Saturday, June 30, 2007

Worth the Weight


Coming Through!

Incoming freshman offensive lineman Carl Constant stood out even before last night's Empire Challenge all-star game began. It was hard to miss a young man who was either the biggest or second biggest person on the field.

The 6"3, 285-pound Constant helped anchor the right side of the New York City all-stars front line in a thrilling 35-27 win over the Long Island stars in front of about 8,000 people at Hofstra's Shuart Stadium last night.

Since blitzing was not allowed, the o-lines didn't exactly have to stand up under real game conditions. But Constant did not appear to miss any blocks or make any mistakes all night.



The NYC offense lines up (Constant is the down lineman furthest to the right)

Constant is actually a Long Island native, as his Uniondale home is just a few moments from the Hofstra campus. But he eschewed the academically weak Uniondale public school system for St. Francis Prep School in the Queens neighborhood of Fresh Meadows.

While he was the only confirmed future Ivy prospect in the game, (Penn's Brian Giesecke was originally scheduled to play, but dropped out and a defensive back named James Wittpenn was listed as going to Brown, but the Brown web site does not mention him), Constant was joined on the field by four future Fordham players, including two fellow starters on the NYC offensive line last night. The Patriot League was also represented by two incoming freshmen for Holy Cross.

At one point, Constant manned the offensive line along with incoming Fordham freshmen Wendell Joly and Adnan Vandyck, both from Fort Hamilton high school. He'll see them in 77 days when Columbia opens its season at Rose Hill.



Jake's Take: Constant showed decent speed and stamina, but he'll probably need to focus on his footwork and take a lot of time to learn the unique blocking schemes in Coach Norries Wilson and offensive coordinator Vinny Marino's system. But the size is there, and so is the potential for All-Ivy in the future.


He looks even smaller in person

The star of the game was tiny running back Antonio Walcott, (pictured above), another Fort Hamilton product. He's listed as 5"5 and 155 pounds, and when I saw him from the sidelines I could have sworn he was 10 years old. But he is extremely fast and he made quite a few gains where it looked like there was nothing there. Walcott is headed to the University of Maine, and I can tell you, (yep, it's another place I've lived), that area gets C-O-L-D in football season. I hope the chilly weather doesn't freeze his very small frame, but if he does get too cold, (and beefs up just a bit), maybe he can transfer to Columbia!



Boomer takes in the action from the NYC sideline

The Empire Challenge benefits Boomer Esiason's cystic fibrosis foundation. You can make a donation by clicking here. It began when Boomer's son Gunnar was diagnosed with the disease. I was happy to learn that Gunnar is doing pretty well and is currently in high school and even playing some lacrosse.



Shuart Stadium stands and press box

Hofstra has a really nice campus and football stadium, but the field is still the old-style astroturf. I wonder if that's hurting recruiting a little bit, now that everyone is going for the less injury-prone FieldTurf. The thing is, with its obligations to all-star games like this and the NY Jets, (the Jets train at Hofstra every summer), I don't know when Hofstra will get the chance to convert the field. They very well may be the victims of their own success. Of course, the Jets are planning to leave Hofstra in a few years, so maybe that will change Hofstra's fortunes.

Either way, I'd like Columbia to put Hofstra on its schedule again sometime soon. Hofstra is usually a the kind of top-notch team the Lions aspire to be. But I don't think Columbia would ever get flat out embarrassed by the Dutchmen. And a regular game could boost recruiting efforts on Long Island.

Columbia played 1 or 2 games at Hofstra as the home team when Wien Stadium was being built in 1983. I'd love to find out exactly which games they were, but I'm pretty sure the 21-18 win over Yale that season was at Hofstra, and that would be the last game the Lions would win for another five years.


Hofstra's Shuart Stadium... where I'll be tonight


Just a couple of quick notes tonight before I head out to the Empire Challenge high school all-star game and get a look at incoming frosh Carl Constant:

I spoke with a former Princeton player today who helped shed some light on a long-time question I've had about Tiger coach Roger Hughes. For the first five years of his tenure at Princeton, I was far from impressed with Hughes and thought he might be the worst coach in the Ivies. But starting in 2005 he had a miraculous turnaround in my eyes, and now I think he's one of the best coaches.

Well, the player told me that Hughes was a little too timid when he came to Princeton in 2000 and allowed his offensive coordinator to do the play calling. In 2005, Hughes started calling his own plays and that helped him establish his role as the true "top dog" in his players eyes.

Makes sense to me.

Sitting this One Out

Incoming freshmen place kicker/safety Joe Stormont
won't be participating in the Minnesota state all-star game after all because of a hamstring injury. I have some VERY good sources very close to Joe who assure me this is not a serious injury and he should be fine. But the fact that he is sitting out this game is a good example of his willingness to sacrifice for Columbia before he even gets there.


Honors

Super-linebacker prospect Andrew Kennedy has been honored as the top male athlete at his high school.

Adam Mehrer was honored http://www.westernchesterfieldexchange.com/npps/story.cfm?ID=1061 as a top scholar-athlete in his area, (this is basically the Richmond, Va area, another part of this country where I used to live). The short piece talks about some of the scary injuries he overcame last year. Adam sounds like a smart and tough kid.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Rain Delay


It's still storming on Long Island


The Empire Challenge game, featuring incoming Columbia freshman OL Carl Constant, was originally scheduled for tonight but bad thunderstorms have forced the organizers to move it to Friday night. I hope to get a good look at Constant who was a late addition to our incoming freshmen class and looks like he was worth the wait.

While you're all waiting for that report, check out the top 100 moments in College Football history as voted by the folks at ESPN So far they have Columbia's Rose Bowl win in there, but I fear they may omit the 1947 win over Army.

I've written a number of posts in the past about the top 20 or so Columbia games of the past 20-25 years, but an all-time list would be very tough. Off the top of my head I'd put the Rose Bowl game at #1, the 1947 win over Army at #2, and the Ivy-championship clinching win over Penn in 1961 at #3. I'll try to make a top 10 Columbia football games of all-time, (1870-2006), in the coming weeks. I'd be happy to take your nominations in the comments section.

Keep Tad Crawford in your thoughts tonight as he takes the field for the BC Lions in their regular season opener at Toronto. You can catch the game audio online on the Team 1040 web site.

The CFL is one thing, but now there's another foreign pro league for Ivy athletes who aren't quite ready for the major leagues in the U.S.

Field Turf for the Soccer Stadium

This is a nice development for the soccer stadium, especially coming on the heels of the women winning the Ivy title. All of us are also hoping for the Columbia men's team to return to its rightful place atop the league.

One of the big donors to the project was the the Old Blue Rugby Foundation, of whom I first wrote a few days ago. These guys are serious supporters of not just Columbia athletics, but of athletics in general.


Here's a story about a kid recruited by a lot of Ivies who's going to take his chances and try to walk on at Rutgers. He specifically mentions how financial concerns were a big part of his decision to eschew the Ivies and the Patriot League. I think this is an issue that keeps just as many of the potential "blue chip" recruits away as grades and the perceived lower level of competition of the league do.

And former Harvard and pro-wrestling star, (now that's a weird combo), Chris Nowinski is still working hard to publicize the concussion problems in organized football. He makes a lot of good points.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Were These Guys for Real?


Norries Wilson gets a Gatorade Shower (CREDIT: Columbia Athletics Dept.)

One of the questions Columbia fans and detractors alive have to ask themselves is whether last season's 5-5 record was a fluke or a sign of good things to come.

Of course, that's a tough question to answer honestly before the next season begins. Even the best season can be the result of luck or other factors that can't be replicated, (at least not on purpose).

But one thing you can't mistake, or fake, is fundamental football. That's making your blocks, finishing tackles, avoiding turnovers and penalties; stuff like that.

A look at Columbia's final stats and game-by-game performances answers any questions anyone might have about this team. In short, the stellar Lion defense was fundamentally sound as well as spectacular and exciting... it was "for real."

Columbia gave up and average of just 16.3 points a game, and never allowed more than 24 in any single contest for a remarkable sign of consistency. Compare that to the 337 points allowed in 2005, and as I've written many times before, you see a better than 50% reduction in points allowed which is something you never see in organized football at any level. It's unheard of, period.

The defense forced 24 turnovers and cashed in with six defensive touchdowns.

They went from giving up 236 rushing yards per game in 2005 to allowing 154 yards per game in 2006, a 30% improvement.

They went from allowing 183 passing yards per game in 2005, to giving up just 150 yards in the air in 2006, an 18% improvement.

And then there are the things you can't measure with statisitcs. From the opening minutes of the first game against Fordham, the enthusiasm of the Lion defensive unit was evident to everyone. And despite being in a 3-5-3 defensive system that requires more movement and thus more stamina, the unit never let down or looked tired in the latter part of any game. In fact, Columbia gave up fewer points in the second half than the first over the course of the season.

The 3-5-3 defense is also no fluke. It's actually a perfect system for most Ivy teams who tend to have a lot of quick defenders, but not enough big defensive linemen. I know that Dartmouth is considering using it this coming season, but with the exception of traditionally "big" teams like Penn and Harvard, everyone should use it.

The 3-5-3 works well partly because of the confusion all the pre-snap activity creates for opposing offenses, but mostly because it focuses on getting to the ball carrier quickly no matter where he goes, thus allowing the defense to focus on adjusting and staying quick on its feet. When Coach Wilson and his staff looked at the 2005 defense, they noticed the Columbia defenders were too locked into set positions and weren't moving and swarming to the ball when the offensive plays went elsewhere.

It's certainly possible that the graduation of five defensive starters, including 2006 team MVP Adam Brekke and leading tackler Tad Crawford, will take some of the punch out of this unit. But when you consider the way the freshmen and sophomores took to this system and to defensive coordinator Lou Ferrari, there seems to be just as much of a chance that the Columbia defense will be better, not worse, with the incoming group of fresh legs and eager minds joining the squad this season.

The bottom line is that the Columbia defense was about as fundamentally strong as a defense can get, and the defense was the heart and soul of this team.

On the other hand, the offense's woes were not the result of bad luck. Fundamental problems, highlighted by a continued inability to run the ball effectively, plagued the unit and cost the Lions each and every one of their five losses in 2006.

The Lions ran for just 68 yards per game with just four rushing touchdowns for the entire season. Leading rusher Jordan Davis averaged just 3.3 yards per carry and no one else even ran the ball more than 43 times.

Some of the eye-popping weaknesses in the 2006 running game have to be contrasted with the even poorer numbers in 2005. But the improvements were not enough and the Columbia ground game remained more than just a liability, it was a ticking time bomb that went off in several games and resulted in losses.

Davis had two fumbles, one in the Penn game, and then a week later in the Dartmouth game that took the winds out of the Lions' sales at crucial moments in both contests. The offensive line failed to get that "push" time after time in key short yardage situations, leading to an appalling 29% 4th down conversion rate. And the disturbing number of false start and holding penalties Columbia incurred at key moments, (they still were one of the least-penalized teams in the league), was another sign of weakness on the ground.

From Pop Warner all the way up to the NFL, you're going to win games if you can run the ball and you're going to lose if you can't. I don't care how good your passing game is, somewhere along the line a poor running game will kill you. The fact that Columbia went 5-5 with such an ineffective running game in 2006 is a testament to the defense, and to a lesser extent the passing game, but Columbia will need to greatly improve on its ground game in 2007 even if it wants another 5-5 season, let alone a winning record.

The good news for next season is the offensive line is more experienced and will be stronger. Improving the running game is something the front five is taking very personally and while effort alone won't make all the difference, combined with size and experience, it should produce some positive results. Another positive sign is that Jordan Davis looked like one of the most physically fit players on the team by far at the spring game. He's also sure to be challenged by the new crop of incoming freshmen ball-carriers like Leon Ivery and Augie Williams. But from a fundamental standpoint, the best relief may come from sophomore Ray Rangel, who is looking forward to an injury-free 2007.

The passing game in 2006 was almost as fundamentally sound as the running game was unsound. Craig Hormann threw just six interceptions in 10 starts, for an average of just one pickoff for every 54 passes thrown. He only tossed seven TD passes, but that left him with a positive TD-INT ratio. Only Hormann and Ivy player of the year Jeff Terrell of Princeton can say that. Every other leading Ivy QB threw more interceptions than touchdowns in 2006, which should tell you something about just how defense-dominated this league has become.

Hormann's completion percentage was a solid 57%, and the offense only allowed 16 sacks, compared to 33 in 2005. Even before his ACL injury in the off-season, Hormann was not exactly a fast young man, and while he did better rolling out than flat-out scrambling, the pass blocking up front was fundamentally sound in almost every game.

Leading wide receiver and Ivy League Rookie of the Year Austin Knowlin was a big reason for Columbia's success in the air. He was mostly sure-handed and always fast, and helped draw coverage away from the other receivers. As with all freshmen, there's a chance for a dropoff in his sophomore season. But Knowlin's fundamentals looked very sound last season, especially for a freshman.

The one dig on the passing game was the inability to establish a real deep threat. The longest pass of the season was 62-yard TD to Knowlin, but that was mostly a catch-and-run. By definition, the deep ball is a low-percentage weapon. If it worked all the time, every game would end with final scores in the 60's and 70's. But it does need to be an option and something the opposing secondary has to worry about. I suspect the lack of a serious Columbia deep threat hurt the offense overall on numerous occasions.

Special teams fundamentals were mostly good. Jon Rocholl struggled with a bit of inconsistency as a placekicker in the latter part of the season, but his punting was strong for all 10 weeks. Kick returning was flat out weak, but there were no lost fumbles on kick returns, and that is fundamental job 1.

Columbia's usual bugaboo of depth is still going to be a concern in 2007. Until some of the incoming freshmen prove themselves, we still are two or three injuries away from 3-7 or worse. But the fact that Columbia avoided the injury bug in 2006 does nothing to detract from the fundamentally sound qualities its players showed on the field.

From a fundamental standpoint, there was no smoke and mirrors with this Columbia team. The defense was truly strong and the offense was truly weak. To consider the 5-5 record last year to be a fluke would be to ignore the facts. But to think that Columbia could repeat at 5-5 or even improve in 2007 with the same fundamental strengths and weaknesses would also be foolish.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Great Helmet Debate


The Lions current headgear is among our best

This is one of those discussions that are fun, but could also end in fisticuffs... still I'd like to discuss the Ivy League football helmet decals and designs over the years and single out my favorites, and identify the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Before we start, everyone MUST check out the excellent web site created by Charles Arey called The Helmet Project. This artist and avid football fan has taken it upon himself to document just about every helmet design used by almost every team in organized football. Yes, there are omissions here and there but when someone sends him clear picture of a helmet, he makes the changes ASAP.

Anyway, here's the page for the Ivy League, and as you can see, it's pretty complete for each team, (within reason).

Columbia's current helmet is certainly in the "good" category. It utilizes the school colors of light blue and white, and the block "C" decal is simple and classy. It's definitely an improvement over our last helmet, which used a logo decal that was a nice picture, but it was too intricate to be seen clearly from anywhere further than 2 yards away. I very much liked the hooked "CU" helmet in use from 1986 to 2003, but it wasn't so perfect that we didn't need a change.


Still my fave

As I've said before, the "pouncing lion" helmet of the 70's is my favorite. But the association with the Detroit Lions is something I could do without, especially since if we brought it back, people would accuse of stealing their design.

We've had just one real stinker in my opinion. The script "Columbia" with the underline flourish in use from 1980-1984 just looked tacky, and a little too much of a rip-off of UCLA's logo at the time. But this was the helmet in use during John Witkowski's record-setting years, so I still have something of a positive connection to it.

The 1985 helmet is not pictured on the site, but it was light blue, with the Columbia crest inside a white football-shaped space in the middle. I love the Columbia crest, so I liked that helmet, but the 1985 season was such a disaster than almost anything connected with it should be forgotten for safety's sake.


Cornell's shining simplicity just works for me

My choice for the best current helmet may surprise some of you, but it's Cornell. Cornell is the Big Red, and the bright red color of the helmet stands out in an unmistakable way. The big "C" is simple and classic. It's a no frills helmet that doesn't feel like a boring no-frills helmet. Getting rid of that stripe down the middle a few years ago was a good move. And the helmet they used with the word "Cornell" spelled in an arc shape was a mess.


Trick or treat!

Princeton's helmet is great too. But even though the design was originated at PU before Michigan took it, it's obvious that the popularity of that design is mostly because of Michigan's success. So it is a rip-off in a sense. I also preferred the Princeton helmet that preceded it, with just the simple orange color with the thin black stripe going down the middle. One reason I really liked it was that it really looked like a pumpkin, and since Columbia always played Princeton around Halloween time for many years, it seemed fitting. But at least Princeton got rid of the various decals with Tigers and Tiger stripes which all looked just wrong.

I like Dartmouth's winged "D" as it is unique with that "D" in the front of the helmet. The underlined "Dartmouth" helmet of the 80's and 90's was good too, but I wonder why green isn't the dominant color for the helmet instead of white.

Harvard and Yale's helmets are classic and decent... and a little boring. I was glad when Harvard's ditched the small "H" logo inside the white background from the 70's through 1994, which I thought was too understated. I wouldn't mind seeing something new from these teams, but the risk of doing something really awful outweighs the odds that someone could design something better than what they have now.


What was wrong with this one?

The team that I thought had a perfect helmet was Penn, with its two-tone "P" decal from 1981-1991. That was a great use of the school colors and initial. But the current boring "Penn" decal and the script "Penn" do nothing for me. Penn's worst helmet was the 1970-78 design that I thought was just ugly.


You must be this tall to ride Bruno

My choice for the worst current helmet is Brown. The logo with the bear hugging the word "Brown" just looks like something they put on signs at Six Flags. Meanwhile, I thought they had a great helmet design in the mid-80's with the brown base and the elegant Brown University crest as the logo.

Anyway, feel free to argue with me about any of these points in the comments section.


Stat of the Day

The analyst in me can't allow an entire post to be about helmet logos, so I thought I'd let you all chew on this:

Not allowing opposing offenses to convert on 3rd down is often a key to victory, and here's how the Ivy defenses did in 3rd down conversions allowed:

Princeton-27%

Harvard-33%

Cornell-34%

Penn-34%

Brown-38%

Columbia-38%

Dartmouth-44%

Yale-44%

I wasn't surprised to see Ivy champ Princeton at the top of this list, but the stingy 27% number was really astounding. Anyone who doubts that defense wins championships, I give you the 2006 Princeton Tigers.

I was very surprised to see Yale tied with Dartmouth for the worst defensive numbers on third down. Even if you take away the disastrous 43-17 loss to U. San Diego in the season opener, the Bulldogs would come in 7th with 40.7%.


More on Delgadillo...

I don't want anyone to think that my previous posts about Rocky Delgadillo were just the products of Harvard-bashing. I should have noted that he graduated from Columbia law school, so the shame gets spread around a bit.


Big 10 Network

Congressman John Dingell is "looking out" for cable users wondering about extra costs that may get passed on as a result of the
Big 10 Channel.

Lord knows, the Ivy League could benefit from a cable channel of its own, offering all kinds of content including sports. The profitability of stations like National Geographic and the History Channel, (and the individually popular shows on PBS), prove that the entertaining professors, (and we all had them), that roam the halls of the Ivy schools could probably provide great on-air content. I say give the Ivies a network and let the weekends belong to the sports teams. It could work.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Sentimental Journey


Check out the Miss Bellows Falls Diner... and tell 'em Jake sent ya!


If you're like me, you wonder from time to time whatever became of some of Columbia's football coaches of the past. I was finally able to find out that former Head Coach Larry McElreavy is now running a diner in Vermont. If you click on the link to the left and explore the site, you can find some info on McElreavy's days at CU, but there's more real info on the actual diner in this article.

My map-reading skills can be spotty, but it looks like the diner is pretty much right on the way from my house to Dartmouth, so maybe I'll try to drop in for the all-you-can-eat fish fry on the Friday night before the game against the Big Green on October 20th, (seriously). Based on the stuff I see on the web site, McElreavy probably won't kill me at the first mention of "Columbia" out of my lips. It looks like he's at peace with it.

In all fairness, I thought McElreavy had Columbia moving in the right direction by the time he finished his final season in 1988. An ugly personal incident brought about his downfall, and Ray Tellier succeeded him and eventually did quite well... but I'd always wondered what happened to Coach Larry. Well, now I know.

Running a diner in a small Vermont town, (is there any other kind?), is about as far as you can get from coaching football at any level in New York... or is it? From what I've heard about the restaurant business, it can be pretty brutal in every way.

Speaking of Eating...

We now know just a little bit more about the Chipotle event for Columbia Athletics on Wednesday. Coach Joe Jones is now also scheduled to be there. Check it out and save some good stuff for me.

Tad's Turnaround

It looks more and more like Tad Crawford will be on the field at Rogers Centre this Thursday night in the CFL regular season opener against the Toronto Argos. BC released another four players this weekend, and Crawford was not one of them.

What's interesting to me is that Tad will be playing pro football with a remarkably short turnaround, (about 7 months), from the day of his last game for Columbia in November. Even NFL players who participate in January bowl games have about 9 months between competitive games.

And when you consider that Crawford was only drafted last month... he's had precious little time to adjust to the CFL and the BC Lions system. It may take some time for him to really get used to it all, but luckily the CFL regular season is very long and he'll have time.

The life of a safety in the CFL must be pretty rough as the 3-down rule makes for a lot more passing. I'm glad Tad is a young man, just watching him run all over the field will probably make me feel old.


Columbia's "Pouncing Lion" Helmet


Helmets!

For the Columbia football fan/collector who already has everything and a wife who doesn't mind more junk in the house, there is the selection of replica Columbia team helmets, (or are they mini-helmets?... I'm really not sure), at myteamspirit.com. If I had my choice, I'd buy the "pouncing lion" helmet from the 70's and maybe the "03 special" helmet which was the headgear the Lions wore in the homecoming loss to Penn that season. It's actually a replica of the helmets the team wore in the late 50's/early 60's, including the 1961 championship season.

Tomorrow, I'll host a little discussion, (or monologue if no one comments), on my favorite and least favorite helmets throughout the Ivies.

How it Works...

The details of how one good student who wanted to play Ivy football, (albeit at Penn), are explained in this article. I assume this is how it goes at the other Ivies too.

Delgadillo Update

Yesterday I wrote about how L.A. City attorney Rocky Delgadillo and how he falsely claimed to have gone to Harvard on a football scholarship, (there are no athletic scholarships in the Ivies of course), and made All-American. But we should not take everything away from Mr. Delgadillo, as he was indeed an All-Ivy defensive back for the 7-3 (4-3 Ivy) Crimson in 1980 and again for the 1981 Crimson who finished 5-4-1 and 4-2-1 in the Ivies. But the only All-American during his playing days was Yale running back Rich Diana. Why Rocky couldn't be satisfied with just claiming to be a rare 2-time All-Ivy player is beyond me.

Pranks!

Remember the "we suck" prank the Yalies pulled on the Crimson faithful at Harvard Stadium in 2004? The writers of this editorial. do too and they compare it to some of the much more nefarious graduation pranks going on around the country this month.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

And you thought they only gave out tickets...


Yesterday, this was the safest place in America(CREDIT: Gene Boyers/CU Athletics)

Wien Stadium was busy yesterday as the NYPD football team took on the squad from the LAPD in the National Public Safety Football League Championship.

I had no idea the Public Safety League was as big as it is. So, I'm very glad they chose to play their title game on our home field.


A Harvard man with an inflated sense of self? Say it ain't so!

L.A. City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo is in trouble again now that his wife, a la Paris Hilton, was caught driving with a suspended license. Someone should have known something was up with this guy when he kept claiming on the campaign trail last year that he went to Harvard on a football scholarship and was an All-American.

Strange dude...

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Minor, Minor Change


The Lions will invade Tiger Town 30 minutes earlier

The start time for the week 3 showdown at Princeton, (Sept. 29), has been moved from 4pm to 3:30pm. This may be because one of the local cable providers is going to cover the game, but I am not sure about that yet. A very local outift called Patriot Media often televises 2-3 Princeton games every year, (and they even sell videos of the games sometimes... I bought the tape of the 2003 game that Columbia won on a "Hail Mary"), and they or CN8 may be interested.


YES Says "No" to Columbia

On the other hand, Columbia is not on the YES network's list of Ivy games it will televise this fall. It's a bummer, but I assume that could change if we and/or one of our later-season opponents ends up being a contender.

This is all the more reason to sign up for the SideLion Pass and get as much video content as you can this season for football and basketball.

Angel on My Shoulder


Good things come in small packages

I had an ugly, ugly day at work Thursday, but it all turned around when I got home and found a little package from Columbia in my mail. It turned out to be a DVD tribute to the 1961 and 1996 football teams narrated by Jerry Recco. It was a longer version of the vignette they put up on the video screen at halftime of the homecoming game against Princeton last year, (that one was narrarated by Brian Dennehy).

The package was sent by a kind person I'd never even met before named Mark Lufkin. Mark works as a development officer, (that means fundraiser to you and me), for Columbia athletics and he wrote in the card that he's a fan of the blog. Now, as you might know, writers crave praise more than anything else, (even money), so the note and the gift were really a fantastic gesture. In fact, I thought it was too fantastic to just keep between Mark and me, so I wanted all the readers here to know about his kindness and how it brightened an otherwise awful day.

Pay Mark back by making a donation to athletics.
Now if I can just get John Kluge . to be as generous to me and the football program, we'll really be talking!



Tad Breaks In

Tad Crawford did record one tackle in the BC Lions final exhibition game last night in front of 31,650 fans at Edmonton. I believe there is one more cut for him to survive before the season opener at Rogers Centre in Toronto next Thursday night. I think he's got a great shot, and I'm sure Tad is psyched about making his professional regular season debut in his home province of Ontario.

(What Tad may not be psyched about is the creepy photo of him they have on BC Lions roster, (click on Tad's name above to see what I mean). What's with the no-shirt thing? It reminds me of one of the most disturbing album covers of all time).

By the way, I've been to Rogers Centre, (formerly known as "Skydome"), for a baseball game and I have to say it was one of weirdest experiences of my life. I felt like I was watching a game at the food court at the mall. And the 30-minute wait to actually start moving out of the underground garage made parking at Baker Field seem very, very pleasent in comparison. But my parents live in Toronto, (they moved there in 1996 to, "get free health care and avoid the draft"), and going to ball games with them and my family is a great way to spend the day.


Roar-EE, without the hot sauce (CREDIT: BWOG.net)


Eat a Burrito for Athletics!


For those of you who didn't get the email, there's going to be a fun event at the new Chipotle restaurant, (where the food is so good I may even learn how to pronounce "Chipotle"), this coming Wednesday. Coach Wilson, Coach Paul Nixon from women's basketball, and the ever-lovable Roar-EE will make appearances. You know, any weight you gain from eating at Chipotle could probably be lost after about 5 minutes of wearing the Roar-EE costume in late June.

But in all seriousness, this is something we should all support in any way we can. We want more local businesses getting involved in athletics and creating a community buzz for students and residents alike. Here's the official announcement from Columbia:


Dear Columbia Fans,


Please join us as Columbia Athletics welcomes our newest sponsor, Chipotle Restaurant, to its newest location, at Broadway and 110 th Street. The Restaurant's official opening is scheduled for June 28th. However, on Wednesday, June 27th, the Restaurant will host the Columbia Sports Kickoff Day. Everyone pays just $5 for a giant burrito and a drink with Columbia Athletics receiving the proceeds from the event. Head Football Coach Norries Wilson (12-2 PM) and Head Women's Basketball Coach Paul Nixon (2-4 PM) will be on hand to sign autographs and Roar-ee the Lion will make his appearance (5-7 PM). Stop by for hourly prize drawings. Please spread the word. We'll see you there!



Roar!

Columbia Athletics



I may not make it on Wednesday, but I will be sure to drop in to Chipotle the next time I come up to campus and many more times after that.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Visions of the Past, Present, and Future


Nico Gutierrez is looking like his old self again (CREDIT: MAXPREPS)


Here's a nice piece about a high school practice game in Connecticut this week featuring incoming freshman Nico Gutierrez. The best lines were:

"(Head Coach Lou) Marinelli said one of his biggest thrills of the evening was seeing the Columbia-bound Gutierrez back on the football field after he missed his senior season with an ACL tear.

'The best thing was to get glimpses of what Nico's going to be at Columbia and what he could have been for us," Marinelli said. "He was great and Casali was awesome and so were Neeleman and Reed. Even Steve Gallego did a tremendous job catching the ball for a lineman.'"



Tad Survives latest Cut

After day 14 of training camp, Columbia grad and CFL draftee
Tad Crawford is still looking good for the British Columbia Lions in Vancouver. But he did not record a tackle in the first preseason game against Saskatchewan last Friday night, and I'm sure Tad wants to make a bigger impact in the next exhibition contest at Edmonton tonight. But there were more than 25,000 people in the stands for that Saskatchewan game, ( BC Place Stadium has room for 60,000), and that must have been exciting for Tad as I'm not sure he saw a crowd even close to that size home or away in his four years at Columbia.

The Supreme Court handed down an interesting ruling today concerning the recruiting of middle school students by a Tennessee high school football powerhouse, Brentwood Academy (SCOTUS DECISION). Currently, there are no Brentwood Academy grads playing Ivy football, but I'm sure there have been quite a few over the years, (I'll check into Columbia's recent past over the next few days).

If the idea that a private school would go all the way to the Supreme Court to complain about not being able to recruit 7th and 8th graders as much as they'd like seems pretty excessive... I actually think it's sick. Athletics are very important in education, but these guys take it too far.

And I hope some of you noticed the open call for singers on the (Columbia website today. I have to say that anyone with the guts to publicly sing the very, very tough song that is the Star Spangled Banner is aces with me. See the info below:

SING THE NATIONAL ANTHEM!
Columbia Athletics invites YOU to audition to perform the Star-Spangled Banner at a home event. Please send audition reels to Daniel Spiegel, Assistant Director of Sports Marketing – 3030 Broadway, Mailcode 1939, New York, NY 10027. All ages eligible to audition.

All submissions become property of Columbia University Athletics. For more information, call Daniel Spiegel at (212) 854-8327 or email him at das2145@columbia.edu.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Guide to Baker Field, Part I: Getting There


Your Mission... Should you choose to accept it



(A more concise "how to" for each of the individual Columbia games, both at home and on the road, will be posted here in the weeks leading up to those games)


Step one: DON'T PANIC

Getting around New York City, and Manhattan in particular, is all about your state of mind. If you're an overly aggressive or too passive driver, you will either drop dead of a tension-induced stroke or become the victim of a panic attack, respectively. The city is fraught with double-parkers, Kamikaze cabs with no regard for life and limb, and people who routinely make right turns from the left lane.

But fear not! The road to Baker Field is filled with special advantages and other options that can make the whole experience livable, decent, fun even.

The key to avoiding disappointment, dyspepsia, and dismemberment is to LEAVE YOURSELF A LOT OF TIME. Other than the Homecoming game which starts at 1:30, the Columbia home games will begin at 12:30 this season, (some times could change, but that's how it stands as of now). With another season's worth of pre-game activities in the works, the worst thing that could happen is that you show up an hour or so before the game and enjoy a good time in the picnic area. Is that so bad? And if you just make it in time for the game, well then you made it. Either way, going early is the way to go.

Baker or Morningside: Make Your Choice Now

Before we talk about getting to the actual game by car, ask yourself where you'd really like to keep you gas-guzzling SUV for the day. Do you want to park it up at the very tip of Manhattan, or do you want to keep it near the Columbia campus where you can spend a very pleasant morning and late afternoon/evening before and after the game? This is not exactly a rhetorical question, as there ARE things to do and see not far from Wien Stadium... but it's not exactly a culinary hotbed, in fact it's quite residential, (in the Baker Field neighborhood of Inwood there are actually a few houses... detached houses in Manhattan!).

My advice would be to park the car near the Columbia campus, which is only 100 blocks or so from Baker Field, (I will discuss how to get to the game from campus and more to do around Morningside Heights later). There is more to do, see, and definitely eat around there.



A path in Inwood Hill Park... yes, this IS Manhattan!

BUT definitely choose one game, and check out Inwood and its environs during the season. Parts of Inwood Hill Park are the only pieces of Manhattan that still look as they did in 1524 when the Dutch explorers arrived.

A few blocks South of Inwood is Washington Heights, a very resurgent neighborhood with lots of interesting Latin restaurants and shops.




The Cloisters... an excellent Marital Bargaining Unit if I say so myself

One Washington Heights highlight about 30 blocks South from the Baker Field is the lovely Cloisters. Most Columbia students get sick of the Cloisters after a few years, (some classes make you go there too many times), but it's a great place for the uninitiated. It's also not a bad date spot. So, if you have a wife or girlfriend who's none too pleased about being dragged to a football game, the Cloisters can be your olive branch. No need to thank me if your lady ends up thinking you're a romantic genius; like Billy Flynn, all I care about is love.

But How Do We Get to Neverland?

The directions to Baker Field provided by the athletic department are very good. You can use them with confidence... UNLESS you're coming from Queens, Long Island, or Eastern Brooklyn via the Belt Parkway. If you are one of those people, I'm about to save you anywhere from 45 minutes to 7 hours by urging you to never, never, even if you're a Penn fan, NEVER take the Cross Bronx Expressway!


The Cross Bronx Expressway... dear Lord, why us?

The Cross Bronx Expressway was designed by Robert Moses a brilliant but evil man whose disdain for ordinary people was well documented by Robert Caro in The Power Broker. If you live in New York, drive in New York, or are thinking about driving in New York, you owe it to yourself to read this book. One great section details how the Cross Bronx Expressway was poorly designed from the outset, destroyed good middle class neighborhoods like East Tremont, and virtually guarantees traffic jams at the drop of a hat. And the kicker is, a lot of other urban planners in the 40's, 50's and 60's emulated this man and his designs. Robert Moses is a big reason why driving in America sucks.

So avoid the Cross Bronx, take the Grand Central Parkway to the Triboro Bridge, follow the signs to Manhattan, (DON'T MAKE "THE BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES" MISTAKE AND END UP IN THE BRONX), and THEN take the Harlem River Drive North. Take the HRD to the 10th Avenue/Dyckman Street exit, (this is also the end of the Harlem River Drive, so it should not be hard to miss), go past the first light and then make a right onto 10th Avenue, (you'll be driving under an elevated subway track). 10th Avenue runs parallel to Broadway and will take you straight up to 215th Street, 218th Street, or wherever you want to go in the Baker Field vicinity.

IMPORTANT NOTE: The Harlem River Drive is officially a parkway, so if you're driving a U-Haul or a big bus of people, you can't take it. Otherwise, you and your sedan, SUV, pickup truck, etc. can enjoy it.

Parking: The Odyssey

Option 1: Donate to CU!

Now if you're going to park near Baker Field, your options are limited, but there ARE options. Your first option is to send a big fat check to the Athletic Department and grab one of the sweet spots in the Baker Field complex itself reserved for generous donors. Seriously, I can think or worse ways to spend your money, and having a spot at Baker Field is like being a shareholder in Berkshire Hathaway during "Buffettstock"... you get to enjoy your investment in a party atmosphere!

Option 2: Parking Garages Ahoy!

Another option is to use one of the several parking garages in the vicinity. Last season I used the place on 10th Avenue and 215th Street, just in front of the subway steps on the left side of the Avenue, (if you're facing North/Uptown). That should cost you between $10 and $15 per game, which isn't bad.

There are other garages on 10th Avenue and on Broadway not far from the 218th entrance street for Baker Field. These places tend to change their names frequently so instead of trying to look them up, I would strongly advise that you DRIVE slowly and carefully and keep your eyes open for the available lots.

Option 3: Street Parking, or "The Hunt"

Of course, you can try being really sneaky and try to park for free on the residential streets around the area. This is really something for early-birds, as the spots fill up fast. In fact, there aren't a lot of spots to begin with because Inwood is really residential and the local folks like to keep their spots for the weekend. BUT, the eagle-eyed among you may be able to find a nice spot and enjoy knowing that you're a winner even before kickoff by saving a few bucks with a free spot. There are a couple of important pitfalls to avoid:

a) If you aren't really good at parallel parking, don't even think about parking on the streets of Inwood. The hilly terrain makes even seasoned parkers a little nervous, and all those scratched bumpers and fenders on the parked cars are proof of the "goofs" people make from time to time.

b) Inwood is not really a high-crime area, especially during the day, but you should never tempt fate. Lock your cars. DO NOT keep any packages or valuables in plain sight in your car, and you probably should leave them out of the trunk too if you can. This is especially true if you are driving a car with out-of-state plates.

c) Make sure to check the street signs to see if you're parking in a legal spot. Saturdays are usually immune from alternate side of the street parking rules... but not always. You cannot park within six feet, either way, of a fire hydrant, and you also need to give a lot space for bus stops. You cannot block any driveways. And if there's a yellow strip painted on the curb, you can't park there either. A good M.O. is to eye every open spot with EXTREME SUSPICION, the chances are more than likely that the spot is there because it's not a legal spot.

d) You may be hampered even further in your quest for free parking if the NYPD blocks 218th Street at Broadway which they often do on game days. To be safe, just find your way to Seaman Avenue, which runs parallel to Broadway on the WEST and start looking for spots there. You might consider printing out a Google Map of Inwood, NY to learn to navigate the local streets better. Remember to look out for one-way streets and the occasional street fair which often pops up and further kills parking opportunities on the weekends.

TIME OUT! WHY IS THIS SO HARD?

Manhattan is a great and unique place. One of the things that makes it so unique is that every inch of land is super-valuable and the chances of any institution setting aside lots of space for occasional parking is not likely or even sane. One of the athletic department's donor-reliant plans for the future is some kind of parking garage at Baker Field, (it will probably have to be underground or partially so), and that may happen one day. Most sensible people living in all parts of Manhattan do so without a car, regardless of their economic stature. A day or two driving around here will tell you why.

That's why we have the best public transportation system in the world. And luckily, there are a number of more relaxing and reliable ways to get to Baker Field.



The #1 Train: Just about your best bet

Public Transportation Option 1: From Columbia Campus

You can ditch your car at one of the many parking garages near the Columbia campus, or try to find free street parking, (it's not much easier than Inwood, but doable), and then take public transport from there.

(There's a lot to do around the Columbia campus, and in a later post I will recommend places to eat, see, and shop in the mornings before the games. But for now, just don't forget to take some time to explore the actual Columbia campus when you get there).

The easiest option is to take the #1 Uptown local subway train which you can pick up at several stations in the area, most notably the 116th Street station right outside the campus gates. If you're walking about the area, you can also find the #1 at the 103rd, 110th, and 125th Street stations. BUT before you descend the station staircases, (and in the case of the 125th Street stop ascend), make sure you're entering the station on the UPTOWN side. A sign telling you whether you're about to enter the "uptown only" or "downtown only" side will be clearly visible at each entrance. Luckily, you can't go wrong at the 116th station, as any of the staircases will send you to both the uptown and downtown trains.

To ride the NYC subway you will need a Metrocard. I recommend the $7 all-day "fun pass" that will allow you a full day's use of the subways AND buses no matter how many times you choose to ride. Unless you're absolutely 100% sure you'll only be going to the game and back, this is a good value. If you are just going to the game and back, go to the booth or the automated Metrocard machines and buy a $4 card, (note: the $7 all-day pass is ONLY sold at the machines, not at the booth). The machines take cash, credit and debit cards.

When you get to the platform, again make sure that you are on the UPTOWN side awaiting the UPTOWN train. Once you get the train it will take 25-35 minutes to get to the 215th Street station and that's where you get off and walk the three blocks uptown to the Baker Field complex.

FREE BUSES!

If the subway isn't for you, for the last several years Columbia has been running free shuttle buses to and from Baker Field on game days. They usually run from the 116th Street and Broadway entrance, but ask the security guards at the gate to be sure. I'm not sure how long it takes for these buses to reach the stadium, but they will always be slower than the subway. (There is no faster way to get around Manhattan than the subway... none).

A number of NYC buses, (not free, you need a Metrocard), run to the Baker Field area, but I really don't recommend using them. They are extremely slow, (what do you call it when you have sex on a NYC bus? "Joining the 3-mile-an-hour club"), and erratic on the weekends. BUT if there ever is a fire on the subway or something, it's good to know they're there.

Public Transportation Option 2: Elsewhere in Manhattan

It doesn't matter where else you are coming from in Manhattan, you only have two options for getting to the stadium via the subway. Any #1 train station will take you there and so will the "A" train. The A train runs on the far West side of Manhattan, through Brooklyn, past JFK airport, and all the way to a neighborhood where I did a lot of my growing up called Far Rockaway. The uptown or Manhattan bound A takes you the 207th Street stop, which is the last stop. Exit at the 211th Street exit and then you can either walk the seven blocks along Broadway, (about 35% of a mile), to Baker Field or better yet, enter Isham Park on your left and enjoy a nicer trip that will take you to Seaman Avenue along the left side of the park and you will see Wien Stadium right in front of you at the end of the avenue. This is a more scenic walk and will give you a better idea of what Inwood is like.

**IMPORTANT NOTE ABOUT SUBWAY SERVICE ON THE WEEKENDS**

Sometimes, service on the 1 and/or A trains is disrupted for track work on the weekends. BUT you can find out beforehand about any service changes by visiting the great website Straphangers.org for all the info. The good news is that the 1 and the A will almost surely never be affected by service disruptions at the same time. In my 26+ years riding the subways I have never seen this happen.


The Marble Hill Station on Metro North

Public Transportation Option 3: The Metro North Miracle

One of the most beautiful ways to get to a Columbia game is on the Metro North commuter railroad. Take the HUDSON RIVER LINE to the Marble Hill stop and simply walk over the footbridge to Baker Field. The views of the Hudson that you will get if you're coming from the North, (if you're looking to go this way from Grand Central Terminal, it's not a terrible idea, but much more expensive than just taking the subway from another station on the West Side), are just great.

Cab Anyone?

You can always try to hail a yellow cab and tell the driver to take you to WEST 218th and Broadway, (don't say "Baker Field," there's a very good chance he won't know what you're talking about), and go that way. I expect the trip will cost about $12-$15 in cab fare not including tip... but it varies.

In NYC there are also non-yellow so-called "gypsy" cabs that may honk their horns at you and offer you a ride. The official rules in the city say that you can't take a ride with them without arranging it in advance, but I have found they are usually reliable. The price should be about the same as Yellow cab, but they don't use a meter... so make sure you agree on the fare before you get in.

What if I'm coming from New Jersey, and I want to take Public Transportation?

New Jersey Transit trains take you to Penn Station where you can get the #1 and A trains, or a cab. I'm not sure about the reliability of NJT trains or buses on weekends, but perhaps some of my readers would like to chime in about that in the comments section.

Isn't the Subway Dangerous?

Not really. It's dirtier than is should be, but in general it's fine. Here are some subway safety tips for the very cautious. Basically, keep your wallets and valuables secure, try to ride with or near larger groups of people, and try not to telegraph the fact you're a tourist by pulling out a map every two seconds. It's okay to ask fellow riders directions; most New Yorkers like proving they know the City.

I'm Coming from JFK, LaGuardia, or Newark Airport. What should I do?

A cab from Newark directly to Baker Field is actually not that terribly expensive. But from the other major airports, I suggest you get into Manhattan via a cab and then take the subway, unless you have lots of bags which will make the whole day a pain. In that case, try to get to your hotel first, dump the bags and then follow the directions above.

What if I get Lost?

Go into almost any store you see and ask for help. Store owners can sometimes seem surly, but they'll probably help you. Cops on the street will be good too.

Can't I Just Come with You?

I'd love the company, but I don't think that will work. I am with you in spirit, I promise.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Staying Healthy


Columbia's encouraging 2006 season was mostly injury-free (CREDIT: Columbia Spectator)

As we wait and hope that Craig Hormann will recover from his ACL injury, it's important to realize how fortunate Columbia was last season when it came to injuries. I realize players like Troy Evangelist and Ray Rangel, who missed significant time because of injuries, won't exactly share in this sentiment, but the vast majority of Columbia players stayed healthy all season long.

That hasn't been the case in past seasons, and with Columbia's classic depth issues, one big injury has had the ability to ruin an entire season. I thought All-Ivy Wade Fletcher's injury at the start of the 2004 season killed our chances to win several games in a year that we ended up finishing 1-9. Mike Cavanagh's season-ending broken leg destroyed what had been a very promising 1995 season up until that point. And one season after they burned up the Ivies as sophomores, running backs Solomon Johnson and Greg Abbruzzese suffered injuries at the start of the 1989 campaign that they never really fully recovered from. (Commentors can feel free to chime in with the other killer injuries they remember over the years).

Injuries happen, they're very much a part of the game. But for Columbia, they have always hurt that much more because we just haven't had the horses to replace players for short or long periods of time.

But that's why the current CU roster looks so good. To come into camp, (which I believe begins on August 19th or 20th), with as much as 103 players is something we haven't seen in many, many years. And in addition to the actual numbers, you also have to factor in versatility. We have a lot of players who can play more than one position, especially when you realize a lot of our lighter guys can play defensive end in the 3-5-3 system when they wouldn't be able to be anything but linebackers anywhere else.

That said, Columbia could be little better than dead in the water if players like Austin Knowlin or Phil Mitchell went down. But would we be as bad off as we would have been in the past? Unless 20 or so players walk off this team in training camp, it's pretty obvious we'd still have a fighting chance in most games.

Let's just hope that the injury discussion remains academic for as long as possible.


Helmets are for sissies!

Rugby fans take note! There's a bunch of Columbia alums
who act as guardian angels for talented players. A lot of people wish rugby would become a varsity sport again at Columbia, but with our budget and Title IX, it ain't gonna happen. It's good to see the guys who once played this awesome sport at Columbia are still giving back to the game.


And finally...

The final pieces of the roster bio puzzle are in place now that we have the info on Bruce Fleming and Michael Antonakakis, you can check them out here.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Summer Reading


Bill Steinman using the ancient tool known as a typewriter (CREDIT: Columbia College Today)

There's little I like better than looking at old photos of Baker Field and poring over a bunch of old statistics and player profiles from my big collecion of Columbia Football media guides.

A lot of the credit for that good reading material goes to former Sports Information Director Bill Steinman, who now is officially retired but still helps out as a consultant. I spoke to Mr. Steinman one or two times in my undergrad years, and when I saw him recently at the spring game, I honestly think he remembered me! Well, it helps to have a good memory in that line of work, and any Columbia athlete from 1970 on can attest to Steinman's ability to remember lots of little details about their lives, (in a good way I mean).

Todd Kennedy has been manning the media guide project for most of the last several years, and he deserves a lot of the credit too.

If you're new to Columbia football, there's little you'll still be in the dark about if you grab one of the guides and take the time to go through it over an hour or two. I you're a veteran, well it's a great way to jog some good memories.

The good news is you can still buy a 2006 guide, (sure to be a collector's item as it is the first of the Norries Wilson era), on the GoColumbiaLions.com web site. Again, for the newcomers, it's a smart purchase.


Let's Go Already!


Champing at the Bit, (Part 1)

(Yes, the correct term is "champing," not "chomping." This was drilled into me years ago in journalism school, and while I may know the "right" answer, I just never thought it would be worth it to correct people about it. However, I hate when people "correct" me. Sheesh... there's nothing worse than a lot of effort and hurt feelings over something so unimportant).

I can't name any names, but I have been getting a bevvy of great emails from lots of players who tell me they are extremely excited about the season and wish camp were starting already. Is this unique to Columbia for this season? Probably not entirely, but you just can't be connected to this football program without realizing there's something special about this group of players and coaches. This is a much more encouraging atmosphere than I can ever remember, and that includes the months leading up to the 8-2 1996 season. We are either on the verge of great things or a big let down... but if I were in Vegas right now with a choice to bet on a 7-3 season or a 3-7 record, it would be no contest. This is a very good team right now, you can double down on that.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Non-Football Self Promotion

Sorry to toot my own horn, but:


My illustrator and I won the L.A. Press club award last night for best editorial cartoon, 2006. This is for my weekly comic strip, "Schmooze or Lose."

Click on the link below and scroll down to "D4 Editorial Cartoon" to read the judges comments.

LA Press Club Winners


Thanks to everyone who has helped my efforts along the way. We now return to our football-dominated broadcast.

Jake

Sunday, June 17, 2007

On the Road... to Baker Field


If he played ball as well as he wrote... nevermind

On a literary note... a lot of folks are planning to do special things for the 50th anniversary of Jack Kerouac's On the Road this year. I have an idea: why not come to a few Columbia football games?

Kerouac probably would never have written that book had he not come to Columbia... and he would never have come to Columbia if it weren't for football.

Yes, Kerouac was recruited to play ball for the Lions by legendary Coach Lou Little. He never got out of freshman football, but it's always a good trivia question. Come to think of it, he never graduate Columbia either... but we can't hold that against him.


Tyler Duffy's interview is worth reading (CREDIT: Columbia Athletics Dept.)

The mini-interviews series with CU athletes on the GoColumbiaLions.com web site, "On the Prowl," has a nice little talk with rising junior Tyler Duffy. Tyler had a good spring, (scoring a TD off a fumble recovery in the spring game was the highlight), so his is a good voice to hear.




Stormont, Evangelist, Sanford & Walcker all hail from the great state of Minnesota

And there's a nice little mention of incoming frosh Joe Stormont in his hometown paper, The Stillwater Gazette. Joe's slated to play in the Minnesota state high school all-star game on June 30th.



Burritos: The gift that just keeps on giving

The very popular Columbia blog, Bwog.net, has news of a new Chipotle franchise coming to Morningside Heights. And in the chain's infinite wisdom, it's doing a fundraiser for CU athletics! It would be great if more of the local businesses on upper Broadway go into this spirit when it comes to the Columbia teams. Since Columbia holds all their leases and can often decide "the neighborhood needs a change," it could help everyone to show a little more school spirit.

This season, I'd like to see the local eateries and watering holes go a little further than the "1/2 off a sandwich" deal and actually put football posters in the windows, team portraits on the walls, and some healthy competition to win the title of biggest supporter of the CU teams. On gamedays, the bagel places should have a special on bagels and spreads you can bring to the picnic area. On nights after the team wins, there should be free pitchers with your game ticket stub, etc.

It'd be nice to see some inkling of team support in Morningside Heights and beyond in NYC.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Expect Dominance!


Coach Wilson reserved some of his highest praise... and expectations for DE Phil Mitchell (CREDIT: Columbia Athletics Dept.)

Make some time to go back to the Columbia Football Roster yet again. The information on the returning players has been updated, many with good comments by Coach Wilson.

Some of my favorites were:

On CB and co-Captain JoJo Smith

"All heart. He wins on effort, and his effort is the driving force behind his play and overcoming his physical limitations. I wouldn't trade him for anyone else in the league."


On WR Austin Knowlin

"Austin can't rest on his laurels this summer. He's got a big target on his back. We're looking for him to be our go-to guy at receiver."


On TE Troy Evangelist

"Troy had a really good spring," notes Coach Wilson. "He is working hard this summer and gaining a lot of strength. If he puts it all together, he could be a dominant tight end."


On OL Ralph DeBernardo

"Ralph has a chance to be a dominant player in this league if he comes back stronger."


On DE Phil Mitchell

"Phil has got all the physical tools and a great attitude. He should be able to go out and dominate against the guys he plays against."


On WR Derek Jancisin

"He's more than a possession receiver," says Coach Wilson, "but not really a speed receiver either. He's a guy we hope opponents will have to account for this fall."


On RB-turned-CB Grant Jefferson

"He may be the best athlete on the team and I expect good things from him this year."


One of the words Coach Wilson used to describe several players was "dominate." He's setting the bar high for a lot of players who might think they can't get much better or don't think they can be good enough to begin with.

Back when Gary Barnett took over as head coach at Northwestern in early 90's, they started printing up "Expect Victory" t-shirts, and he came through in 1995 with a Big 10 Championship. So I think someone should create a t-shirt for Columbia titled: EXPECT DOMINANCE!



Big Things, like Carl Constant and the Coliseum, are in Uniondale


We have two good, but completely unscientific, reasons to believe our promising new freshmen offensive line prospect Carl Constant will be a great one for Columbia.

First there is the Uniondale connection. Constant is from that Long Island town that is best-known as the home of the Nassau Coliseum, (although that's more of a gerrymandered truth; the Coliseum is really in Garden City, along with Hofstra, the Long Island Childrens Museum, and the Cradle of Aviation), and so was perhaps the greatest center in the last 45 years of Columbia history: Mike Psyzczymucha, '71. The man with the unpronounceable last name went to Uniondale high school and eventually ended up working for the State Department, (and probably the CIA), as an expert on the Soviet Union and Eastern European languages. Adding to Psyzczymucha's legendary aura is the fact that Columbia only seems to have drawings of him and no pictures. Perhaps all the real photos of him were destroyed by "the company."

Next we have 1985 Lion captain Bill Strack. Strack isn't from Uniondale, but he is another great Lion offensive lineman from Constant's high school, St. Francis Prep in Fresh Meadows, Queens. Strack was great team leader in some tough times for Columbia football.

Strack fared a lot better than his fellow '85 Lion starter and Saint Francis alum Pete Murphy. For some odd reason, Murphy was singled out for the harshest criticism in Coach Jim Garrett's infamous "drug addicted losers" post game tirade after the inaugural game of the '85 season. Murphy's kicking stats in that game, (a 49-17 loss to Harvard after Columbia led 17-0 at halftime), were actually fine, but he never recovered from the senseless bashing he took and he quit the team.

(By the way, there are two other interesting tidbits from "drug addicted losers" link above. First, the author tells us that stories about Ivy football on the NY Times website are extremely popular, which is no surprise to me. Second, there's a slight factual error at the bottom when he says that the Garrett brothers "pummeled" Columbia in later years when they transferred to Princeton. Columbia may have been hurt by the Garretts in '86 and '87, but they were on the 1988 Tiger team that lost to Columbia at Wien Stadium and suffered the indignity of being the first team to lose to Columbia in five years).

The other stand-out Columbia offensive linemen from Saint Francis Prep in the 80's were Bill McGee and John Sharkey, both class of '89.

At least where Columbia is concerned, it appears that Saint Francis has been an offensive linemen factory. I still have some more research to do, but it doesn't appear that any Saint Francis alums in the last 40 years or so have excelled at any other position for the Lions.

Friday, June 15, 2007


Carl Constant is a big all-star offensive lineman from NYC Catholic school powerhouse Saint Francis Prep... what's not to like?

The big news is we have a new name on the CU football roster, and it's incoming frosh Carl Constant, an All Catholic League offensive lineman from Uniondale, NY (just minutes from my current home of Bellmore, NY on Long Island), with great size at 6-3 and 285 pounds, (his playing weight in high school actually got up as high as 298).

Constant travelled to nearby Fresh Meadows, Queens to play at St. Francis Prep. The NYC-area Catholic High School Football League is not as strong as many of the Catholic leagues in the Midwest and even Southern California, but a very good number of top-notch individual players have come from the CHSFL over the years. And a first-team all-star at right tackle of his size in almost any league is great prospect.

A commenter pointed out that Constant was one of 800 National Achievement Scholarship Awards for outstanding black students. A guy like that makes Ivy admissions committees drool.

And it would be nice to have a real New York City high school product eventually become a leader on the team again... it's been a long time. John Witkowski coming out of Lindenhurst High School in Eastern Suffolk County Long Island may have been the last truly local leader here.

I'm not sure why it took so long for him to announce his intentions to come to Columbia, but I suppose it's possible he originally considered going somewhere else and it didn't work out. Perhaps we'll find out before the season starts. I'd be happy to hear any of your thoughts on this... especially if you have information showing that Constant was slated to start for USC this season, but decided he needed to go to a real school!

Of course, he is an offensive lineman, so don't expect to see him on the field this season. But he should make a great impact in practice and on our overall depth.

And this is REALLY great news because he is scheduled to play in the CU football roster, Empire Challenge NYC vs. Long Island All-Star game on June 28th at Hofstra's Shuart Stadium, which is also just a few minutes away from my home. I wasn't going to go to the game originally when incoming Penn frosh Brian Giesecke was the only pre-Ivy player on either roster, but now he's no longer on the Long Island team for some reason. Now I will make every effort to go to the game and check out a very promising future Lion.

Also, the Columbia roster now has bios on all but two of our 103 players, so you can catch up on some of your reading now.



Austin Knowlin is Columbia's 3rd-ever Ivy Rookie of the Year (CREDIT: Columbia Athletics Dept.)


In addition to the Bushnell Cup for the Ivy player of the year, the league has given out an Ivy Rookie of the Year award every year since 1981. Not including last year, of the 25 men who have won rookie of the year, just five eventually became players of the year as well. Cornell running back Derrick Harmon was the first to do it, grabbing the initial rookie of the year award in 1981 and then taking the Bushnell Cup in 1983.

The other four double-winners are:

Rich Comizio, RB Penn (ROY in 1984, POY in 1986)

Jay Fieldler, QB Dartmouth (ROY in 1991, POY in 1992)

Pat Goodwille, LB Penn (ROY in 1992, POY in 1994)

Sean Morey, WR Brown (ROY in 1995, POY in 1997)


Three Columbia players have now won the rookie of the year award. Running back Solomon Johnson took the award in 1988, but injuries and overall team woes prevented him from doing much in his next two seasons. Johnson had great speed, but the offensive line during most of his years was not the best, and the team was just coming off the record losing streak.

The Lions all-time leading rusher Jonathan Reese won rookie of the year in 1998, and he had a monster junior year in 2000, but Columbia never had a winning record in Reese's years and that doomed his Bushnell Cup chances more than anything else.

And now we have WR Austin Knowlin with three more seasons to try to make the jump from rookie of the year to MVP. Only two wide receivers have ever won the Bushnell Cup, and if Columbia has a winning record this year I think the coaches will tend to vote for QB Craig Hormann, but Knowlin still has a great shot to take the top honors.



Lee Bollinger is on the right side on an important issue, and he did it fast

Not related to sports, but I like this fast action by Columbia President Lee Bollinger on a ridiculous boycott attempt by British academics. If he acted this quickly and correctly on sports issues, we would have been Ivy Champs long ago.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Cup Crazy!


Harvard's Carl Morris won Bushnell Cup two years in a row (CREDIT: IvyLeagueSports.com)

Continuing yesterdays thoughts on my picks to win the Bushnell Cup , it's important to remember that one good way to win the award is to play on the Ivy championship team. But it's far from a lock. They've handed out 27 Bushnell Cups so far, (the first one was shared), and 12 1/2 of the winners have come from non championship squads. They are:

1970: *Ed Marinaro, RB Cornell (Big Red went 4-3 in the Ivies and came in 4th)

1972: Dick Jauron, RB Yale (Elis went 5-2 in the Ivies and came in second)

1973: JIm Stoeckel, QB Harvard (Crimson went 5-2 in the Ivies and came in second)

1974: Walt Snickenberger, RB Princeton (Tigers went 3-4 in the Ivies and tied for 5th)

1975: Doug Jackson, RB Columbia (Lions went 2-5 in the Ivies and tied for 6th)

1982: John Witkowski, QB Columbia (Lions went 1-6 in the Ivies and came in LAST)

1983: Derrick Harmon, B Cornell (Big Red went 3-3-1 in the Ivies and came in 5th)

1987: Kelly Ryan, QB Yale (Elis went 5-2 in the Ivies and tied for second)

1988: Jason Garrett, QB Princeton (Tigers wen 4-3 in the Ivies and came in third)

1993: Keith Elias, RB Princeton (Tigers went 5-2 in the Ivies and came in third)

1996: Chad Levitt, RB Cornell (Big Red went 4-3 in the Ivies and tied for third)

1997: Sean Morey, WR Brown (Bears went 4-3 in the Ivies and tied for third)

2002: Carl Morris, WR Harvard (Crimson went 6-1 in the Ivies and came in second)

*=Marinaro shared the cup with Jim Chasey, QB Dartmouth as the Big Green won the title that year

Of course, playing for a title contender always helps, as only four winners played for teams that failed to earn a winning Ivy record. Only Columbia QB John Witkowski has been able to win the award while playing for a last place team.

Bushnell Cup Winners by School

1T. Penn 7
1T. Yale 7
3. Princeton 5
4. Dartmouth 4 1/2
5. Harvard 4
6. Cornell 3 1/2
7. Brown 3
8. Columbia 2

The Ivy League Sports website does not list the winners for the last two seasons, but I have calculated them above. The 2005 winner was Brown RB Nick Hartigan and the 2006 winner was Princeton QB Jeff Terrell.

Only 6 winners have been defensive players. All of them played for championship teams, proving that you might overcome not playing on a Ivy champion, and you might overcome not being an offensive player, but you can't overcome both at once. I thought not giving the 1996 cup to Columbia's Marcellus Wiley and handing to Cornell's Chad Levitt was an extreme example of this bias.




Steve Cargile on the field for the Lions in 2003 (CREDIT: IvyLeagueSports.com)


Steve Cargile was an important cog on the Lions, especially in the encouraging 2003 season when he was a senior safety. And now it looks like Cargile is finally breaking through in the NFL, (also check here ), after some brief stints on practice squads since 2004. (Thanks to an anonymous commentor for sending me these links).

The jist of these articles is that Cargile is trying to make it as a safety who can shift to the second line on defense as a linebacker from time to time. Sound familiar? It should, because that is a key component of the 3-5-3 defense Columbia started using with so much success last year. Too bad Steve wasn't around three more years to learn that system from the master, Lou Ferrari. Perhaps Cargile can get a few tips from Ferrari before Broncos training camp begins at the end of July.


Tick, tick, tick

You gotta love the countdown to kickoff clock on the football page of the CU athletics website. Now that's optimism and I love it! Todd Kennedy from the athletics department tells me it was the brainchild of director of promotions Dan Spiegel. I think Princeton was the first school to do this last year and they ended up winning the Ivy title, so that's a good sign too. I actually don't think is just a gimmick. Everyone who's been watching CU football for the last few decades knows this team is really something special. I know of more than a few 50+ year old men who are giddy with anticipation.



Brian Dennehy interviews are always good stuff

Make sure you check out this great interview with former Columbia football star and actor Brian Dennehy. Here's my favorite quote:

"A lot of people in the business say to me, 'My god, you played Macbeth when you were 13 years old in front of a Catholic boys high school audience? That really took a lotta guts.' And I always say, 'Not nearly as much guts as the freshman who played Lady Macbeth.' He really had a lot of guts!'"



LaDainian Tomlinson's charity is bringing some ambitious kids to CU this summer

And check out this piece on Chargers star running back LaDainian Tomlinson. His foundation is sponsoring seven San Diego area high school students in a two-week summer business program at Columbia University, at which the students will receive entrepreneurial training.