Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Big-Time Transfer Coming Our Way?

Heading to CU?

A heavily-recruited high school star who went to UConn last year may be transferring to Columbia. He is defensive lineman Danny Russell out of Ponte Vedra, Florida.

This could be a huge pickup for us.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Uphill Crusade

Me and Matt Sodl at the Ivy Football Movie Premiere (THANKS: ERIC DRATH '93)

The excellent event last week at the Yale Club for the premiere of 8: Ivy League Football and America was sponsored by an organization called the Ivy Football Association.

The IFA is dedicated to preserving our favorite sport at all eight Ivy schools, and for the first time in the 20+ years I've been following Ivy football, I'm really worried about the future.

One only had to look around the packed movie-watching crowd Thursday night to see the problem: demographics. There were a lot of guys their in the 50's and older. A few recent grads who played varsity, and not a whole lot in between.

Non-football playing alums from the last 25 years or so are just not interested in Ivy football for the most part. And I don't think it's the quality of the games, (by the way, they're mostly better than they were in the 60's or 70's), and I don't think it's because the Ivies are in Division I-AA or FCS or whatever, (though that does not help).

Nope, I'm going to say the politically incorrect thing here and say this is a direct result of league-wide admission policies. Getting into an Ivy was never easy, but now it's about as hard as winning the lotto. The result is the kind of student who gets in to the Ivies is usually not much of a sports fan to begin with. This is in contrast to just about every year up until the late 70's, when prep school students with years of compulsory scholastic athletic experience dominated the Ivy campuses.

Now as a former victim of rigorous prep school education, I'm all for the fact that the Ivies draw their talent from a much wider swath of high schools than ever before. There are only so many snobs in rep ties a person can stand. BUT, the kinds of things they presumably still teach in prep schools have some good points. Kids learn school spirit, and the fact that if you want a sound mind you need a sound body too.

Plenty of public high schools instill those same principles, but it seems like the kind of student attracted to all the Ivies these days is intent on individuality above all else. And too often they're contemptible of all athletes no matter what. Of course, if you spend a huge chunk of your 9th to 12th grade years obsessing to maintain a 4.0 and test-prepping for the SAT, you're not exactly going to be a man or woman-about-town, if you get my drift. Thankfully, a lot of Ivy students buck this trend, but not enough. And I don't really blame them... developing a true personality is hard to do with admissions standards based on robot-like standardized testing.

The writing is on the wall people. The stands at most Ivy football games are frighteningly bare. I would say the entire generation of alumni from 1982-2008 have basically been lost. We won't see many of them at homecomings in the 10's, 20's and beyond.

Something has to be done NOW to get the students enrolled NOW out to these games and into the fold. I think beyond the excellent events like the 8 premiere and the annual dinner, the IFA needs to start thinking about sponsoring and organizing game day and weekend of game events on all the Ivy campuses that will attract current students and local alumni.

By the way, Columbia's recent struggles have hurt the league in general. Since New York City remains the city with the most Ivy alums, the fact that Columbia's home Ivy contests aren't enough of a draw even for the opposing team's fans is a problem. (When Columbia has had strong teams in the recent past, I can remember a lot of opposing fans jamming the stadium, especially the 1996 game vs. Princeton and the 1994 game against Cornell). A stronger Columbia would boost the league's football future more than any other school.

But that aside, let's all realize what we face here. I seriously think that we are just one bad publicity event away, (perhaps an Ivy football player being arrested or accused of some kind of Duke lacrosse team like incident -- unlikely to be sure, but possible in this day and age), from losing everything.

The ironic thing is that today's Ivy football player is more athletic, academically fit, and better integrated into campus life than almost ever before. We can't let bigots and other closed-minded individuals throw them under the bus.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Craig's a Brown

Welcome to the Bigs! (CREDIT: Columbia Athletics/Ben Shyman)

No one expected graduating Lion QB Craig Hormann to be drafted this weekend, but he was quickly signed as a free agent by the Cleveland Browns.

Apparently, Craig did some good things during those mini-combines and tryouts last month. And he impressed the Hell out of us by coming back from his ACL tear last season to post some impressive passing stats for Columbia in 2007.

Now it might be tough for a life-long Colts fan like Craig to adjust to Cleveland, but somehow I think he'll make it.

Oh and Craig, as a former Cleveland resident myself, I have some advice:

1) Stay away from Parma Pierogies, (delicious, but not exactly the best health food)

2) Go to as many games at Jacobs Field as you can.

3) The Flats are fun, but don't have too much fun.

4) See if you can get the Browns to pay for some grad engineering courses at Case Western.. hey, former Lion QB Archie Roberts got the Browns to pay for him to go to med school there!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Congrats All Around the Horn

Division Champs! (CREDIT: Columbia Athletics/Gene Boyars)

I just wanted to take a little time out to congratulate the Columbia baseball team for clinching the Gehrig Division yesterday, putting themselves in the Ivy Championship series against Dartmouth next weekend. Columbia hasn't won the Ivy baseball title since 1976, but their chances look good after an impressive trip to Hanover earlier this season.

There was once a time when the baseball team was about 60% football players, but things like longer schedules the institution of spring practice has pretty much ended the double-duty tradition.

In the 60's Columbia's great QB Archie Roberts was also a terror on the diamond. The 1976 championship team was led by football star Ed Backus, a standout defensive back.

This year's team has basketball star John Baumann as one of the top pitchers.

We'll keep an eye on the team and wish them the best as they try to get to the College World Series.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Columbia Buckeyes

The Piqua Indians, Ohio's Division II Champions

Star defensive lineman Shea Selsor from Piqua, Ohio, (not far from Dayton and near the Miami of Ohio campus), is coming to Columbia.

Shea netted eight sacks and 51 solo tackles this past season as Piqua High School won the Division II state championship.

He's probably bulked up a bit, but he was last listed at 6"3 and 226 pounds.

Anybody who's read this blog over the years knows of my enthusiasm for Ohio-bred football players, and how I lived in the Buckeye State for awhile myself.

Piqua is not far from Kettering, Ohio, home of 2007 Ivy League Rookie of the Year Alex Gross. Getting to Clark Koury's hometown of Dublin, Ohio is not such a bad drive from Piqua and it's possible young Mr. Selsor has heard of fellow Ohioans Drew Quinn, Lou Miller, Derek Lipscomb, Jason Pyles, Tim Skalak, and Eli Waltz.

Something tells me that by the time we get the full list of incoming freshmen, we will see that Ohio has become the #1 recruiting state for the Lions.

Friday, April 25, 2008

A Herculean Task Completed

It was a truly enjoyable evening at the Yale Club last night as about 250 people jammed the grand ballroom to see the premiere of 8: Ivy League Football and America. I will review the movie in a moment, but first I want to briefly describe the evening on a personal level.

I arrived at the Yale Club at about 6:15pm and ended up walking in with Yale Head Coach Jack Siedlecki and some other members of the Yale football contingent including legendary Bulldog Head Coach Carm Cozza. That would set the tone for the entire evening, as every time I turned around I recognized another Ivy great from the past or at least a major name from the Ivy football present.

Some other celebrities were there like Chris Berman from ESPN.

After chatting with co-producers Erik Anjou and Mark Bernstein, (who were both very gracious and outgoing), I eventually met up with Matt Sodl, and then Columbia's Director of Development for Athletics Mark Monty and my friend Mark Lufkin, who works under Mr. Monty in the Development office.

After the film, I spent a lot of time talking with Matt Sodl, but also with recent grads Matt Barsamian and Todd Abrams. Matt and Todd are both working in the New York area now and seem to be doing well after college and football, (much better than I was; during my first year after graduation I think I hid under the covers most of the time and cried).

I hope to have pictures and more "color" from the evening in the coming days.

Now my review:

Encapsulating 139 years of history in a film of any plausible length is a daunting task. The biggest hurdles are achieving historical accuracy, avoiding glaring omissions, and most importantly, emotionally engaging the audience.

The film passes the first test with a stunning A+ for historical accuracy. Stunning because each of the eight Ivy schools routinely make historical mistakes about THEMSELVES in their football media guides. It's so easy to get it wrong when it comes to scores, dates, and names. I saw NO mistakes of this kind in the film.

I give it an A- for avoiding glaring omissions. It's very tough not to leave something out, but I thought the only omission that truly was glaring was the lack of material about Ed Marinaro. Marinaro did make some key statements in the film, but some additional accounts of his stellar career at Cornell were needed.

Perhaps the biggest test for a documentary is whether it can induce an emotional response from the audience. Docs can be dry and it's hard to grab the audience's heart without a love interest or story arc like you see in dramatic films. In that vein the film succeeds however, mostly with humor, (the spontaneous laughter from the audience was frequent), but also with some heart-rending moments, most notably the sequence on the Cornell-Dartmouth "5th Down game" and even more so with the profiles of Columbia's Matt Sodl both from 1987 and today.

The film is mostly about the deep history of the league and the pre-1920's content is probably going to be too heavy for many casual viewers. But it routinely saves itself from becoming purely an academic exercise by keeping the individual interviews short and using humor at almost every key moment.

Some of the early still photos and film footage seen in the movie are absolutely shocking - shocking when you realize that it exists and shocking to actually see it.

The film does an especially good job identifying 5 key eras in Ivy history.

1) The first 25 years that were dominated by sheer violence just as the game's rules were being formed.

2) The game's rise to national prominence led by Ivy teams, especially

3) Penn and its president Harold Stassen's at first successful, but then failed, plan to be a national football power and academic power at the same time in the late 40's and early 50's.

4) The league's initial success with being less of a major draw nationally but still a source of huge football excitement, (the sequence on the '68 Harvard-Yale tie was particularly strong here)

5)The league's current struggle to find itself ever since the demotion to Division I-AA.

Now to the Columbia content. Because a good part of the movie focuses on the 1890's to the 1910's when there was little Columbia football due to the 1905-1915 ban... Columbia does not figure prominently in a key segment of the movie. However, a good effort is made to cover the 1933 Rose Bowl win, and the huge amount of time spent with Matt Sodl is easily the most emotive part of the film. Again, the movie's amazing historical accuracy keeps it from being guilty of unfairly treating any school, Columbia included.

Whether the film will have a wider appeal beyond the small Ivy football fraternity is not clear. But I would bet that if it ran on select PBS stations in Boston, NYC, and Washington, it would rate quite well.

And for anyone who reads this blog regularly, it is a "must-see." I will keep you updated on where and when to find the film whenever I know.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Tonight's the Night

I am very excited to be attending tonight's premiere of 8: Ivy League Football and America at the Yale Club.

For those of you who think Ivy football is a dying movement with few fans, I'm happy to announce that tickets to the event tonight have sold out.

I expect to run into a number of Columbia greats of the past and some top names from the other schools as well.

I met filmmaker Eric Anjou a few months ago and was very encouraged by his strong desire to "get it right" when it comes to our beloved league and sport. I was also a nice surprise to get a chance to talk Ivy Football with him... in Hebrew! (That just doesn't happen as often as you might think).

I will have a complete review of the movie and hopefully some pictures in the coming days.

A Touching Moment

Sorry about the blog going down yesterday, but as I was trying to juggle a number of different concerns from different folks in and out of the football program I read the article I refer to below. It's a touching story about the parents of an autistic child. Then I realized life is too short to worry about my insignificant problems. Grab a hanky and read on:

This year's NFL Draft is Saturday

Like any parent of young children, I silently fight off "worst case scenario" types of fears all the time. It's not in any way debilitating or obessessive, but every once in a while I shudder when I think of one of my daughters getting injured or developing a disease.

That's what makes me admire the parents of children with disabilities and serious diseases even more. Not only are they challenged by the life and death issue threatening their most precious loved ones, they also have to deal with the "pity" factor from strangers and even other family members.

For someone who can't shut up like me, autism is a particularly frightening thing for me to think about. And this story about how sports helped open up one child with autism is very touching. It also caught my eye as it included a mention of former Columbia Head Coach Bob Shoop, who sat with the young fan during the 2004 draft.

And he did more than sit with him:

"Our struggle with autism continues, but Paul has employed his enthusiasm for the NFL draft and used that skill to converse with others. Following the 2004 draft, he e-mailed Shoop at Columbia and forwarded statistics about one of our high school players. The senior was then called for an interview. Go figure!"

I truly believe God has a special place for the people who really love and care for people with these kinds of challenges.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Eyewitness News

The Lions of Spring (CREDIT: Columbia Athletics/Gene Boyars)

Here at "Roar Lions Roar" we don't like to mince words, and the following detailed account of the Spring Game is filled with some strong opinions about the team from a long-time fan and alum.

Honest assessments from loyal fans are important to all of us, and I am EXTREMELY grateful for the following account of the game and the outlook for the squad in 2008.

So without any further ado:

"The weather cooperated with Columbia's annual spring football game on Saturday -- warm and sunny, with a slight breeze. And interest in Columbia football has certainly grown. Several hundred fans were in the stands, many times more than those who used to watch the spring contest before the Wilson era. With no competing events on adjacent fields, the focus was only on Columbia football. And more than the weather buoyed fans' spirits. Word rippled through the home stands before play began that the heavyweight crew had upset Yale and the baseball team had won the first game of a doubleheader in Ithaca. Perhaps that was a good sign.

On Kraft Field, the Blue team -- comprised of the first team offense and the second team defense -- defeated the White Team -- the second team offense and first defense defense -- by a score of 14-7. The defensive line played for both teams. More important than the score, however, was what the intrasquad game indicated about whether the Lions would rebound from a last year's disastrous 1-9 season. While it is important not to read too much into what was essentially a glorified practice and key players were held out due to injuries -- quarterback Shane Kelly, tight end Troy Evangelist, defensive end Matt Bashaw, and wide receiver Nico Gutierrez -- the afternoon gave some early, though mixed, answers to the questions about the squad as it seeks to improve.

What Offense Will They Use?

Little changed from last year. The Lions ran multiple formations, with the tailback featured and a lot of short passes to the backs. On Saturday, as last year, the offense seemed to lack continuity. Such reliance on a single position -- the tailback -- usually requires a big durable rb and a dominant offensive line. Columbia has neither, though Jordan Davis (who has appeared to bulk up) and Ray Rangel are solid contributors. FB Pete Stoll is big and fast for his size, and should be used much more to take the pressure off the other two.

What Defense Will They Use?

The staff used a classic 4-3 alignment on Saturday, which seemed to work better at stopping the run than last year's controversial 3-5. Coach Wilson said the Lions will still go with 3-5 in certain situations. Miller, Garza, Loughery, Mitchell, Stotler and England all saw action on Saturday on the defensive line. Not a deep group, but should be improved.

Who Will Play Quarteback?

Hard to assess without Kelly taking the field. Olawale is an electrifying athlete whose passing has improved, though he has far to go before he is an accomplished Ivy passer. It is imperative that the staff use his rushing skills, probably at tailback. This is a good example of Columbia using offensive schemes that do not suit its personnel. Corey Clare, almost an afterthought last year, has made great strides in camp, according to Coach Wilson. (He was 7 for 12 for 40 yards). Paul Havas (13-of-25 for 101 yards and one interception) moves well and has a nice touch on his passes. He lacks experience, however, and threw an interception in the end zone that cost the white team a TD. This is an area of major concern and someone will have to step up for the Light Blue to have a decent year. No one has yet.

Who will compliment Austin Knowlin?

Nico Gutierrez, the obvious answer, was injured and did not play. Taylor Joseph is fine as a third receiver. Josh A. Williams saw time and has good potential. Nate Anshuetz and the versatile Jason Pyles also saw time.

Will the Offensive Line be improved?

Probably, though still an area to worry about, especially on pass protection. DeBernardo, Gaston, Seiler, Brune, Sanford, Constant, Veldman, Britzius, and Kipp were among those who saw time. Lipvovsky and Prentice Robinson are also in the mix.

How is the rest of the Defense?

Solid. Gross, Moretto and Quinn have talent and played well at linebacker on Saturday. Vaughn Hodges and Marc Holloway will back them up. The secondary also looks good, with potential All-Ivy Andy Shalbrack at and Adam Mehrer at strong safety. Calvin Otis, Jared Morine, Craig Hamilton and Chad Musgrove played a lot at corner, though Musgrove reportedly was injured. The others who got time in the secondary included Augie Williams, Dan Myers, and Kirk Weller,

Will anyone take over at Tight End?

A solid position with Andrew Kennedy, Clif Pope and Cody Steele, who caught a TD pass from Clare. The talented Troy Evangelist was again injured. Look for the coaches to go to the tight end position much more frequently, especially if another wide receiver to draw attention from Knowlin does not emerge.

Will the special teams be improved?

Jon Rocholl had a 55-yard punt and handed PAT duties. It is too early to tell if he has become more consistent. Mike Siebold and Bil Mazur did adequately in relief of Rocholl. The team desperately needs an effective kick returner (Does Travis Chmelka have any eligibility left?)

Spring Prognosis

It is unfair to put too much emphasis on a single spring game, but here goes: the 2008 Lions will be improved, especially on defense, where an ill-conceived defensive philosophy alone may have cost a win or two last year. Almost every aspect of the offense, however, needs work. The squad does not appear to have the horses at quarterback, running back or on the lines to match up with what expected to be the class of the league this year (Harvard, Yale, Brown). Columbia's recruiting is much improved in recent seasons, however, and coaching staffs that turn around losing programs typically begin to show results in years 3-5. Thus, a move up to 3-4 or 4-3 in the Ivy League should be considered a successful season. More talent in the incoming freshman class is reportedly on the way.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Spring Game Lessons?

M.A. Olawale Scrambles Away (CREDIT: Columbia Spectator)

My detailed reports from eye witnesses at the Spring Game is upcoming, but there are some good reports out already from the athletic department and the Columbia Spectator.

What we do know is that we have some players hurt, most notably QB Shane Kelly and WR Nico Gutierrez. It appears Kelly should be okay by the summer, but we just don't know enough about Gutierrez right now.

I think the key thing to remember about the Spring Game is that you have to take a lot of it with a grain of salt. A lot will change between now and the start of training camp in August.

Nevertheless, watch this space for the detailed accounts of the game in the coming days.

Friday, April 18, 2008

The Last Line of Defense

Calvin Otis saves a touchdown

I don't think it's a stretch to say Columbia's secondary will look a lot different this season. 2007 starters, (when they weren't hurt), JoJo Smith and Eugene Edwards are graduating. Senior Chad Musgrove returns after a year off, hoping to build on his outstanding 2005 and 2006 seasons, (he left campus for still unreported reasons in the tail end of the 2006 campaign).

But I expect to see some personnel changes in this unit, with some players changing positions to officially join the secondary. And with those changes, you could argue the Lions have a relative embarrasment of riches in the defensive backfield.


The cornerback position is the key to any secondary, and Columbia could have a lethal combination if Musgrove and sophomore Calvin Otis step up. At 6"3, Musgrove is basically a giant at this position, and Otis is no slouch at 6"1.

As a freshman, Otis lived up to my expectations. He played in every game, had two interceptions, and singlehandedly broke up a sure TD against Dartmouth late in the game. Otis was a fabulous "get" for the recruiters last season, and you gotta love his pedigree. Mom is a Columbia Business School grad and dad is the CEO of Darden Restaurants, (they own Olive Garden and Red Lobster).

Junior Grant Jefferson has a shot to make an impact at corner as well. He had 34 tackles last season, but only one pass break-up. It was hard to tell in 2007 if he completely overcame the leg injury that kept him out of the regular lineup in 2006. But he will make a very dangerous weapon if he is healthty.


Columbia's real embarrassment of riches, as far as depth is concerned, comes at the safety position.

Junior strong safety Andy Shalbrack had a strong season in 2007 after a near rookie of the year performance, (Austin Knowlin won that honor), in 2006. Despite battling injuries all season, Shalbrack was the team's third leading tackler with 61, intercepted two passes, returned one pick for a TD, and recovered two fumbles. And I wouldn't be surprised if Shalbrack emerges from spring practice as one of the team captains.

Senior strong safety Clark Koury was on his way to a breakout season in 2007, before injuries got in the way. He was a key hero in the win over Marist with two interceptions. If he's healthy, he should make a positive impact in his final year.

Sophomore Augie Williams did a very solid job as a freshman last year, netting 50 tackles, three and half of them for a loss, in just eight games.

At free safety, junior Drew Abeyta is back. He too, struggled with some injuries last season but looked good when he was healthy.

Sophomore Adam Mehrer was also a great-looking newcomer last season and should challenge for serious playing time.

There are also some promising incoming freshmen. Peter Batesko could either play DB or wide receiver, but I think he may break in first on defense. Batesko may compete for playing time with his former rival from New Jersey, Kurt Williams from Don Bosco Prep. Ross Morand, from national power St. Xavier is another great "get" for the defensive backfield.

I expect the battle for starting slots in the secondary to be fierce this summer, and that's the way it should be.

A Practice Game that Never Was

Ray Tellier will be honored in Storrs tomorrow

The spring game is set ofr tomorrow at Wien Stadium at 4pm. Sadly, I will not be able to attend because of Passover, but REST ASSURED, I have some trusty correspondents going to the game and they will provide detailed reports and pictures for "Roar Lions Roar." Remember this blog relies on the readers and fans as much as possible.

38 years ago UConn's spring game was canceled because of the Kent State shootings. One of the players who was supposed to get into that game was Columbia Head Coach Ray Tellier, who went on to become a star QB for the Huskies. Tellier will be honored at UConn's spring game tomorrow.

It's clear Tellier still has close ties to UConn, and surely that played a role in Columbia hiring Norries Wilson away from the Huskies two years ago.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Speaking the Truth

Words of Wisdom from Mr. Schmalhofer

Another day, another anti-athlete hate piece published in an Ivy student newspaper. Honestly, the ignorance is so prevalent in these pieces it's really worth asking how the editors of these papers can responsibly publish them. I'm all for free speech, but facts are facts. A paper shouldn't be publishing editorials that say 2+2 = 5, and they shouldn't be publishing these baseless rants either.

The latest worthless essay came from the Yale Daily News, but the good news is the paper had enough smarts to print a rebuttal by two graduating Eli football players, including my friend Stephen Schmalhofer.

My fear is that we're going to see more of this kind of athlete bashing in Ivy schools. The funny thing is "tolerance" and edicts against "hate speech" at Ivy schools are as hollow as an empty mortarboard. As long as you attack the "right people" it's allowed. If a YDN writer wrote anything resembling this kind of thing about Muslims, blacks, gays, women, sexology majors, etc. they'd be run out of town on a rail. And rightly so, I might add. Without any empirical proof, one Yale student has been given a platform to question the very existence of a large amount of his fellow students on campus. This is the highest form of insult.

My bigger fear is that too many of the administrators at Ivy schools basically agree with the writer of the original editorial.

I think it's painfully obvious that Ivy faculties are so far out on the fringe that they need to basically exclude the real world from having any contact with them in order to function at all. This is exactly the reason behind the efforts to oust the alumni members of the board of trustees at Dartmouth. People functioning in the real world would surely clamp down on outrageous things like inviting the genocide-pumping "president" of Iran to speak at Columbia, thus they must be banished.

Now don't get me wrong, I think there's something very good about a very large number of Ivy professors being out of the so-called "mainstream." The best kind intellectual development depends on challenging norms and conventions. BUT, the Ivy schools need to be more up-front and honest about this approach. They cannot continue to make one pitch to prospective students and parents in the brochure, and another once classes begin. And they also cannot be allowed to bash middle class America and "corporate morals" and then proceed to have no problem pocketing in excess of $40,000 annually from each family just for the privilege of being insulted.

Much has been written on this blog about the incredible benefits athletics provide each and every Ivy school. Unfortunately, the Ivy presidents seem intent on diluting that positive impact year after year.

Hopefully, the next generation of alumni and big donors will be vigilant enough to stop them.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


I really like this picture

Well, after two profiles of our thin-looking running back corps and defensive line, I thought I'd focus today on one area of the Lions where we seem to have oodles of talented and experienced players.

There are two areas actually - wide receiver and linebacker - but today I want to look at the wide receivers.

Austin Knowlin, Jr.

Austin Knowlin is the team MVP and of course the leader of this crew. He's done all the coaches and fans could have asked for, with an Ivy League Rookie of the Year award in 2006 and a first-team All Ivy selection last season when there were so many very talented receivers to choose from.

One could argue that Knowlin is Coach Wilson's best gift so far to Columbia football, as he was actually a recruit of his at UConn before he got the job at Columbia.

Knowlin has great speed, good hands, and a willingness to cross over the middle of the field. He combines all of these talents to create his greatest weapon: he gets open. Austin gets open even when everyone in the stadium knows the pass is going to be thrown to him. He gets open when the game is on the line. He gets open in the flat, in the seam, and in the end zone.

In 2007, Knowlin had 74 catches for 988 yards, just 12 yards shy of the 26-year-old all-time single season record of 1,000 yards held by Don Lewis. And on a team that scored just 23 TD's all season, Knowlin had 11 of them, (one of them rushing).

He single-handedly outgained every Lion rusher, (including himself... he gained 46 net yards on reverses and direct snaps), by more than 360 yards.

Austin is also well on his way to breaking Columbia's career receiving yardage record of 2,384 yards held by Bill Reggio '84. Coming into this season, Knowlin has 1,541 yards, meaning he could break the record by week 8 or 9 if he maintains last year's per game averages.

Breaking an Ivy team's career records in just three years is becoming a rarity now that the league has allowed freshmen to play varsity for 15 years now. So Knowlin has the opportunity to make a lot of history in the next two seasons.

Last year, Coach Wilson seemed worried that Knowlin might "rest on his laurels" from 2006 and he challenged him to step it up a notch. He certainly did.

Taylor Joseph, Jr.

Knowlin couldn't be as effective as he is without some other credible targets in the receiving corps. And the gutsiest member of his supporting cast is Taylor Joseph.

Joseph hauled in a respectable 38 catches for 409 yards in 2007 with one touchdown. But the numbers don't tell the whole story. It seemed like every catch he made was a tough grab either in traffic, way over his head, or scooped up just before it hit the turf. With 563 total career yards, Joseph has a chance to crack the top 5 all-time receivers list by the time he's done.

Nico Gutierrez, So.

Nico had a very strong, if not sensational, rookie season in 2007. Gutierrez had 29 catches for 372 yards and 2 very spectacular leaping TD's last season. He came to Columbia after falling off the BCS school radar because of an ACL injury late in his high school career. There is some concern about his ability to stay healthy, but we have no definitive word on his status as of now. If he is healthy, we expect great things from him for the next three years.

Josh A. Williams, Jr.

Williams came out of nowhere to make an impact in the Cornell game and he seems like a good contender to get onto the field more in 2008. The San Francisco native did a postgrad year at the Loomis Chaffee school, (that's ANOTHER Connecticut school, making three receivers on the squad with CT connections: Knowlin, Gutierrez and Williams), so he has that added maturity. He appears to have good speed.

Derek Jancisin, Jr.

I thought he might become more of a factor last year, but he ended up with just 2 catches. He still has great size at 6"3 and 213 pounds, so it will be hard not to believe he'll make his mark at some point.

Juniors Jason Pyles, Chase McCaleb and sophomore Mike Stephens appear to be on the outside looking in at this position, but that could change.

Incoming freshmen Peter Batesko, Christian Daniel, J.D. Tyree seem more than just a little promising even at this point. They all have great height and size, but could end up at different positions. Training camp in August could definitely change the equation in this relatively strong part of the team.

If only we had so many riches everywhere else.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Strongest Lion

Matt Sodl, (#65), Makes a Tackle

Longtime readers of this blog are familiar with my special admiration for the seniors on the 1987 Columbia Lions football team. They stuck with the team and worked hard, despite compiling an 0-30 record during their three-year varsity careers, (freshmen were not eligible to play varsity ball back then). 11 players from that '87 team stayed with the program all four years.

The 1984 Lion Cubs, Matt Sodl, #65, is in front

One of the best players on that team and the strongest was defensive tackle Matt Sodl. Matt came to Columbia in 1984 from rural Pennsylvania and made an immediate impact on the freshman team. By his sophomore season he was starting at nose tackle, recording 59 tackles and three sacks.

But as a senior in 1987, Sodl truly broke out as a first-team All-Ivy player (unanimous selection), with 84 tackles, 5 and a half sacks and 10 tackles for a loss.

During Matt's 0-30 varsity run, not many of the games were close. But two of the last three games of his career became some the most excruciating losses in Lion history. Leading at home against Dartmouth by a 10-9 score, the Big Green pulled out a late FG to take the 12-10 lead only to see the Lions return the ensuing kick-off very close to field goal territory. Columbia indeed got into position to try the winning field goal, but it went just wide, (after a 5-yard false start on the first attempt... of course the actual kick hooked just about five yards from the goal post).

Two weeks later against Brown in Providence, a late Bear fumble was nullified by the officials in one of the worst calls in Ivy football history. Brown kept the ball and went in for the winning score in a 19-16 season-ending win.

But Matt Sodl is proud to have played on this team and for Columbia. And he remains a very strong supporter of Columbia football in many ways.

Today Matt is now Managing Director and Co-Founder of Innovation Capital, where he runs the investment banking firm that has a specialty in the gaming, hospitality and entertainment industries. Matt is often quoted in the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, BusinessWeek and the Las Vegas Sun and was named to Investor Dealers' Digest's "40 under 40" list in 2006.

Most importantly, he recently appeared as a guest on FOX Business Network.

Matt was good enough to do an interview for ROAR LIONS ROAR.

Jake: Tell us about where you grew up. Football was obviously a big part of life in that part of Pennsylvania, but how many guys thought about going to the Ivies to play ball?

Matt: I attended Whitehall High School which is located in a farm community just outside of Allentown, Pennsylvania. The school is best known for its famous alum Matt Millen who grew up down the road from my neighborhood. The Ivy League certainly wasn't in the midset of any of us growing up. All we heard about was Penn State, Pitt, West Virginia and Notre Dame. Our high school football program was populated with several Parade All-American players who played at these schools. I remember Joe Paterno, Bobby Bowden and Bo Schembechler visiting our school, walking thru our weight room... I think you get the point. Most of my teammates were focused on playing for Division 1A schools. Of the 17-seniors in my class, I believe 13 of our players went to play football at a Division 1A or 1AA school.

J: Give us some highlights of your high school career on and off the field.

M: Our high school team was all about winning - competing against the largest schools in the state of Pennsylvania. We lost 3 games in 4 years. We had some phenomenal athletes who could really play the game. I played defensive line, was a two-year starter and earned All-State honors my senior season. In the off-season we lifted weights year-round and actually competed as a powerlifting team, (comprised of nearly all offensive and defensive linemen), where we won the Pennsylvania state championships several years in a row. The off-season weight training program was ahead of its time. The offensive line coach expected all of the football players to lift weights year-round - beginning the Monday after Thanksgiving,(right after our last game), and up and through summer camp. It was here in high school – thanks to my coach John Bendekovitz - that I learned the type of work ethic and dedication that it takes to compete and win.

J: How did you come to Columbia? Who recruited you and what was the recruitment process like?

M: The recruiting process at our school was interesting. When the Division 1A schools looked at our game film, they mostly were focused on my team-mate Chris Parker who was a 6-7, 290lb defensive lineman who played next to me. Parker went on to be a Parade All-American and star at WVU. My 5-10, 220lb. frame obviously didn't excite the Division 1A schools. A number of Division 1AA schools – from the Ivy League and Patriot League - recruited me. That was when I met Jim Benedict, Columbia's Freshman Coach at the time. He met with me in our guidance counselor's office and literally unveiled a model of the Wein Stadium. He said the stadium was under construction, that they were playing games in Giants Stadium and invited me for an official visit. Benedict was a class act and on my visit did all he could to keep my parents calm. As you can imagine, the initial idea of their son living in New York City didn't sit too well my parents who had lived their lives in a small farm community in eastern Pennsylvania. Ultimately, I focused on the long-term and felt that an Ivy League education would create many more opportunities for me down the road as opposed to a Patriot League school. In my business today, I don’t come across too many Patriot football alums. But I run across Ivy League football alums all the time.

J: What do you remember about your first training camp and the 1984 freshman football season?

M: Our first training camp was up at Baker Field. It was my first exposure to the infamous bus ride - which in those days was straight through Harlem. Certainly an eye opener for me. Breakfast was a chocolate donut from "Twin Donut" and an orange juice. Hardly the breakfast of champions. In terms of the Freshman team, the diversity of the athletes was quite astounding. We had some great athletes....we also had some offensive linemen who looked as if they'd never seen a squat rack in their lives...a vast departure from my high school days. In all, as a team we developed a bond that was an "us versus the world" mentality. And, while we are the class known for not winning a single game in four years...I'm here to remind you that we did win our very first Freshman game against Lafayette. It may not count in the NCAA record books but it was nice to play near my hometown and get a win.

It is important to note that there were 11 players from that Freshman team that had the fortitude and commitment to play all four years and not experience a win as a varsity player. Each of us handled the tough times in a different manner but all told, we believed that we could win as a team at Columbia. We played through adversity and used that experience to “wins” in our careers and personal lives after we graduated. The names of these 11 players are: Mike Bissinger, Phil Fusco, George Gianfrancisco, Mike Lavelle, Dave Putelo, Nick Leone, John Miller, Tony Natola, Rich Ritter, Paul San Fillipo and Matt Sodl.

J: What was it like adjusting to life on campus and in NYC?

M: There was certainly an adjustment period necessary coming from rural Pennsylvania. However, as a team we went through it together and that provided the support group we all needed to adapt.

The coaches during The Streak: Bob Naso, Jim Garrett and Larry McElreavy

J: Coach Garrett was in charge during your sophomore year. Most of the players I’ve spoken to from that year say they actually like Jim despite the ugly way his career ended at CU. Are you in that camp as well?

M: Coach Garrett is certainly a lightning road for discussion. My take is that his vision for the program; his quality coaching staff; his expectations; his offensive and defensive schemes; his ability to recruit...ALL were on point. And, yes I am in the camp that like the guy and wish things could have ended differently. I have no doubt that we would have been quite competitive in subsequent years (Garrett brothers notwithstanding) if he had stayed on as head coach. All that said, I think the post-game press conference after the Harvard game got the better of him. I'll leave it at that. Coach Garrett is certainly remembered for his "catch phrases" and empassioned speaches...especially the one in the first meeting where he predicted we would go "10-0" that very first season. We all wanted to believe.

J: What was the transition period over to Coach MacElreavy like?

M: Coach Mac was a tough, hard nosed and no-nonsense guy. He had a proven track record on the college level so I think the comfort level was there - that we could turn this program around. I think Coach Mac shared the same passion for the game as Coach Garrett. That said, I think he was much more approachable than Garrett.

J: As the streak continued, what pressures did you feel on the field and on campus week after week?

M: Living in the media capital of the world that is NYC didn't allow us to forget about the Streak. As the losses mounted, it seemed that the intensity of the press coverage increased. It got to a point where NFL Films and Sports Illustrated were practically a part of the team, riding the bus with us to practice, etc. The one element that I did not appreciate was the support (or lack thereof) of the student body. I truly believe there was a pretty large faction of the students who wanted us to continue losing. I still remember the group of student huddled around Coach Mac shouting "We're number one" after we broke Northwestern's losing streak. Still makes me sick to this day.

J: Did the losses help you focus on life after college a little better than perhaps a player on a team that won every week?

M: I think whether we won or lost, we had no choice but to focus on our school work.

J: Did you have a very different outlook going into the ’87 season? Did you think that this would be the year more than you did in ’85 or ’86?

M: In the '87 season, I was a senior and tried to be a leader - leading by example. The finality of being a senior really drove my intensity. I did not want to end my career without a "W" so I played every day (practice and game) as if it was the last time I would step on the field. I think that intensity level carried over to many of my teammates. Also, Tom Gilmore (our defensive line coach) was a big factor for my elevated playing level my senior season. Playing for a Bushnell Cup winner and thriving off his intensity was something I internalized and that helped me take my game to the next level.

Tom Gilmore, 1985's Bushnell Cup Winner

J: What was it like after those Dartmouth and Brown losses in ’87. How hard was it to cope in the days immediately afterward?

M: Words cannot describe the emotions. After 3 1/2 years, having a "W" in your grasp only to be taken from you. We truly believed we would win those games. Dartmouth - one field goal, wide left. So close. Brown - game winding down. Brown fumbles inside our five yard line. We couldn't stay on the ball. You’re supposed to win those games. I think we all felt numb in the days following those games. Feeling that there is no such thing as a moral victory.

J: Tell us about your playing career after college.

M: I loved the game of football and wished I could have extended my career after Columbia. That said, my 5-10 frame would only take me so far.

J: How did you get into your current line of work, and did you try anything else before getting into the financial world?

M: Like many college students looking to break onto Wall Street, I began my career as a financial analyst at a boutique investment banking firm. I was introduced to the firm by a Columbia alum - Eldridge Gray.

J: Do you think your lack of wins in college spurred you on to better things post-graduation?

M: My Columbia football experience is without question the single most important driver in my career. It taught me to prepare daily; compete harder; the need to work through adversity; and most importantly appreciate victory and success.

Matt Sodl & Son

J: Do you keep it touch with your former teammates and do you know what they’re up too?

M: I do keep in touch with many of the guys in the class of 1988 and surrounding classes. Our 20-year reunion is coming up and I hope to see many of them. No doubt we will be sharing football war stories.

Matt Sodl and wife Cathy have three children and live in a beach community just outside of Los Angeles.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Great Get

St. George's, home of the Gryphons

A top offensive and defensive lineman, and a Tennessee "Mr. Football, " Ben Popeck is coming to Columbia. Ben also plays basketball and lacrosse for the St. George's Independent School Gryphons in Germantown, (that's near Memphis).

Ben is a good height at 6"4, but he needs to build on his 220 lb. frame. I do see him as a great prospect.

So, now our list of NATIONALLY PUBLISHED, (not rumored), incoming recruits is looking like this:

1. Jerry Bell, 6'2", 206 QB, Corpus Christi, Texas, Ray H.S.

2. Peter Batesko, 6'3" 205 WR/DB, Red Bank Catholic, Red Bank, NJ

3. Sam Cecil, 6'2", 250 OT/DT, Linsly School, W.Va

4. Alex Cornish 6'1", 210 LB, Fredrick, Md

5. Will Claunch, 6'2" 225, LB Florida

6. Christian Daniel, 6'4" 195 WR, Canyon H.S., Calif.

7. Owen Frazer, 6-1. 300 NT/OG, Trinity-Pawling, Newburgh, N.Y

8. Ryan Hazlett, 6'3", 210, QB, New Jersey

9. Rafael Lopez, 6'4", 235, TE, Calif

10. A.J. Maddox 5'9'' 183 DB, OLB, RB, H-Back/Slot Lakeview Central HS, Garland, TX

11. Nick Mistretta, 6'2", 225, LB, Nanuet, N.Y., Don Bosco Prep, N.J.

12. Evan Miller, 6'210" LB, St. Xavier, Cincinnati, Ohio

13. Ross Morand 6'1", 180, St. Xavier, Cincinnati, Ohio

14. Brendan Mulheran LB/FB Lincoln-Way East, Illinois 5'11", 185 S, Lincoln Way H.S., Illinois

15. Nico Papas, 6'1", 235, Buckingham & Nichols, FB, Cambridge, Mass

16. Ben Popeck, 6"4. 220, DL/OL St. George's Independent School, Germantown, Tenn

17. J.D. Tyree, 6'4", 208 Martinsville, Roanoke, VA

18. Kurt Williams, 6'0, 190, DB, Don Bosco Prep, N.J.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Dressed for Success

Austin Knowlin's kicks don't come cheap (Credit: Gene Boyers/Columbia Athletics)

I received an absolutely brilliant mailing from the Columbia Athletics Department yesterday. It was a letter co-signed by a number of Lion scholar-athletes, including Austin Knowlin. There were also pictures of those players in their various uniforms and the cost of every piece of their equipment pointed out with arrows. The above picture of Knowlin is the one they used. The mailing simultaneously put a human face on athletics fundraising and a dollars and cents realism to the costs surrounding the program.

Keep an eye out for the mailing, but in case you don't get it here are the costs of items they pointed out from Austin Knowlin's uniform.

Shoulder pads: $300

Helmet: $150

Game shoes: $80

Knee braces: $75

Pants: $50

Thigh pad: $10

Mouthpiece: $3

Obviously, there are some pieces of equipment they left out, but you get the picture.

So, multiply that by the 100 or so players we expect to have on the squad this season, and we're talking about $70k just to dress the team!

Please be generous and give whenever and whatever you can.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Hold That Line

Phil Mitchell Needs Some Help Up Front (Credit: Columbia Athletics)

You may want to make sure you've digested your lunch fully before reading the statistics I'm about to publish below. They are very ugly:

2007 Columbia Lions Defense

Rushing Yards Allowed Per Game: 231.1

Rushing TD's Allowed: 30

Average Per Rush: 4.4 Yards

Rushing Attempts Per Game: 52.4

Where do we begin with numbers like these? The 2006 Lions weren't exactly stingy against the run, (they allowed more than 150 yards per game), but these 2007 numbers are eye-popping and they weren't just empty stats. Columbia lost game after game last year because it could not stop opposing rushers. It started in week one when not one, but two Fordham backs ran for more than 100 yards against the Lions. A total of eight backs tallied at least 100 yards on the ground against Columbia last season. And time and again, they made their yards simply by dashing straight up the middle.

Perhaps the most telling stat is the average number of opposing rushes per game. When your opponent can run the ball more than 52 times a game against you, you've been beaten and beaten thoroughly.

And the worst part is the woeful stats versus the run mask other weaknesses or relative weaknesses on the squad. It turns out Columbia's pass defense was tops in the league, allowing just under 170 yards per game. But who needs to throw when you can run and run so easily so often? I do happen to think Columbia's pass defense was and remains solid, but tops in the league? Probably not.

The biggest job in helping to improve those run defense stats in 2008 will go to the starters on the defensive line. Whether Columbia goes with a 3-man or 4-man front, here are the leading contenders for the top spots:

Phil Mitchell, Sr.

Mitchell played with some rough injuries last season and still managed to bag 57 tackles and 5 sacks. Mitchell could be a team captain this coming season and it would be nice to see what he can do for a full season injury-free.

Matt Bashaw, Jr.

Bashaw followed up on his freshman year promise with 41 tackles and 4 sacks as a sophomore in 2007. It would be a surprise not to see him starting in 2008.

Brian England, So.

England got decent playing time, getting into all 10 games and putting some bulk on the defensive line at key moments in several games.

Conor Joyce, Sr.

Joyce didn't have the breakout year the coaches wanted from him in 2007, but he still has the size and experience to make a difference this season.

Eli Waltz, Sr.

The senior nose tackle battled injuries most of the season but still managed 38 tackles in nine games.

Mack Loughrey, Jr.

Saw some time at nose tackle, but recorded only 12 tackles in eight games.

Freshman Contenders?

Freshman linemen who make a real contribution are a true rarity, but there sure are some opportunities for talented newcomers at this position:

Owen Frazer, 6-1, 300 lbs. NT/OG, Trinity-Pawling, Newburgh, N.Y

Hey, he seems like he has good size... not that that would be enough, but it's a start.


(I expect to get the names of one or two more good defensive line prospects when the full recruiting class is named next month)

Bottom line is that, like tailback, the cupboard seems pretty bare at this position too. Linebackers and wide receivers we've got up the wazoo right now, but linemen... not so much. Of course, the D-line needs to do better providing a pass rush as well. The 2007 Lions had just 14 sacks compared to 20 in 2006. But other than Mitchell, there don't seem to be any real 1st, 2nd or Honorable Mention All-Ivy candidates here. Hopefully, some new names will emerge in spring practice or perhaps some of the older names will make a surprise impact.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Ground Hogs

Nico Papas has a unique chance to break into the starting lineup as a freshman (Credit:

The battle for the starting running back spot or spots should be just as fierce as the one for the top QB position on the depth chart.

Here's the problem, the talent level at the tailback position throughout the Ivy League may be at an all-time low. Not that there was a surplus of 1,000 rushers in the 80's or 90's, but it's getting a lot harder to recruit and sign the kinds of players who have the ability to carry the ball 25+ times per game and average at least four yards per run.

There are a number of explanations for this, not the least of which is the Internet, which has help identify every decent rushing candidate to bigger schools who seem to load up on as many extra tailback recruits that they can.

Right now the Ivies as a whole really only have one truly great rusher in Yale rising senior Mike McLeod. Last year's second best rusher, Penn's Joe Sandberg, is graduating. There are one or two others who could hit the 1,000 mark in 2008, like Cornell 5th year senior Luke Siwula, (but don't bet on it), and perhaps Dartmouth's Milan Williams, who rushed for 5.3 yards per carry in a total of 8 games played last season. Simply because the Harvard offensive line is so good, I give Cheng Ho, a shot as well.

But when it comes to Ivy rushers, there is McLeod and then there's everyone else. McLeod averaged almost 33 carries per game last season and still managed to get 5-yards per carry. He also had 23 TD's all on the ground.

The talent drought at tailback isn't necessarily fatal for the rest of the league. Princeton proved in 2006 that you can win the championship with a great runner or even a great combination of runners. But it sure helps, and Columbia's chances of improving on last year's 1-9 record rely tremendously on establishing a real running attack.

The leading candidates to start at tailback are, (in no particular order):

Ray Rangel Jr.

Became the de facto starter by year's end. Rangel had some standout performances in the second half of the season, but they all came in losses. It remains to be seen if he can produce consistent results week in and week out. But his ability to get breakaways makes him an attractive choice. An improved run blocking scheme could make him a lethal speedster out of the backfield.

Jordan Davis, Sr.

Davis had strong performances in back-to-back weeks against Marist and Princeton early in the season, but he eventually lost his starting spot to Ray Rangel after he couldn't get much going the following two weeks against Lafayette and Penn.

Davis has had a lot of chances to prove he can be a real weapon, but he just hasn't panned out. He does have a huge amount of experience with three seasons of heavy lifting already under his belt. He's also one of the most physically fit guys on the team. Don't count him out.

Leon Ivery, So.

They don't post the stats from the JV games, so we can't be sure just how effective Ivery was as a freshman last season. But Ivery had absolutely insane high school stats and was a serious BCS-level recruit until suffering bone spurs late in his high school career.

And then there is Nico Papas. Papas is probably the most highly-touted fullback recruits to come to Columbia since Kirby Mack in the mid-1990's.

A talented fullback can be more than enough to carry a team to the top in the Ivies. That's something >Nick Hartigan proved with Brown and if Papas is anything like him, Columbia's fortunes will turn around in a hurry. Of course as a freshman, Papas may not see much playing time, but if he has what it takes in summer practice I doubt the coaches will keep him on the bench long.

Junior Pete Stoll is still the incumbent fullback starter, but the Lions did not employ a starting fullback set very often last season. Stoll had some decent looks in the early season, but after a crucial fumble in the Princeton game, it appears he was punished by the coaches after that.

The cupboard is not full right now at this position, but this is what we have to work with... and in this league we have a lot of company.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Who Are You?

Just a heads-up that all commenters will now have to sign in before posting.

NOTE: This does not mean you have to give your name, address, or serial number.

But it does mean that there will be a "cyber-trail" is you post something nefarious, or potentially harmful to the team.

This should not be an inconvenience to anyone and it does not preclude free-speech in any way.

But again, I urge everyone here to remember that this blog is read league-wide and anything you know about the team posted here could be harmful in the long-run.

Let's just be as careful as we can be without being boring.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

The Greatest

Sid Luckman defined the QB Position for decades (Credit: Columbia Athletics)

As I write this, the first real battles for who wll be the Lions starting quarterback in 2008 are underway. Thankfully, we do have more than one solid candidate for the job and that's even before the freshmen arrive on campus in August.

But as this battle rages on, it seems like the right time to give props to the five greatest true QB's, (post wing-formation), in Columbia history. As luck would have it, I happen to have interviewed three of these men during three separate halftimes of Columbia games last season.

1) Sid Luckman '39

Sid Luckman isn't just the greatest quarterback in Columbia history, he could be the greatest quarterback in football history.

How else can you describe a man who redefined his position in the literal sense and went on to become the most feared team leader in the NFL in his day?

At Columbia, Luckman was a hero for a team that wasn't championship caliber like the stronger squad Coach Lou Little led to a victory in the Rose Bowl just a few years before Sid arrived on campus.

But Luckman's mere presence on campus was an inspiration. In the 1920's and 30's, just about every Ivy League school imposed strict Jewish quotas. Being in New York City, Columbia's policy was especially odious. Luckily, Coach Little cared little for that administration policy, and he stole Luckman away from Navy just in the nick of time.

For Luckman to be on campus, and to be such a star for the football team at this time... well, it was as inspirational to many Jewish youngsters at the time as Jackie Robinson's career career with the Brooklyn Dodgers was for Black Americans 10 years later.

Luckman started as a halfback who would sometimes throw the option pass, but eventually he was throwing constantly. This was at a time when most college teams maybe threw the ball 5-6 times a game.

He eventually took the starting QB spot his sophomore year, and those 1936 Lions went 5-3 with impressive wins over Syracuse and Stanford.

An article about Luckman from the American Jewish Historical Society contains this great paragraph:

Red Freisell, a referee who officiated at several of Luckman’s college games, later placed Luckman’s achievements in perspective: "In each of those games, [Luckman] threw at least 30 passes, and on nearly every one of them he was knocked nearly out of his britches by some fast charging opponent. . . . Never once did I see him throw in fright or see him wince when he got his lumps. I never heard a word of protest about the beating he was taking. That brand of courage, coupled with his uncanny knack of hitting his target, put Luckman down in my book as the greatest forward passer I ever saw in college ranks."

His crowning moment came in his senior season when Columbia shocked Army by a 20-18 score. Playing both offense and defense, Luckman brought the Lions back from an 18-6 deficit with skillful running, kick returning, and throwing the winning touchdown pass.

Luckman was selected as an All-American in 1937 and 1938 and was later inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.

After graduation, Bears owner/coach George Halas convinced Luckman to chuck the idea of going into his father-in-law's business and try pro football. The rest was history as the Bears became a dominant team for years afterward.

He led the league in touchdown passes three times, was chosen the NFL MVP three times and was All-Pro seven times in his 12 NFL seasons. His Bears won four NFL titles.

His crowning pro achievement was leading the Bears to a 73-0 win over the Washington Redskins in the 1940 championship game.

Luckman’s best year statistically was 1943, when he led the Bears to a record of 8-1-1. He was so popular, that the New York Giants chose to honor him with a "Sid Luckman Appreciation Day" in a Bears-Giants game AT the Polo Grounds.

In that game Luckman led his visiting Bears to a 56-7 triumph, passing for a record seven touchdowns and 443 yards. That year, he set the league record for touchdown passes in a 10-game season with 28, including five touchdowns in Chicago’s victory over the Redskins in the 1943 championship rematch between the teams.

During most of these years, Luckman continued to help Columbia's football efforts. He did everything from call potential recruits to tutoring young Lion QB's like Eugene Rossides.

Luckman became a very successful businessman after his playing days ended, and he even became a good friend of my grandfather's in Chicago in the 1950's and 60's. He died in 1998.

2) John Witkowski '84

John Witkowski owns so much of the Columbia record book, it should be named after him. Playing for some of the weakest overall teams in Lion history, Witkowski still put up insane numbers, especially TD passes and overall yardage categories.

He was so precise, that Columbia actually scored too quickly, leaving the defense with too much to handle even on good days.

In just 10 games in 1982, Witkowski had 29 TD passes and 3,050 yards passing. He passed for more than 400 yards in three separate games.

Columbia went 1-9 in 1982, and Witkowski still won the Ivy Player of the Year award.

Witkowski had a decent cup of coffee in the NFl, getting some playing time with the Detroit Lions. He now lives in the Buffalo area.

3) Archie Roberts '65

Roberts was one of the first QB's in major college play to pass much more frequently than he ran, and pass he did. By his junior year, he had already broken several Columbia and Ivy passing records even though the Lions were never better than 5-4 in his three years at the helm.

Roberts was a darling of the East Coast press; getting his name in the headlines win or lose. He was also a star on the baseball team, a remarkable achievement for a student who was also pre-med.

Roberts was drafted by the Cleveland Browns and in a remarkable vote of confidence, the Browns not only were willing to wait for Roberts to finish medical school, they paid his tuition! The waiting didn't end up being worth it, as Roberts never played in the NFL.

Instead, Archie Roberts became one of the most respected heart surgeons in the world. Eventually he became much more famous as a cardiac surgeon than he had ever been as an athlete.

Roberts is currently retired from active duty in the O.R., but he heads up the innovative Living Heart Foundation, which helps pro and college athletes maintain heart health.

4) Eugene Rossides '49

His passing stats don't match up to modern levels, but he was the signal caller during an astonishingly good era for Columbia football. Because of a rule exception for the war era, he played all four years on teams that went 25-11 from 1945-48.

Rossides was the QB in the historic 1947 win over Army that still ranks as one of the greatest games in college history.

And at the age of 80, he also made an outstanding halftime interview this past season as we talked about everything from the win over Army to U.S. foreign policy.

Rossides went on to a distinguished career in foreign policy, working at the State Department and in the White House for years.

5) Marty Domres '69

I can't imagine it was a lot of fun to be on campus in the fall of 1968, just months after the infamous campus riots almost shut the school down forever. But Domres and his teammates plowed through a tough 1968 season with at least a potent offense to make the games interesting. In a 34-25 win over Cornell, Domres shattered several Columbia passing records and his numbers then stood for 14 years. He followed that up two weeks later with a 46-20 thrashing of Brown after convincing first-year head coach Frank Navarro to just abandon the running game early in the first quarter.

Domres became a respected QB in the NFL, at one point replacing Johnny Unitas in Baltimore and later taking over from Joe Namath with the Jets. He never quite emerged as a starter, but he made a great impression on the fans and his fellow players alike.

Baltimore took such a shine to him that he settled there permanently after his playing days were over. Domres works in the brokerage field there.

Honorable Mentions

Don Jackson '73

Don Jackson never actually had a season where he completed even 50% of his passes. But his guts and leadership, along with 12 clutch TD passes, made the difference in a super-charged 1971 season where the Lions weren't just one of the best teams in the Ivies, they were one of the best teams on the entire East Coast.

During our interview, Jackson spoke candidly about the 1971 season and why the highly-touted 1972 team never quiote panned out. Usually it's a coach who blames disappointing seasons on the players' inability to keep their heads in the game and focus, but Jackson himself admitted that the lofty predictions for the '72 probably made the "air a little thin up there" for a team used to underdog status.

Jackson went on to a distinguished career at ABC sports and is now a successful private businessman.