music. For kids who went to high school in the 80's like me, it's nice to see that today's high school kids are still listening to AC/DC! (I think I just got 5 years younger).

Like some other Columbia defensive linemen of the past, Josh is also talented in the shot put and he is going to compete in the Michigan high school track meet. He's seeded 7th right now in Division 2.

Here are some of Josh's strength stats as of last summer:

Height: 6' 2 1/2"
Weight: 245 lbs.
40 time: 4.69
Bench Press: 325 lbs.
Squat: 605 lbs.
Clean: 325 lbs.
Vertical Jump: 29 "

Jerry Ford was one of the biggest stars on Michigan's 1934 National Championship squad

And speaking of Grand Rapids... the most famous native of that great town is a footballer of the past with Ivy connections who also happened to be our 38th president: Gerald R. Ford. After Ford finished an All-American undergrad career for the Wolverines, he went on to Yale Law School and worked part-time as a coach for the Yale gridders.

Jake's Take: As I've said many times on this blog, the transition from high school to college for offensive and defensive linemen is the hardest. You just never see frosh linemen making much of an impact. And if you do see them in the lineup, that's usually a sign of overall weakness for a team. Of course, there couldn't be a better team to join if you happen to be a prodigy linemen who's ready to play right away. The Columbia coaches proved many times last year that they are not biased against freshmen.

Of course, there's nothing wrong with a little player development, and Smith is coming in with good size and strength to start with. Smith comes from good football stock as his dad played at Hanover College back in the 70's when the school had a 26-game winning streak, so he has a good family support system to get him through the learning process on and off the field at Columbia. By the way, Smith's dad tells me his family was impressed by the Columbia coaches more than any other group and he had inquiries from Dartmouth, Princeton, Harvard, Penn, etc. He's also jazzed about Columbia's core curriculum which he feels allows young players to focus a lot more here than at places like Harvard, etc.

And I guess I'll be watching Smith a little more closely because I share a little bond with him as a fellow P.K., (those who know what "P.K." means will understand... by the way, it doesn't stand for "place kicker").

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Religion and the Ivies

Don't Worry, I'm not becoming a closet Bulldog fan! (I couldn't make this picture any smaller, by the way)

I realize this is a little off-topic, and it does focus on a group of Yale players, but you have to at least be a little impressed with these three young men who have kept their religious devotion and certainly expanded it over the years. And one of the guests, Dan Miller, is the brother of rising Columbia sophomore linebacker Lou Miller, (a nice still pic of the two of them is on the feed of the show I mention below at about 45:19 into the show).

The Yale players were featured on this show and they discussed what it's like to be a devout Catholic athlete at an Ivy League school. I got a kick out it when they read my email question at about 48 minutes in and it coaxed a smile out from Stephen Schmalhofer, who I've emailed back and forth with a few times.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I come from a pretty religious family myself. My father was a pulpit Rabbi for 23 years before turning to teaching ethics, philosophy and religion full-time as an academic. I went to private Jewish schools and Yeshivas all the way through 12th grade and generally benefitted from that. I have found that the people not from my exact background that I have the most in common with are Catholic school graduates, hands down. The upbringing is eerily similar. I'm not as religious as the rest of my family anymore by a long shot, but let's just say I haven't forgotten most of what I learned in school.

And while I support everyone's right to practice whatever faith or lack thereof on or off-campus, the orthodox hostility with which some secularists approach people of all faiths on many Ivy campuses is just as bad as the hostility non-believing people face in other parts of this country. That said, if you're religious and you insist on taking a course on comparative religion or something like that, you're asking to be challenged and you should be ready for some tough lectures. The challenge should do you some good, as long as you don't have a professor yelling at you for no reason.

I think everyone just needs to chill out when it comes to religion on campus. I mean if you really think allowing someone to put up a Christmas display on College Walk is going to lead to a violent Crusade, get a grip on yourself. It ain't gonna happen. And if you want to have a "free condom" week, be ready to allow, and be respectful of, a "choose life" week too. Free speech means free speech, and if you can't deal with it, or if you'd rather rush the stage than allow others to talk, I suggest you get a refund for the $40k you spent on tuition and try something other than college. END DISCLOSURE

What Does this Mean for Football?

It would be nice if we could take the many, many solid recruits from Catholic schools across the country, look them and their parents in the eye, and tell them there is no reason to worry about hostility to their Catholic faith on any Ivy League campus. I suspect some schools are better than others, and more often than not the normal non-politico students are extremely tolerant and just warmly curious, but I'm not sure we can say that today about Columbia, Yale or any place else. The average Ivy football player is likely to be more religious and politically conservative than his professors and fellow students. I just want them to feel comfortable, especially since many of them will be unfairly attacked for being athletes too. I wonder how many good recruits we've lost over the years because of this.

So let's congratulate guys like Schmalhofer and be ready to be extremely courteous and friendly to him after the Bulldogs lose to us at Wien Stadium on October 27th!

Any Word?

Coach Wilson Was Here

I think all the readers here would love it if anyone who made it to the dinner with Coach Wilson in Palo Alto last night could weigh in with a few comments on how it went. (I guess I'm just hoping the coach didn't complain about this web site!)

Don't forget, Coach Wilson heads down to Manhattan Beach for another dinner tonight.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

On the Agenda...

Get Up Close & Personal with Coach Wilson tonight! (CREDIT:

Some quick updates:

1) Tonight is the first of two get-togethers with Coach Norries Wilson in California. The event tonight is hosted by former Lion player, coach, and current Board of Trustees chair Bill Campbell at the Old Pro in Palo Alto from 6-10pm. The place is at 541 Ramona Palo Alto, CA 94301 and the number is (650) 326-1446.

I think you can still RSVP to Coach Wilson at:

Tomorrow, the Coach heads down to the L.A. area with an event hosted by Lion defensive great Matt Sodl '88. It's at Beaches Restaurant in Manhattan Beach from 6 to 9pm. Beaches is at 117 Manhattan Beach Blvd. Manhattan Beach, CA 90266 and the number is (310) 545-2523.

I can't be there for either event, but if you go tell 'em JAKE NOVAK sent you!

Send in your fan stories (CREDIT: CU250)

2) Some of you have already sent in your "how I became a Columbia football fan" stories and they're great. You can either put them in the comments section or email them to me at BUT, please give me your name, (it can be a nickname or online alias), your current hometown and age so we can add a little flavor to all of this. I want to put all of our stories in the actual body of the site so they're easier to find. I will bump the post up to the top of the blog every time there's an update.

Forget Penn, Watch out for Brown!

3) Check out Brown's just-released list of incoming freshmen players and you'll see the Bears are recruiting heavily in the same parts of the country as Columbia... more than any other Ivy in fact. I don't know why Brown is competing with us so closely for recruits, especially since the schools seem to be so dissimilar. Sure, the non-athlete student bodies are extremely similar, but Providence is so very different from Manhattan. You would think Brown would be gunning for the players looking for more of the pure New England experience that you get in Providence, Hanover, and even Cambridge. But I'm sure there are other factors. I don't know if we lost any potential recruits to the Bears, but we did grab Brian England away from them and he appears to be a big "get."

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

For Lions Fans Only!

Lions Fans in 2006 (CREDIT:

I've just come across a series of books titled "For (fill in the name of your favorite team here) Only!" There is a volume for Mets fans, Yankees fans, Red Sox fans, Notre Dame fans, Packers fans, etc.

The books are a work of genius. The editors just solicit personal stories from fans, cut out the chaff, and voila; they've got a book they can sell by the truckload.

But I think we Lions fans can do better. I'm going to choose some general topics and solicit emails from readers. (Please email me at I'll try to choose things that even newer Lions fans can weigh in on. I realize people can just put their stories in the comments section... and that's okay, (I can just cut and paste it to the actual body of the site). But I think this should be a running post that is easier for everyone to find. I'll either use your real name, or any handle you want to go by... just don't pick "anonymous" so we can distinguish one from another. Also, try to let me know your age and where you live now.

Former players are welcome to weigh in too. The books are solely for and about fans, but I am not that discriminatory.

We all look like this when we start (CREDIT: CU250 Archives)

The first topic is an easy one: What are your first memories of watching/rooting for the Columbia Lions? (Or: how did you become a CU football fan?)

(I'll go first) Jake Novak, 36, Long Island, NY:

"My first memories of Columbia football came when I was in high school. My sister is three years older than I am and she was a student at Barnard from 1985-89. I started hearing about the losing streak in 1985 when the whole Jim Garrett fiasco was going on. It was the first on-campus controversy my sister told us about when she came home to visit.

I was visiting her in the fall of '87 when Columbia just barely lost to Dartmouth after a missed FG, extending the losing streak to 39. I noticed someone, (must have been an alum), parking a car on Claremont Ave. with the words "Still Losing" written on the window part of his hatchback. I thought it was kind of funny, but wondered if he was happy or sad about the team.

When I started as a student at Columbia in 1988, the Lions first game was on the road at Harvard and I decided to tune in on WKCR. I remember Columbia took a 7-0 on a long pass play very early in the game, but the final score was Harvard 41 Columbia 7. For some reason, I didn't go to the home opener against Lafayette the following week, but that game was another rout.

The next week's game at Penn was on ESPN. And I remember sitting with a senior in my dorm who was really getting into the game, especially the great running day Greg Abbruzzese was having. But just when it looked like Columbia was going to tie the score at 17 late in the 4th quarter, Solomon Johnson was knocked out cold at the two yard line and he fumbled the ball away. CU lost 24-10, but the game opened a lot of peoples' eyes, because Penn was a title contender and eventually shared the championship with Cornell. Columbia had played very well on a title contender's home field probably for the first time in more than five years.

I was excited about homecoming the following week against Princeton, but decided to listen to the game on the radio while I watched the Mets-Dodgers NLCS game on TV in my sister's TV lounge in Furnald Hall. Two other seniors were doing the same thing and when I saw them getting more and more excited about what was happening at Wien Stadium, it was contagious. At halftime, the two of them decided to head up to the game and I followed them. I got into the stadium just in time to see Princeton score a TD on a long catch-and-run, but the play was mercifully called back on a penalty. The only other thing I remember about the action of the field was that Penn tried a crazy-long field goal to tie it and it fell very short, (not unlike the end of the 1971 game when Princeton's desperation FG try fell very short and CU won its first game against the Tigers in decades).

The crowd got bigger and bigger, and by the time the final seconds ticked off the home side of the field was almost completely full. I ran onto the field, but didn't bother trying to join the folks tearing down both goalposts. I kept having visions in my head of that woman who was almost killed by the goalposts coming down at the 100th Harvard-Yale game in 1983. (I know, I'm a wimp).

Then I followed a crowd of people who were dragging the goalposts, the padding from the goalposts, and almost everything else they could grab off the field onto the subway and back to campus. People were already out in large numbers on 114th Street, (frat row), when we got there and the party was definitely on! The only trouble was, other than drinking most fans didn't know how to celebrate. Most people just ended up tossing the long padding from one of the goalposts back and forth. We all knew it was silly, but what the Hell?

Later, they started giving out free pizza AND beer on campus. I remember some of the deans serving the beer and none of them checked anybody's I.D.

After that day, there was no way I was missing any more Columbia football games if at all possible."

Recruit in Focus: Alex Gross

Alex Gross, #11, Makes a Tackle

It turns out some of the info I wanted to grab about incoming RB/LB Alex Gross was hard to get because he comes from Kettering, not "Ketterind," Ohio as previously noted by me and CU athletic web site. Kettering is a suburb outside of Dayton and that entire area is very fertile football ground, (captain JoJo Smith is from Dayton).

A reader sent the following article, (from a newspaper I still can't identify for sure, but I'm betting it's the Dayton Daily News), about Gross a few months ago. It was buried in the comments section, so many of you may have missed it:

Gross Chooses Ivy League 'Total Package'

When national signing day rolls around, many athletes look for a program that will fit their personal athletic needs. Others seek a college that provides a strong academic program to support their educational needs. For Fairmont High School senior Alex Gross, it was all about both.

As the unquestioned leader of the Firebirds on the football field last season and a tremendous student in the classroom, Gross turned away a number of offers from the likes of Wofford College in South Carolina, Davidson College in North Carolina and several Ohio colleges. Gross even made the difficult decision to walk away from interest shown from Northwestern University, a Big 10 school known as much for its academics as its athletics.

Instead, Gross made one of his official visits to the Ivy League’s Columbia University, and came back with his future in hand.

“It was one of those things where I went there for a weekend visit, came back on Monday, and by Tuesday wanted to go back,” said Gross. “Everything at Columbia just felt right. The coaching staff, the players, the access to New York City and all of the opportunities educationally just can’t be beat. It was the total package academically, socially and football wise.”

As Gross signed his National Letter of Intent to play for the Lions, the Firebird senior looked back on his career at Fairmont.

“I wouldn’t trade my experiences here at Fairmont for any other high school program in the country,” said Gross.

“The leadership role Coach Blevins and Coach Dement put me in has really helped me grow on and off the football field. I feel really well prepared to take on the challenges of college football and life in New York City.”

For Fairmont head coach Brian Blevins, having Gross as his leader paid dividends both on and off the field.

“His leadership for this team was probably more important off the field than on it,” said Blevins. “He has laid the foundation for the guys behind him to continue this legacy, and I know that is very important to him.”

That legacy now includes winning for the Firebirds. After playing a big role in Fairmont’s 7-3 record his sophomore season, Gross grabbed the reigns and turned the team around after a disappointing junior campaign.

“After going 3-7 two years ago, Alex was not only our team captain, but our leader in every aspect of the word,” added Blevins. “He made the commitment to turn things around and basically put us on his back last year.”

With his high school football career behind him, Gross can now look forward to the next level. Aside from making contributions defensively for the Lions, Gross will seek a degree in finance and brokerage, without closing all his doors in the process.
“I think I want to keep my pre-med requirements just in case,” added Gross, with a quick glimpse to his parents, Doctors Mary Ellen Leary and Howard Gross. “I’m going to go into it with an open mind.

“No matter what you do at Columbia, it will open doors for you. Just like here at Fairmont, I know I’ll leave there well prepared.”

Gross as the ball carrier, scans the defense

Jake's Take: Gross looks like he will be prototypical spur linebacker in Lou Ferrari's 3-5-3 set. He racked up 200 total tackles in his junior and senior years and he switched from fullback his junior year to tailback his senior year. As a tailback he ran for 1,300 yards.

It looks like Ferrrari is molding his spur linebackers in the impressive mold of Andy Shalbrack, who I thought was the best freshman in the Ivies last season, bar none.

Long-time Lion fans may see the similarities when they compare the Shalbrack prototype to Columbia great Ed Backus, who patroled the defensive backfield in the mid 70's, (he was also a member of Columbia's Ivy League champion baseball team in 1976). As a sophomore, Backus made headlines in the New York Times when he was mugged on campus, and the Times decided to use this as an example of how Morningside Heights was extremely dangerous, (and back then, it kind of was... A LOT has changed). But Backus ended up mugging a lot of opposing players with big interceptions and rough tackles in his varsity career. He was inducted as member of Columbia's football team of the century in 2000.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

More Recruit Highlights

Ford City High School, home of the Sabres

Today I'd like to focus on Mike Egley, the DE/TE from Ford City High School in Kittanning, PA not far from Pittsburgh.

Egley's highlight video is now online and it looks like he has good size and strength coming out of that fertile football ground of Western PA. The Pittsburgh Post Gazette named him a first-team all-conference player on BOTH offense and defense.

According to his local paper, Egley says the CU coaches want him to play defense, and he only needs a little more weight to be an ideal type for DE.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Storming the Field

Joe, #5, with his Mom Behind Him

Incoming freshmen Joe Stormont could be the kickoff specialist we need right away and the field goal kicker will need in a couple years when Jon Rocholl graduates. Joe is also a talented free safety, and that has to intrigue the Lion coaches looking for a replacement for Tad Crawford.

Joe's dad Thomas has been a great source of info for me over the last few months and he's done it again with the following info and great video link:

"For what its worth, Joe is going to be in the Minnesota All Star game June 30th as safety and kicker for the metro team. He is hoping to play 2 positions at Columbia, but that is between Coach Wilson and Joe.

He was 3rd in the nation in total field goals through the regular season (15 of 18) according to maxpreps. You can check it out at MaxPreps and click on field goals.

The only highlight video that is internet compatible is from a Minneapolis tv station when joe was chosen all metro. All of the kids are from the large schools, and all were eventually all state as well. He is featured running down a fullback at 7:08 on the following link, then they did a feature on him as kicker and safety a minute or so later."

And check out what Mr. Stormont has to say about speed and strength in football. This is good stuff:

"My only other comment is on speed and track times, which I noticed some bloggers citing. Joe worked with a college level personal trainer before last football season, and he opened our eyes to what makes a player more "explosive" on the field. More important than how much he can bench press, or his 40,100, or 200 times is the ability of a player to change directions quickly, along with the ability to "see the field". If track times were the best gauge of a football prowess, then every track start would be a football star. If amount of weight lifted was the best gauge, then every "musclehead" from the gym would be the football star. Clearly, they are not. The player who seems to be exciting (explosive), or make things happen on the field, may have straight up speed and great strength, but he usually has the other traits I mentioned. I think this is true."

And isn't it nice to look at this roster and list of incoming recruits and realize that Columbia may actually have some depth at some key positions? As I wrote a few months ago, the single biggest reason for the Lions' woes over the decades has been lack of depth.

And let's give some props to the producers and on-air staff at station KARE in St, Paul/Minneapolis for what is obviously some very good high school football coverage. For those of you reading this site from the New York area, wouldn't you agree that our local TV coverage of high school sports stinks on ice? I know MSG cable does a regular high school football show, (or it did), but in general the bevvy of blue chip recruits in this general area are ignored by the broadcast networks. With 500+ channels available on digital cable, you'd think someone would figure this out.

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.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Calvin Otis: In Good Company

We already knew that incoming freshman defensive back Calvin Otis was also wanted by schools like Lehigh, Army, and maybe even Rutgers and Virginia. But I noticed that when he was chosen to the first team at the Rutgers combine last year, he was the ONLY player on the first OR second team with any interest in going to an Ivy. In other words, Otis impressed the scouts while playing on the same field with major recruits at schools like Penn State, Rutgers, Syracuse, Miami, etc. It also looks like Calvin's mom helped him focus squarely on the better academic schools first; a very good policy.

And that's a good thing, because Columbia's secondary needs some young blood fast. Even if Chad Musgrove returns to the team this season, he will be a senior along with starters JoJo Smith and Eugene Edwards. It looks like rising sophomore and 2006 season superstar Andy Shalbrack is officially being moved into the defensive backfield, and that will help too. So at first, Otis may have some trouble getting playing time with that talented group, but after this season he has a lot of open space in front of him.

Matthew Fox's Speech Now Online

Matthew Fox's class day speech to the Columbia College graduates is now available on the Columbia website. You can go here here and look for the "archived event" of the class day ceremonies link. Fox's speech begins about 42 minutes in to video.

My defense of this former football starter as class day speaker is here.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

10k Filing

Fill These Stands... Dammit! (CREDIT:

Let's face it, Columbia needs more fans in the stands this coming season no matter what. If the team is as strong as we hope it will be, then the fans need to show their appreciation. And if the team stumbles a bit, a big crowd could get them back on track.

Attendance at all Ivy football games has been down in recent years. We all have our theories about why this is happening, but most of those theories blame the students and they're really not the problem. This is not Ithaca, this is not Hanover. This is New York! And in the New York City area, there are so many Columbia and other Ivy alums that attendance at each Lion game against an Ivy opponent should easily break the 10,000 mark.

That's More Like It! Crowd at the Homecoming Game, 2003, a Wien record of 13,785 (CREDIT: Columbia Athletics)

The onus is on alums, period. Most of us are still in touch with our fellow alums, and we all probably work with a great deal of graduates from other Ivy schools who could be persuaded to come to the games. If you have to sit in the visitors stands with them, so be it. By the way, take a little nature walk behind the visitors stands sometime, you'll be glad you did.

But don't stop there, choose a game or two from the 2007 schedule and start working on some friends and family NOW to come to that game. I've been taking my neighbor and his daughter to games since 2004. They have no connection to Columbia or any other Ivy, but they love the low prices, the food, and the fact that they're watching real students play exciting games.

Sign This Kid Up! (CREDIT: Columbia College Today)

And speaking as a guy who has been bringing his daughter to most games since she was two, it really doesn't get more family friendly than Wien Stadium. Lately, the administration has been setting up carnivals for kids in the pregame picnic area for Homecoming and sometimes for other games as well. And no matter how competitive the games get, you rarely hear foul language in the stands and I've never seen a fistfight at Wien.

My Daughter Jordan Shows 'em How it's Done (CREDIT: Columbia University Marching Band)

Of course, there is the band. Some of their material is pretty off-color, but any kid under 11 or 12 isn't going to get the innuendo anyway. And as you can see above, the band can be kid friendly a lot of the time.

And never fear! My fans guide to going to a Columbia football game at Baker Field is on its way. Everything from the best driving directions, to parking, to proper sunscreen application tips will be covered, so nothing is left to chance.

The bottom line is we want 10k in the stands, every game, no exceptions. And it's up to alums like us to get it done.

Let's get to work!

Monday, May 14, 2007

High School Not So Confidential

The Great Rory Wilfork Came out of a Strong Public School Conference in Miami (CREDIT: Columbia Athletics Dept.)

Princeton's list of incoming freshmen football players came out this morning and I was struck by the number of kids from private schools. It looks like 13 of the 27 recruits hail from prep or Catholic schools. It's hard to tell if all of their recruits are purely private school products, because many Ivy athletes do a post grad year at a prep school after graduating from public high schools.

But I thought it would be interesting to look back at the most successful football players in the recent Ivy past and find out if any one type of high school is more likely than another to produce an Ivy star.

The answer was pretty clear: if you want to recruit a great football player in this league, go to a Catholic school or a public school in a football-rich part of the country.

The best Lions since 1980 fit this trend to a "t." Most large high schools on my home of Long Island are not the big football powers that they were in the 70's and early 80's, but QB John Witkowksi came out of Lindenhurst High School at a time when Suffolk and Nassau County schools produced quarterbacks like Boomer Esiason, Vinny Testeverde and Jay Fiedler.

Next up is Matt Sodl, who came out of another public high school in perhaps the most high school football-rich section of the country: rural Pennsylvania. Matt played All-America-level football at CU. Current Columbia stars Andy Shalbrack of Doylestown and Justin Masorti of State College are Pennsylvania natives, and Shalbrack is also a Catholic school graduate.

Des Werthman went to the Catholic Loyola Academy just outside of Chicago in Wilmette.

Marcellus Wiley and Rory Wilfork were both products of good urban high schools in tough urban high school football leagues. But Wiley's urban high school was also a Catholic school; Saint Monica's in Santa Monica. Wilfork came out of Miami's Norland High School.

Some notable exceptions are Mike Cavanaugh, who came out of a competitive but relatively small high school in Troy, Michigan. And Jonathan Reese, who played for the prep St. Louis Country Day School.

Basically, it seems that the kids from top flight public school football conferences excel in the Ivies because they're flat out good athletically. Most of those kids are probably playing something pretty close to Ivy League level football when they reach their conference playoffs and championship games.

Many Catholic School football leagues are as good or even better than their neighboring public high school conferences, but I think the Catholic schools are just better at producing student athletes who can handle the academic pressures in the Ivies. I don't think religion or religious rigor play too much of a role, but I think this young man, currently playing at Yale, would beg to differ.

I suppose at one time, Ivy football was dominated by the Exeter and Andover grads, but that time was probably running out even at the turn of the 20th century. It seems like the best Ivy stars since the 1920's have either been from tough high school conferences or Catholic schools. It will be interesting to see if the coming seasons continue that trend.

At first look, I would say about 11 of Columbia's incoming freshmen come from either tough public school conferences or Catholic schools. Some, like Nathan Lenz of Clearwater, Florida, come from Catholic schools in areas where the public school football is quite good too. That would put Lenz in that Des Werthman/Marcellus Wiley/Andy Shalbrack category at least for now.

Mike Stephens from Flower Mound, Texas is probably coming from the best overall public school football conference for this incoming class. His background reminds me of Philip Murray, the great Columbia safety who hailed from Mesquite, Texas.

I'm sure I've left out a lot of names of kids from the incoming freshmen class who fit my above criteria. And I will try to give everyone their due at some point during this long offseason. But like all things at this early time concerning the class of 2011, it's all speculation.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

The Sun, the Surf, the Coach

Coach Wilson in Winter Attire (CREDIT: Columbia Athletics)

If you REALLY want to obsess about the incoming freshmen list, or better yet, if you'd like to meet Coach Wilson in person and show him your support & admiration, then please find the time to go to one of these two events on the West Coast. (Hey, I might even make it to the one in Manhattan Beach if I get another call from Hollywood).

Here's the info:

Event #1 is Wednesday May 23rd at the Old Pro in Palo Alto, CA from 6-10pm. The host is Columbia football great and current Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Bill Campbell.

Address: 541 Ramona Palo Alto, CA 94301 (650) 326-1446

RSVP to Coach Wilson at:

Event #2 is Thursday May 24th at Beaches Restaurant in Manhattan Beach, CA from 6 to 9pm. The host is Columbia football great Matt Sodl '88.

Address: 117 Manhattan Beach Blvd. Manhattan Beach, CA 90266 (310) 545-2523

RSVP to Coach Wilson at:

This is a good chance to get the coach's ear for awhile and find out what's in store for this season. And I heard the potato pancakes at the Old Pro are especially good.

Friday, May 11, 2007

I Have Here a List...

Welcome Freshmen... meet your new roommates

Columbia Athletics has announced its official list of 31 recruited incoming freshmen, (including one junior transfer), for Lions football. The players' whose names I had not previously posted are signified with an *:

1. Cory Clare QB 6-0 170 Davie, Fla. South Plantation HS

2. *Dan Cohen OT/DT 6-4 265 New York, N.Y. Horace Mann HS

3. Mike Egley TE/DE 6-2 235 Kittanning, Pa. Ford City HS

4. Brian England TE/DE 6-2 240 Hazlet, N.J. Raritan HS

5. *Bruce Fleming DL 6-2 235 Alguippa, Pa. Hopewell HS

6. Greg Fontela SS 5-10 180 Miami, Fla. Belen Jesuit Prep

7. Alex Gross RB/LB 5-11 205 Kettering, Ohio Fairmont High School

8. Nico Gutierrez WR/FS 6-0 178 New Canaan, Conn. New Canaan HS

9. *Craig Hamilton DB 5-8 150 Detroit, Mich. U. of Detroit Jesuit Academy

10. Paul Havas QB 6-2 195 Hampstead, Quebec St. Paul’s School (NH)

11. Marc Holloway FB/LB 5-11 220 Philadelphia, Pa. West Philadelphia Catholic HS

12. *Leon Ivery RB 5-11 190 Mountain View, Calif. Menlo HS

13. Shane Kelly QB (Jr. transfer) 6-4 220 Basking Ridge, N.J. The Hill School

14. Andrew Kennedy TE 6-3 235 Westport, Conn. Staples HS

15. Bryan Kipp OG/LS 6-3 250 Norfolk, Mass. Xaverian Brothers HS

16. Zachary Kourouma RB/SS 5-10 175 Wilbraham, Mass. Minnechaug Regional HS

17. Nathan Lenz RB/SS 5-11 205 Largo, Fla. Clearwater Central Catholic HS

18. Adam Mehrer WR/FS 6-1 175 Midlothian, Va. Clover Hill HS

19. Matt Moretto RB/LB 6-0 195 Cornwall, N.Y. Cornwall Central

20. Mike Murphy RB/DB 6-1 180 Staten Island, N.Y. St. Joseph-by-the-Sea HS

21. *Daniel Myers DB 5-11 175 Blackstone, Va. Nottoway HS

22. Calvin Otis WR/DB 6-1 182 Windermere, Fla. Lawrenceville School (NJ)

23. Clifton Pope TE 6-3 230 New Rochelle, N.Y. Iona Prep

24. Ian Quirk OL 6-2 280 Frederick, Md. Tuscarora HS

25. *Prentis Robinson OT 6-4 270 East Orange, N.J. Middlesex HS

26. *Conor Russomanno WR 6-0 170 Falls Church, Va. Thomas Jefferson HS

27. Josh Smith DL 6-3 240 Grand Rapids, Mich. Forest Hills Northern HS

28. *Mike Stephens WR 5-10 175 Flower Mound, Texas Flower Mound HS

29. Joe Stormont K 6-2 190 Stillwater, Minn. Stillwater HS

30. Matt Stotler DE 6-5 220 Arlington, Va. Yorktown HS

31. Augie Williams RB/DB 5-10 175 La Mesa, Calif. Grossmont HS

Who's Missing?

A couple of names from my last posted list didn't make it to this official rundown. They are Ben Britzius C Wheeler (GA) and Tim Skalak OL Central Catholic (OH). In Skalank's case, I'm pretty sure he's an unofficially recruited "walk-on" who simply had the grades to get in to Columbia without help. Britzius may have been lost, but he may be one of those unofficial walk-ons as well. We will have to keep an eye out for more players falling into this category, and while it may frustrate us not to know about them early, more power to the great students out there.

About the New Names...

Leon Ivery in 2006 game action (CREDIT: Palo Alto Daily News)

There are some exciting prospects in the new batch of names we now officially know. One of them is RB Leon Ivery from Menlo High School in Palo Alto. It looks like Ivery may have been a D-I prospect until his junior year, when he had surgery to remove some bone spurs in his foot. He then had a terrific senior year, but missed his team's last two games with perhaps more spurs or some other type of injury to his foot. He joins Nico Gutierez, who is another incoming freshmen who could be a serious factor in the league if they overcome injuries.

Ivery has an interesting personal and family history. He's an accomplished classical pianist, and was featured as a young entrepreneur in his local paper when he was just in 8th grade. His father is a Vietnam vet who survived the Tet Offensive.

Another exciting "get" is Mike Stephens, an all-star wide receiver from an impressive conference in Texas. Stephens could make an impact on the still wide open race to start as the #2 receiver behind Austin Knowlin.

I was also impressed with what I read about Prentis Robinson, the offensive lineman from New Jersey.

Calling Morton's

But it's really important to take all this news with a big grain of salt. All of these kids are coming to Columbia mostly to get an education, and for some of them the transition to NYC will be a tough one. Sadly, 2-3 or maybe more of these young men will not be on the roster when the season kicks off. That's inevitable.

On the other hand, I would say that six freshmen made a serious impact on the Lions last season: Andy Shalbrack, Austin Knowlin, and Justin Masorti were the top three and Lou Miller, Taylor Joseph, and Matt Bashaw were the other impact frosh. I think there's room for another 4-5 newcomers to make a similar contribution this season. So these players have to be optimistic about their chances if they give it their all.

Obviously, I'll have much more on this incoming class in the weeks and months to come.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Long Life After Football?

Big Linemen like Larry Allen are at Risk

Kudos to my friend Bruce Wood of the Big Green Alert Blog for finding a nice article in the New York Times about Columbia great Archie Roberts and his quest to find out why pro football players have such short lifespans. The article is not free on the NY Times site, but if you have Times Select, check it out.

Specifically, Roberts is focusing on heart disease in linemen. You can read more about his work here: LHF, and here's a video of Dr. Roberts discussing the issue.

Yep, there goes another one of those Columbia athletes who bring down the school's academic standards. Please!

That reminds me... IF I get the radio gig, these are the kinds of issues and people I want to address in halftime interviews, etc. Somehow I think the great Archie Roberts might be more willing to do an interview if we talk a bit about his interesting medical research. And somehow, I think it might be a tad better if the person who interviewed him happened to be up on his records both on and off the field.

And given my media contacts, I think the access I would have to the program would help me as I continue to drum up interest in the CU program. Newsday, for example, publishes my humor for free every week, and they owe me. I'd like to pull a Norries Wilson on their "local colleges" reporter who not only doesn't cover Columbia football, but the paper even leaves Columbia scores off the stat page!

I'd also like to set something up in the pregame picnic area on home weekends, where I could host a live interview with a Columbia player of the past, or maybe just a mock "talk show" with trivia questions and prizes.

The point is, that there is a lot more I could do as a radio announcer to help increase fan interest than I can simply as a blogger. I hope I get the chance.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Hallowed (Polo) Grounds

College Football Action at the Polo Grounds, 1927 (CREDIT: U.S. Naval Academy)

Most Columbia fans know the Lions have had only two true home fields in their football history. The first was South Field right on the Columbia campus and it probably didn't seat more than 2,500 fans or so.

Drawing of South Field, Aerial View Circa 1920

As college football became a national sensation, a number of options were weighed for a larger Lions Den, including a massive Neo-Classical stadium in Riverside Park.

Artist's rendering of the Riverside Park Stadium entrance

But in 1921, Wall Street whiz George Baker donated the land at the tip of Manhattan that would become Baker Field. The "temporary" wooden stands built there for the 1923 season would eventually grow to 32,000 and wouldn't be razed until 1983.

Baker Field, 1944

But Columbia would often call another part of upper Manhattan home in the years before and after Baker Field was built. It was the Polo Grounds, the famed baseball home of the New York baseball Giants, the New York Football Giants, (from 1922-57), the New York Mets in 1962 and 1963, and the New York Titans, later Jets, from 1960-63.

The Lions played about 35 games at the Polo Grounds from 1900-1936, mostly when the crowds were expected to be too large for South Field or Baker Field, (Baker Field had only about 15,000 seats in its first years). It's hard to confirm all the scores and dates of the games below... but I've done the best I could. I'm also not including the exhibition games and the contests between graduate school club teams.

The Polo Grounds/Manhattan Field, circa 1900

Games Played at Polo Grounds II (also known as "Manhattan Field" and even "Columbia Field" by some pundits in the old New York news media)

1883: Yale 93 Columbia 0 (glad I missed that one)

Games Played at Polo Grounds III

1901: Columbia 5 Williams 0; Columbia 12 Hamilton 0; Columbia 29 Haverford 6; Columbia 10 Penn 0; Columbia 18 Georgetown 0; Syracuse 11 Columbia 5; Cornell 24 Columbia 0*; Columbia 40 Carlisle 12

*The 1901 Columbia-Cornell game became infamous after one of the ticket-takers was reported missing along with about $1,000 which was almost all of the ticket receipts for the game. With well over 10,000 people at that game, one can only imagine how inexpensive the ticket prices were.

1902: Columbia 45 Fordham 0; Columbia 5 Buffalo 0; Columbia 12 Swarthmore 0; Columbia 35 Hamilton 0; Brown 28 Columbia 0; Columbia 6 Syracuse 6

1903: Columbia 10 Weslyan 0; Columbia 36 Union 0, Columbia 29 Hamilton 0; Columbia 5 Williams 0; Columbia 5 Swarthmore 0; Columbia 12 Amherst 0; Columbia 18 Penn 6; Yale 25 Columbia 0

The Polo Grounds III. It burned down in 1911

Games Played at Polo Grounds #4

1920: Penn 27 Columbia 7

1921: Cornell 41 Columbia 7

1922: Dartmouth 28 Columbia 7

1923: Cornell 35 Columbia 0; Dartmouth 31 Columbia 6

1924: Syracuse 9 Columbia 6

1925: Cornell 17 Columbia 14; Columbia 21 Army 7; Syracuse 16 Columbia 5

1926: Ohio State 26 Columbia 7; Columbia 17 Cornell 9; Syracuse 19 Columbia 2

1927: Columbia 14 Syracuse 7

1936: Columbia 7 Stanford 0

Overall W-L-T: 21-15-1

It looks like the Lions strayed from the Polo Grounds as soon as Baker Field became more established, but huge games like the Rose Bowl rematch with Stanford forced a return to larger confines in 1936. Also, Fordham made the Polo Grounds its alternate home in the 1920's and kept it that way for many years.

The Polo Grounds, circa 1955

Most game days I actually pass the site of the old Polo Grounds as I drive to Wien Stadium via the Harlem River Drive. The HRD runs past what was the outfield in the picture above from the 1950's. The route I take runs along Yankee Stadium as well, which is in the Bronx just across the river from the old Polo Grounds site. Old New York baseball fans tell me the walk from the Polo Grounds to Yankee Stadium used to take about 10-15 minutes over a footbridge that crossed the Harlem River.

Incidentally, I know of only one game Columbia played at Yankee Stadium, a 1936 contest with Army. The Cadets won 27-16, in a wild game that featured the sterling passing of Sid Luckman for the Lions. Army played a lot of home games at the "House that Ruth Built," as did NYU, so it's likely Columbia played a lot more games there, but I can't confirm that right now.

It's also worth noting that the Polo Grounds often served as the home fields for other Ivy teams like Cornell and even Dartmouth, but usually not more than once a year. Several early Princeton-Yale contests were played at the Polo Grounds II to accommodate the huge boisterous crowds at those games. But for some reason, the 1942 Yale-Princeton game was moved from the Polo Grounds to Baker Field (!), perhaps because the war reduced some interest in the game.

We can only imagine what it would have been like to watch Columbia football with crowds of 50,000-60,000 people in the 1920's. I think it was probably tremendous fun. On the other hand, from what I've read, the parking was still bad!

48 Hours

Not quite as much is at stake, but you get the point

Coach Norries Wilson has announced that our complete incoming freshmen list will be released this Friday... so the long wait will soon be over.

Truth be told, I've known about a number of recruits, (really just 5-6), that I haven't posted about here. I've kept my list to the young men who have either been written about in the newspapers, talked about on their school web sites, or the ones whose parents have emailed me.

Why? Well there are two reasons. First, as you all probably know, I'm still trying to get the color commentator radio gig for Columbia football this coming season and I just don't want to do anything to anger the guys who are still deciding whether to give me the job. They have their reasons for not wanting all the names posted early, and I have to respect that even if I weren't looking for a job.

Second, I think there is a chance that some of these kids could change their minds if predatory folks from within and without the Ivy League see their names on the Columbia list at an early stage. And let's face it, if anything on this site ever turned out hurting the team I think I would put my head in an oven.

The good news is, a couple of the as yet unnamed recruits are super prospects, even in the relative world of recruiting news where every prospect looks like a world-beater. In other words, the wait will be well worth it.

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!