Sitting Shiva for Sid
NFL star Luckman, under center, tutors the Columbia offense in 1947
Game of the Day, (Day 77)
October 4, 1936
Columbia 34 Maine 0
Sid Luckman '39 died 10 years ago today on July 5, 1998. He is arguably the best player in Columbia football history and certainly one of the 10 most important players in American football history. But he is undeniably the greatest Jewish football player of all-time.
Most of Luckman's greatness was established in the pro ranks with George Halas' great Chicago Bear teams of the 1940's where he ledt he team to four championships. But he was dominant at Columbia as well, prompting sportwriting legend Jimmy Cannon to note: "You had to be there to realize how great Sid was."
Technically, Sid Luckman's 10th Yahrzeit isn't really until July 14th, the secular date that corresponds to the actual Hebrew date of Luckman's death. And one also only sits shiva after one's actual death, not the anniversary of it.
But since I am trying to document 100 key Columbia games in the 100 days leading up to the start of the 2008 season, I thought it would be right to spend the next seven days sitting a virtual Shiva for Sid by documenting his seven greatest games at Columbia.
The backstory to today's game is that Luckman was a highly sought after football and baseball star at Brooklyn's Erasmus Hall High School. Luckily for Columbia, Luckman decided to head to Baker Field for the 1934 game against Navy that would turn out to be the Lions only loss of the season. Even more luckily, Luckman wasn't phased by seeing that loss and he was wowed enough by Coach Lou Little to eventually come to Columbia. Even though Columbia didn't offer Luckman a scholarship, Little made sure he was set up with a number of odd jobs to pay his tuition and other expenses.
Little also made sure the admissions office didn't impose the infamous Jewish quota that practically became an obsession at Columbia and many other elite schools beginning sometime in the late 1910's and early 1920's. The number of Jews at Columbia and most of the other Ivies had been growing steadily before that. Jews were also making their presence known on the Ivy football fields. Phil King was an All-American in the 1890’s at Princeton. Israel Levine played for Pennsylvania in 1905-1906 and Ralph Horween played for Harvard in 1916. But when the quota system kicked in, Luckman and a few others became notable exceptions to the rule.
Luckman came to Columbia at a time when the football program was at its peak. The 1933 team had won the Rose Bowl and the '34 squad went 7-1 with a win over Penn State. But as Sid entered CU as a freshman, the team was losing a step. The varsity in 1935 struggled to finish 4-4-1 and suddenly, Luckman was being asked as a sophomore to lead the team back to glory.
No one expected the Lions to have too much trouble in their 1936 opener at home against Maine. In fact, only 7,000 people showed up for what was expected to be a rout. It was, but what the folks who stayed home missed was a spectacular debut for Luckman on both offense and defense.
Maine took the opening kickoff and started to move. Maine's speedy Roderick Elliot picked up good yards on run after run and almost scored on a big-gained before Luckman made an open field tackle on the Columbia 32. Maine got as close at the Lions 24 before the drive fizzled.
The Luckman the runner took over. He smashed off gains of 7 and 17 yards before breaking free for a 38-yard TD run. On Columbia's next possession, Luckman set up another score with a 36-yard pass to the man who would become his favorite target, fellow sophomore John Siegal. John Hudasky scored the first of his two TD's on a seven yard run after that Siegal catch and it was 14-0. COlumbia wrapped up the scoring with a Luckman-to-Siegal 20-yard TD pass late in the third quarter.
The pundits saw this game as mostly a tune-up for a big match against Army, also slated for Baker Field the following week. But no one at Columbia could have been bored by Luckman's performance in his first varsity game.
They wouldn't be bored or disappointed by Luckman even once in the next three years.