Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Before the Tan... (Day 95)

"I'm not only the president of the George Hamilton fan club... I AM George Hamilton!"

Any way you measure it, George Seifert had a stellar NFL coaching career. As a head coach he won two Super Bowls and went 10-5 in the playoffs. As an assistant, he was the unsung force behind the underrated San Francisco 49er defenses that were actually almost as great, (if not greater), than Joe Montana and that exciting offensive attack.

But before those glory days, Seifert labored as the head coach during some of the darkest days in Cornell football history.

Robert Kane, the A.D. who hired Seifert in early 1975, described it like this:

"The NCAA had recently penalized the athletic department twice in four months for recruiting and management violations, the (university) president was being portrayed as anti-sports, the football staff had been without cohesive leadership for several months because of personal problems of the head coach (Jack Musick, who was fired Nov. 20, 1974), and three assistants had left for other positions. Thus what little recruiting that was done was woefully ineffective. We were, in reality, the pits."

Columbia's situation was not much better when the two teams met in Ithaca on November 1, 1975. The Lions were 0-5, losing each contest by an average of more than 19 points per game. But they did have Head Coach Bill Campbell, then in just his second year at the helm, and one of Columbia's greatest all-time players in Doug Jackson.

Cornell was 1-4 and the weather was very cold, but in a sign of just how much things have changed in the Ivies, there were 11,000 people in the stands for what promised to be a stinker of a game. The attendance at last season's Columbia-Cornell game in Ithaca was 3,369.

For Jackson and the Lions, it would be far from a bad day. The eventual Ivy Player of the Year ran the ball 23 times for 146 yards and three touchdowns. QB Mike Delaney, who never had to throw too much as long as Jackson was in the lineup, completed five of eight passes for 71 yards including his only TD pass of the season.

The Lions' defense did a great job too, led by senior DE Will Horton who ended the day with four sacks.

And there was a special teams highlight as well. After Cornell scored first to take a 7-0 lead, Dexter Brown returned a kickoff 87 yards Cornell 1-yard line before Jackson took it in on the next play.

Then Jackson and the Lion defense took over.

When the gun sounded, the final score was a stunning 42-19 in Columbia's favor. It was the first win for the Lions at Schoelkopf Field since Campbell was a player in 1961 and the first Ivy win for the Lions in more than two years. Columbia beat Seifert and Cornell at Baker Field a year later, 35-17. Seifert was fired soon after that 1976 loss.

A decade or so later both Seifert and Campbell would be at the top of their games, but in the Bay Area. Seifert was rising as the man behind Bill Walsh with the Niners, while Campbell was out of football but becoming a star in Silicon Alley as the founder of Intuit.

One could argue Seifert's tough years at Cornell were the best thing that ever happened to him. After he was fired, he vowed to remain an assistant coach forever. So when he went to work at Stanford, he was more than ready to learn under Walsh. And it was Walsh who would lead Seifert to glory time and again, before he finally handed the 49er head coaching rheins to Seifert in 1989.

But no one would have predicted that kind of a bright future for Seifert on that cold November day in 1975. Who could have?


Post a Comment

<< Home