Up from the Ashes or, If a Tree Grows in the Forest...
Mark Whipple is now a coach with the Philadelphia Eagles
Flash back with me to November 21, 1992. Columbia has just defeated Brown 34-28 to seal an 0-10 season for the Bears. The Brown program seems to have hit an absolute bottom. Columbia seems to be on the rise with two straight wins to finish off a 3-7 season, the most the program has earned in 14 years.
Two programs going in different directions, right?
How deceiving that was.
In fairness, Columbia did ascend to historic heights in the 4-5 years after that game. But from that day until now, it's been Brown that has maintained an almost unmitigated rise from the ashes of the Ivies.
The following season, Brown went to work immediately with a 12-3 win in the season opener at Yale. They slogged a bit through the midseason before finishing strong, getting wins over Harvard and Columbia for a 4-6 season, 3-4 Ivy. They did it with just ONE player on the first AND second team all Ivy, offensive lineman Walton Smith.
Then in 1994, just two years removed from a complete goose egg of a season, the Bears truly growled. They won their last four games of the season to finish 7-3 and 4-3 in the Ivies. The same sophomores who slumped off the field at Wien Stadium 0-10 in 1992, trotted out of the same stadium as seniors at 7-3 with a crushing 59-27 win over the same Lions, (after Columbia had a 27-10 lead in the third quarter, no less).
Since then, Brown has suffered through just two losing seasons and has won two Ivy titles, (1999 and 2005), with a shot at a third this Saturday.
It's an amazing turnaround that has stood the test of time for 16 years now. A number of people deserve credit for the feat, and former head coach Mark Whipple who took over in 1994, is chief among them.
Here's where the "tree grows in the forest" thing comes in. The Brown football tree has been growing for almost a generation now, but no one there seems to be seeing it grow. So is it really growing?
Not many people in the Brown world seem to care all that much. I daresay that if and when Columbia finally wins an Ivy title and starts sustaining several winning seasons in a row, Wien Stadium will be pretty regularly packed and the students and local media will be all over the continuing story.
The folks at Brown seem to have barely noticed. You're lucky if you find even one article about football in the Brown student paper on any given WEEK, let alone day. And this is true even during this great season for the team. Providence is a smaller town than New York, I realize, but it's not smaller than Princeton, Hanover, or Ithaca. I'm not sure why there isn't more interest or attendance at Brown games.
A little rain scared away just about everyone from the Bears homecoming game against Harvard earlier this year. Just 5,600 people showed up to see the thrilling 24-22 Bears win.
Again, I realize Columbia hasn't always had the best attendance either. But the Lions are not contending for a championship this season, and Brown is. What gives?
I do expect the crowd the be decent on Saturday as no rain is in the forecast, (but it is going to be cold at about 37 degrees), and in 2005 the Brown people did come out in good numbers to see their team clinch the title at Columbia.
But will the 20,000-seat Brown Stadium be bursting at the seams. I hope it will be, but I doubt it.
Big Green Hitting Bottom
16 years after the last 0-10 season in the Ivies, Dartmouth appears to be headed for the same fate at 0-9 and heading on the road to Princeton for the final game of the year.
A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece about why I thought the Big Green would avoid the 0-10 mark. But now, I really don't see how they will avoid it.
Princeton is not a very strong team right now, especially offensively. But it's seems good enough to beat a Dartmouth team that is still banged up and definitely looking to next year with the decision to start freshmen Conner Kempe the last few games.
It would be a pretty big upset if the Big Green pulls out a win at Princeton Stadium Saturday. The Tigers' Jordan Culbreath should find some big holes to run through and I'm not sure any of the Dartmouth runners will enjoy the same room against even against a defense that's 7th in the Ivies against the run.
Could hitting 0-10 be a blessing in disguise for Dartmouth? Will the Big Green rise from the ashes like Brown did in the early 90's? I suppose anything is possible, but my impression is that the recruiting atmosphere is more competitive now than ever. That makes it harder for quick turnarounds or even slow turnarounds these days.
But perhaps an 0-10 will wake up some alumni and get them more active in supporting the program in Hanover.
One thing I do know is that after Columbia went 0-9 in 1984, and 0-10 in 1985, '86 and '87, it was truly no fun. I don't wish that on the folks at Dartmouth.