Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Wait is Almost Over!

I still have a hard copy of this issue of the Spec

The "two-deeps" or game notes for the Fordham game will probably be released tomorrow or Thursday. Until then, speculating about the starting lineups is probably a waste of time.

Come to think of it, you really need to come to the game or at least listen and/or watch our broadcast of the game to know who's starting, because things tend to change quickly and the two-deep is just not a legal document if you know what I mean.

But the questions about who is starting and what kind of schemes Columbia will use, etc. are some of the big reasons why you have to be very excited about this season. It's not just because everyone starts out 0-0, that's always fun, but beacuse of graduation the Lions are by default going to be a "new look" team this year.

Oh, and we have a 308 day offseason by the time we finally kick off this Saturday.

Game of the Day (Day 4)

October 8, 1988

Columbia 16 Princeton 13

I've written about the amazing game that finally ended the historic Columbia losing streak many times. But this time I will add some personal memories in italics at key parts of the pretty well-written NY Times story.

Columbia Wins! That's Right, Wins!
9 October 1988
The New York Times

The end came for Columbia yesterday. The 44-game losing streak and the five years of no-win situations became history in the wake of a 16-13 triumph over Princeton that spread championship-like joy throughout Lawrence A. Wien Stadium at Baker Field.

Solomon Johnson's 2-yard touchdown run with 5 minutes 13 seconds left provided the margin of victory for the Lions, whose last previous victory came in the fifth game of the 1983 season, the now-legendary 21-18 triumph over Yale.

Of course when "Solo" scored that TD, the stands erupted. BUT NO ONE thought the game was over by a long shot. And as it turned out there was a lot of drama packed into those 5 minutes plus.

After that game, the Lions tied Bucknell, lost to Holy Cross and tied Dartmouth. Then, in the next-to-last game of the 1983 season, starting with a 31-6 loss to Cornell, the defeats began to build. And build. And build. No major-college team ever lost more consecutive games.

6 years later, Prarie View posted its 45th straight loss to break the Columbia record. Oddly, that happened on the same day in 1994 that Columbia beat Cornell to secure its first winning season since 1971.

To celebrate the end of the 44-game losing streak, several hundred students and Columbia supporters ran onto the field the moment the final whistle sounded, brought down the goal posts and carried them around the stadium.

It took a bit of an extra effort to get those goal posts down, but they did fall and no one was injured! They eventually made their way back down to campus... and I'm still not exactly sure how.

Columbia's supporters had agonized through most of the game and particularly toward the end. Princeton missed a 48-yard field-goal attempt on the last play.

At least there was no suspense once the kick was off... it fell ridiculously short.

No one in the homecoming crowd of 5,420 apparently suffered more while counting down the final seconds than Larry McElreavy, who is in his third year as coach of the Lions.

When someone asked the 42-year-old McElreavy, whose record with Columbia is now 1-23, at what stage he thought his team would win, he laughed aloud and said, ''About four minutes after the game was over.''

Once he had completely digested the significance of his team's finally getting a victory, McElreavy became serious. ''This is the first concrete building block in rebuilding this program,'' he said.

McElreavy's team had shown signs of progress, particularly in last week's loss to Penn.

''It sounds simplistic,'' McElreavy said, ''but I kept saying that if we kept playing the way we did we would finally win. I kept saying we didn't want to win on hocus-pocus.''

An ABC camera crew grabbed McElreavy, Greg Abbruzzese and Solomon Johnson after the game and featured them in a quick halftime interview during their 4:00pm nationally televised game. McElreavy did almost all the talking but he gave a lot of kudos to his players.

Princeton (2-2) had taken a 10-0 lead and held a 13-9 lead after a touchdown by Kris Keys and two field goals by Chris Lutz.

Matt Less scored the first touchdown for the Lions (1-3), on a 9-yard reception from Bruce Mayhew, and Matt Pollard's 33-yard field goal provided the other points.

Less was one of the greatest modern tight ends in Columbia history. An very long TD reception by Less was negated early in the game when the refs ruled he stepped out of bounds. Mayhew was a sophomore in 1988, who really popped as a senior during a great 1990 season. Matt Pollard was one of Columbia's best-ever kickers. He still holds the record for the longest field goal at 50 yards.

The biggest contributor to Columbia's victory was Greg Abbruzzese, the sophomore tailback from Swampscott, Mass. He carried the ball 37 times for 182 yards. Two sacks by Mark Zielinski, the senior defensive end from Rutherford, N.J., were crucial.

''It's great to get it against an Ivy League team,'' Zielinksi said of the victory. ''We always believed.''

Zielinski is now the head coach at a pretty good high school program in New Jersey. He was a great halftime interview for me during the Princeton game last year.

Jason Garrett's 201 yards on 18 completions in 29 attempts and Judd Garrett's 22 carries for 116 yards were not enough for Princeton. The Garrett brothers are sons of Jim Garrett, who coached Columbia to an 0-10 record in 1985 in the midst of the losing streak. Both players transferred to Princeton after their father left Columbia under pressure at the end of the 1985 season.

NFL fans know Jason G. is now the offensive coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys. He was Troy Aikman's backup for several years during the Cowboys best years in the 1990's. His dad was actually a scout for Tom Landry for years as well.

The Garrett brothers refused to be interviewed after the game, but their coach, Steve Tosches, said Columbia was the better team and deserved the victory.

''They outplayed us,'' Tosches said. ''Their offensive line controlled our defense. Maybe it was surprising they didn't score more.''

One of biggst plays for Columbia was Zielinski's fourth-down sack of Jason Garrett on the next-to-last series for the Tigers.

When Tosches was asked why he didn't attempt a game-tying field goal from about 45 yards during the series, he said he didn't want the tie. He did go for the tie on the last play of the game but Lutz's kick was about 10 yards short.

Princeton dominated early. The Tigers' first drive started at their 25 and ended with a 31-yard field goal with 7:22 gone in the first quarter for a 3-0 lead.

The drive lasted 12 plays, with Judd Garrett handling the ball seven times. The crucial plays were passes from Jason Garrett to Scott Gibbs for two first downs and a 5-yard run by Dennis Heidt for another first down.

One reason the Tigers did not complete their opening drive with a touchdown was because Jason Garrett was sacked by Zielinski for a 10-yard loss.

During Princeton's second series of plays the Tigers were hurt by a penalty and ended up punting on fourth and 29.

But they marched 50 yards in six plays the next time they had the ball and took a 10-0 lead with 9:20 left before halftime. Keys ran left for the last 3 yards.

The Lions scored their first points, on a 33-yard field goal by Pollard, on their fourth possession of the game. The drive went 47 yards in nine plays with Abbruzzesse handling the ball seven times, six times in a row.

Columbia scored a touchdown the next time it had possession, going 53 yards in eight plays. The touchdown came on Mayhew's 9-yard pass to Less.

But Pollard missed the point-after attempt. After a low snap from center, his kick sailed wide left. So with 21 seconds left before intermission, the Lions, as usual, were down, 10-9.

HOWEVER, for all of the folks listening to the game on campus, it looked good at the half. Most of us decided to ditch watching the Mets-Dodgers playoff game on TV and get to the stadium in time for the 3rd quarter. The subway was a little slower back then than it is now, but we made it in time for the 4th quarter.

A poor punt by Princeton late in the third quarter put Columbia at the Princeton 40, but the Lions could not get closer than the 23 yard-line and Pollard's 41-yard field-goal attempt was wide left.

Princeton had even better field position on its next series. But after starting at the Columbia 37, the Tigers could muster only a 27-yard field goal by Lutz. The next score was by Columbia, the run by Johnson that ended years of misery for the Lions and their fans.

While the Lions were celebrating, Tosches summed up the feelings of the Tigers.

''This is what you dread,'' the Princeton coach said. ''Life can be very cruel.''

Tosches got his revenge many times over. In the 1995 game the basically decided the Ivy title, his Tigers injured Lion QB Mike Cavanaugh early in the game and they pulled away 44-14. A year later, a very overmatched Princeton team came into Wien Stadium and shocked the 6-0 Lions by a 14-11 score. He was usually a master against us.


At Wed Sep 17, 01:45:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That afternoon, I flew to Hawai'i and saw a Honolulu paper with the headline, on the first page, about the win!

At Wed Sep 17, 04:34:00 AM GMT+7, Blogger cathar said...

And we of course had our own sort of "revenge" against Tosches when he was fired himself by Princeton some years ago, reportedly because folks there were dissatisfied with his pretty decent (well, anyway in Columbia terms) won-loss record.

When "the win" occurred, the world suddenly seemed a very magical place. There didn't seem to be a lot of fans present at Baker Field that afternoon but yes, they acted and sounded rapturous.

And on campus an hour or so later things were even better. There seemed to be more spilled beer on the walkways than in a revival of "The Student Prince," and more public intoxication than in ten showings of "The Lost Weekend."

Remembering that day, I keep wondering what it'll be like when we grab at least a share of the Ivy football title (I believe it's truly a matter of just when, not if). I suspect that it won't be that big a deal, however. At least not initially. Columbia is an internalized sort of place (as might be sensed just from how little public rancor is evident after a loss in men's basketball). We seem to do things very differently from other Ivy schools in so many ways.

At Thu Sep 18, 04:36:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The real shame of it was that coach Mac was also responsible for extending the streak with some dubious personnel/disciplinary decisions he made during the '86 season. Of course, his true character would show a few years later

At Thu Sep 18, 10:43:00 PM GMT+7, Blogger Jake said...

Well, I actually thought MacElreavy was a good coach leading in the right direction before he imploded with personal issues.

I caught up with him last year and was very glad to meet him. The post about it is here: http://roarlions.blogspot.com/2007/10/sentinmental-journey.html


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