Sunday, August 31, 2008

Mississippi Musgrove


The harbor at Pass Christian, MS after Katrina

Game of the Day (Day 21)

September 24, 2005

Columbia 23 Duquesne 13



With all the talk about Hurricane Gustav and the Gulf Coast, I've been thinking a lot this weekend about Chad Musgrove, whose hometown of Pass Christian, MS was severely damaged by Katrina. Barely three weeks after that, the then-sophomore Musgrove had a breakout game at home in week 2 of the 2005 season against Duquesne.

Excerpts from my extremely detailed account of the game are below:

The Lion defense tried to set the tone, forcing Duquesne to punt after a quick three-and-out. Bayou Aregbe and Justin Nunez made a couple of big plays to halt the Dukes, and then the Duquesne punter put up a duck of a kick that went for just 14 yards. CU looked set with a starting field position at the Duquesne 41, but that good feeling lasted just seconds as Craig Hormann fumbled the opening snap and the Dukes got the ball back at their own 39.

Duquesne got one first down thanks to a CU holding penalty, and then they went to the ground. The Dukes ran six straight running plays for a total of 33 yards to the Columbia 15. Columbia then forced a 4th and short, but Duquesne converted it on the ground and had a 1st and goal at the 8. That's when Columbia snapped out of it. After a 4-yard running gain, the Lions stuffed a run for no gain and forced an incomplete pass on 3rd down. The Dukes had to settle for a 20-yard FG and a 3-0 lead. The kick was so ugly, most of us in the stands thought is was UNDER the cross bar, but the refs called it good.

Duquesne decided to kick the ball away from tri-captain Prosper Nwokocha and rolled the ball along the eastern sideline, but that's when Freshman sensation Jordan E. Davis scooped it up and scampered all the way to the Dukes 41 before getting stopped. But the Lions wasted their second straight possession with great starting field position, with a quick three-and-out. James Cobb rushed twice for a total of 2 yards and Hormann threw a ball incomplete to fullback Mike DeFazio. Freshman Jon Rocholl did get a great punt off, nailing the Dukes at their 13 in what would be the start of another outstanding game for the Lions punter/placekicker.

The Dukes took over and immediately started moving the ball, mixing the pass and the run this time with effectiveness. But on 3rd down and 7 from the CU 47, the Lions secondary began to take over the game. Sophomore Chad Musgrove stepped in front of a pass at the CU 39 yard line and returned it to the 50. Musgrove comes from a town in Mississippi that's been pretty much destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, so it feels good to see him doing good things. And he made a great INT, as it wasn't a bad pass by Duquesne's Scott Knapp, it was just a heads up move by Musgrove to step in front of the Dukes receiver at the last second.

Joe Winters took over at QB and immediately ran for Columbia's initial first down of the game to the Duquesne 40. But that's as good as it got. The quarter ended after James Cobb ran the ball for another no gain, and then Cobb lost two yards on the first play of the 2nd quarter. Why Columbia didn't try to go for a long pass while we still had the wind was a strange decision by the coaches. I would like to see us try to shake up the offense early rather than just try to establish a game plan the whole time. Anyway, Winters threw an incomplete pass on the next play, and Columbia was forced to punt yet again. But again, Rocholl came through with a boot that confused the Duquesne receiver. He actually called for a fair catch, forgot about that and ran with the ball after hauling it in at the 9 yard line. That led to a 5-yard penalty and Duquesne had terrible starting field position at their own 4.

Duquesne got some breathing room with two running plays that went to the 22, but the CU defense stiffened after that. Todd Abrams stopped the first down play for just a two yard gain, and Keenan Shaw then took down the Duquesne lead runner for a 3-yard loss. On 3rd and 11, Nwokocha made great first-down saving tackle, and Duquesne was forced to punt from their own 30. The Duquesne punter did better this time and Tad Crawford couldn't advance it at all, giving CU it's worst starting field position of the day at their own 31.

Columbia showed some signs of offensive life on this drive. Winters came out throwing, first misfiring on a throw to Brandon Bowser, but then finding Nick DeGasperis for 21 yards to the Duke 48. Then Winters threw up a strange looking wobbly pass that Jim Besselman caught along the eastern sideline despite being interfered with at the Duquesne 25. The fun was over after that, however. Alex Ehrhart got a couple of 2-yard runs to the Duke 21, but then CU was hit with a delay of game penalty, forcing us back to the 26. Winters then failed to find Mike DeFazio on two straight pass plays, the second coming on 4th and 11 at the 26. Super placekicker Rocholl was kept from trying a 43-yard FG by the wind in his face, and it left us no points and a 3-0 deficit with about 8 minutes left in the half.

Columbia's defense was not letting up. Senior tri-captain Bill Beechum sacked Knapp for a two yard loss on 1st and 10, and then two plays later, Shaw forced a fumble that Shay Murphy recovered at the Duke 45. Shaw made a great play after Duquesne appeared to pull off a 3rd down conversion on a pass from Knapp to Dan Spriggs, but Shaw forced Spriggs to cough it up. It was a great example of continuing to fight, even though it looked like the Dukes had made a clutch play.

Unfortunately, Hormann came back in and picked up where he left off. He was sacked from the blind side on the first play and fumbled the ball away at midfield. It was one of those weird plays where everyone in the stadium knew Hormann was about to get sacked except for Hormann.

With all of one play to rest, the Columbia defense still didn't look tired. A holding penalty against Duquesne forced a 3rd and 12 from their own 48 and the resulting play ended in a incomplete pass. This was just one example of Duquesne's incredible 0 for 14 performance on 3rd down conversions for the day. A far cry from Columbia's defensive M.O. of recent years where they would stop opposing offenses on 2nd downs and then falter on 3rd downs, even when there was a mile to go for a first down. Duquesne then punted and got a lucky bounce to the Columbia 19. But Sophomore Dan Daylamani was called for an illegal block in the back, and Columbia had to start at its own 10.

Columbia got one first down to the 24, as Jordan E. Davis got some carries in the backfield, and Hormann finally completed some short passes, but the drive fizzled at the 31. Rocholl didn't get off the greatest of punts, but a Duquesne holding penalty pushed them back to their own 30.

Duquesne went three-and-out again and had to punt again. It was another dud this time, and CU took over at their own 49.

Winters came back in here, and this was a little troubling as Hormann seemed to be getting in to a groove on the previous series. Winters completed a short 5-yard pass to Ehrhart on first down, but on 2nd down, he threw an ill-advised pass that was intercepted by Duquesne's Kyle Postell and returned all the way to the Columbia 8. Winters does get a kudo for chasing down Postell, pushing him out of bounds, and saving the touchdown.

Columbia's defense still wasn't giving in. With 39 seconds left in the half, time was of the essence and Duquesne tried to go to the air. On first down Knapp threw an incomplete pass. On second down the Dukes were called for a false start, pushing them back to the 13. On 2nd and 15, senior tri-captain Bill Beechum and pass rushing specialist Jeff Oke combined on a 10-yard sack. Another incomplete pass on the next play forced another Duke FG attempt, which was good from 40 yards out. 6-0 Duquesne.

The half ended shortly afterwards and the feeling in the stands at the break was pretty dim. The offense was doing nothing and squandering the great effort on defense. Something had to change.

But things stayed the same at first. On their first play from scrimmage, Cobb fumbled the ball, giving the Dukes possession at the CU 37. After one good running play to the Columbia 29, the Lions shut the door again, getting a tackle for a loss on 3rd and 2 and forcing the Dukes to punt from the CU 32 with the wind in their face. The punt resulted in a touchback.

The CU coaches refused to give up on the run, however. Ehrhart got five yards on a draw play out of the shotgun on first down, but the same play went for just one yard on second down and then Hormann failed to find Bowser on 3rd down. The series would have been a total bummer if it hadn't been for Rocholl's incredible 74-yard punt for a touchback. It was the second-longest CU punt ever, (the record is for 77 yards and is about 30-years old), and it helped keep us on top of the field position game.

The Columbia defense forced another three-and-out and CU took over after a Duquesne punt at their own 36. A holding penalty put us in the hole and facing an eventual 3rd and 19 from our own 27. But then Bowser made a fantastic catch on a slightly overthrown ball by Winters along the western sideline for a 40 yard gain to the Duke 33. Bowser really stretched out and dove for the ball to grab it. On the next play a short running gain turned into a 16 yard play after Duquesne was called for a late hit. But two incomplete passes and then Winters' ill-advised decision to take a sack instead of throwing the ball away, forced Rocholl to attempt a 41-yard FG. No one should have worried as Rocholl nailed it with great distance and height on the kick. Now it was 6-3, and CU was back in the game. Rocholl is just a freshman, but even if he improves just slightly over the next four years, he has a great chance to make the NFL. I would just suggest he put on some weight before he tries to do any tackling on special teams.

Smith's ensuing kickoff was another touchback. On first down, the defense flushed Knapp out of the pocket and forced him out of bounds at the 23, but a late hit penalty gave the Dukes the ball at their own 38. You got the feeling that maybe the call was a "make-good" to even things out after CU got the late-hit call on the previous drive. But it never really mattered as linebacker Adam Brekke picked off a tipped pass on the ensuing 3rd down play and returned it all the way to the Duquesne 17. Brekke has been the leader of the linebacking crew, and it was tough not having him in the game last week. He didn't start against the Dukes, but made a big impression when he was in there. Hopefully, he'll be 100% for Princeton next week.

Columbia was unable to do much with Brekke's gift, however. Winters was sacked on first down and fumbled the ball back to the Duquesne 29. Luckily, he recovered his own fumble, but CU couldn't net any yards on the next few plays and Rocholl was called on to kick it from 46 yards out. No problem. The kick sailed through and now it was 6-6.

The ensuing kickoff? Another touchback for Smith. The next series by Duquesne? Another three-and-out. The Duke punt was fielded for a fair catch at the Duquesne 46.

But the weak offense still hadn't woken up. Hormann was in now, but he threw three straight incomplete passes. Rocholl then kicked a high punt into the western sun and the Duke returner fumbled it away. Shay Murphy recovered it for Columbia at the Duquesne 5 yard line.

But no matter how good the field position, Columbia couldn't put Duquesne away. The quarter ended after two runs for no gain, and then on third down Bowser dropped a sure TD after making a good move to get open in the end zone. Rocholl nailed the 22 yarder for the 9-6 lead, but there was a feeling that CU's numerous offensive miscues would come back to bite them.

But that would only come true if the defense let it happen, and they weren't going to do that. Tad Crawford intercepted a Duke pass at the 43 and returned it to the 39 on the next series. After that, the CU offense got rolling. On 3rd and 6 from the Duquesne 35, Hormann found Pete Chromiak on a crossing pattern and Chromiak dragged his defender to the 13. After a rush for no gain and an incomplete pass, Hormann found Bowser on the west side of the end zone with a timing pattern. Bowser made a great catch to make up for his drop on the previous drive, and CU finally had a TD. The extra point was perfect and we led 16-6, but there was 11:22 on the clock.

A rare short kickoff by Smith was covered for no return by the CU special teams, but then the defense took its only break of the game. Knapp moved the Dukes 74 yards with pass after pass, finally getting a 4-yard toss for a score with 9:22 left. Duquesne now was down by just 16-13 with plenty of time left and some momentum on their side.

But a nice kickoff return by Nwokocha and a penalty on Duquesne gave CU a starting field position at their own 44. Then the running game finally kicked in. Jordan E. Davis ran the ball twice for a total of 12 yards and Columbia now had a first down on the Duke 44. Bowser then made his presence felt. On 3rd and nine from the 43, the whole stadium saw the Duke defender grab Bowser's jersey as he streaked open along the western sideline. The penalty gave CU a first down on the Duquesne 28. Some short, but solid runs by Davis and a short pass to Bowser left us with an eventual 3rd and 3 from the Duke 10. Then Hormann found Bowser in the middle of the end zone for another TD, and the game was back in CU control. With a 23-13 lead with 5:14 left, the defense just had to hold on.

Duquesne got as far as their own 44, on the next series, but a pass on 4th and 1 fell incomplete. Columbia drove to the 26 on the next possession, but elected to run out the clock by giving Davis the ball 7 straight times before he finally was stopped on 4th and 6 from the 20.

Nwokocha intercepted Knapp's pass on the next play and Columbia was able to sit on the ball for the rest of the game. A great defensive performance and a late wake-up call by the offense had delivered a nice 23-13 win!

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Beautiful Day


Rory Wilfork was already clutch as a sophomore in 1994 (CREDIT: Columbia Athletics)

Game of the Day (Day 22)

October 29, 1994

Columbia 17 Princeton 10



The resurgent Lions came into the game with a 3-2-1 record and great weather drawing a then-record Wien Stadium crowd of 12,859 for homecoming.

The previous week, the Lions had stomped Yale by a 30-9 score and Columbia seemed like it was for real.

The game began encouragingly for the Lions with a long drive all the way to the Princeton 6, but Jamie Schwalbe's pass into a crowd in the end zone was picked off to end the threat.

The Lions regrouped on their second possession and mounted another drive as Schwalbe the passer continued to shuttle with Mike Cavanaugh, the option QB. the nine play 70-yard march ended with receiver Jim Jim Jones catching a batted ball in the end zone for a 7-0 lead.

Princeton answered with a field goal, but midway through the second quarter, Columbia made it 14-3 on a big leap by Marcellus Wiley from the one to cap a 53-yard drive.

Schwalbe ran the two-minute drill nicely just before halftime and got the Lions close enough for a short field goal by Matt Linit and it was 17-3 at the break.

Columbia let up in the second half, but not much on defense. Princeton did make it closer midway through the third quarter on a 5-yard touchdown run by QB Harry Nakielny, but after that the Lion defense bent but didn't break.

With less than five minutes left in the game, the Tigers got as close as the Columbia 12, but linebaker Rory Wilfork forced a fumble recovered by Wiley.

Princeton got into Lion territory one last time, but Nakielny's backup was picked off and the game was over. The crowd went crazy.

Two weeks later the Lions would clinch their first winning season since 1971.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Bears in the Air


It'll be bombs away in Providence (CREDIT: Brown Athletics)


Offense

Think Columbia threw the ball a lot last year? Well, Brown threw it more and it looks like it will do the same thing again this season. And why not? All that passing led to Brown averaging 31 points per game last season, best in the league.

Of course, the Brown people point to the return of running back Derek Knight, who missed just about all of last season after an injury. They say he'll lead a more balanced attack in 2008. I don't believe it. Knight had one good game against overmatched Duquesne, and I don't think he'll be getting more than 15 carries a game.

No, Phil Estes is going back to his pre-Nick Hartigan roots and will use his assets that include the Ivies best QB in Michael Dougherty, a super wide receiver in Buddy Farnham, a top tight end in Colin Cloherty, and a all-around lethal weapon in flanker Bobby Sewall.

The offensive line lost some key starters, but still has some experience because Estes started so many different players on the line last season. I expect the Bears to focus on pass blocking, and thus lighten the load for the realtively younger players on the line. The Bears did such a good job at pass blocking last year that Dougherty often just stood still and looked for targets. We'll see him do that a number of times this season as well. The teams that pressure Dougherty effectively will be able to beat Brown. The ones that don't are in trouble.


Defense

So what else is new? Brown is another team with no real strength on the defensive line. Brown was sixth in rush defense, giving up more than 180 yards on the ground per game. But the news isn't all bad. They do have three starters returning, including second team All-Ivy James Develin. And the Bears were second in the league in sacks last year.

But the real strength in the Brown defense is at linebacker. John May, Steve Ziogas and Frank Nuzzo are all top notch players. May and Nuzzo were All-Ivy. None of them are as good as former Brown linebacker Zak DeOssie, but together they make a formidable group.

The secondary poses more questions with the loss of talented defensive backs Matt Mullenax and Jose Yearwood. Darrell Harrison is back and he will be the leader against the pass. Brown is hoping the returning Nkosi Still, who missed 2007, will give Harrison some help. But this group is one of the most suspect defensive backfields in the Ivies; look for opposing teams to go to air against them almost as much as the Bears do on the other side of the ball.


Special Teams

One of the best kickers in Ivy League history is Steve Morgan... and he's gone to graduation. That leaves Brown with huge holes to fill at both kicker and punter. I don't think this will be a disaster scenario for the Bears as Estes has pretty much always recruited solid kickers, but it's hard to believe it will an area of strength in 2008.

On returns, Farnham did a pretty good job as a punt returner last season but will he get the job again this season when he means so much more to the offense? The good news is there is a lot of team speed, and someone is likely to step up.


Intangibles

Brown won't sneak up on anyone this year as everyone knows to expect a varied passing attack. The Bears are riding some good momentum after winning three of their last four games in 2007. As usual, a huge amount rides on the Harvard game in week 2. Brown hasn't defeated the Crimson since 1999.


Jake's Overall Take

Brown games are going to be exciting this season, because the Bears will pass the ball like crazy, and so will most of their opponents. Brown will win most of the shootouts, but the teams that can control the line of scrimmage and the clock like Harvard and Yale, will be able to muscle Estes' boys aside. There's always a chance the Bear defense will make some strides, but there's too much inexperience there to really think Brown will win the title.

Reversal of Fortune


Marcellus Wiley was a man among boys (CREDIT: Columbia Athletics)


Game of the Day (Day 23)

October 5, 1996

Columbia 42 Holy Cross 16



One of Columbia's most infamous losses in the 1980's was a 77-28 drubbing at Holy Cross. It remains the most points Columbia has given up in the modern era.

The game seemed like it marked the end of the Columbia-Holy Cross series. But in 1996, the two schools decided to try it again with a home-and-home series beginning at Holy Cross.

The Lions, led by Marcellus Wiley on both sides of the ball, turned the tables despite the hostile crowd and injury problems.

Columbia's starting QB Bobby Thomason was sidelined with a fractured hand, putting young Paris Childress in the driver's seat.

The Crusaders took an early 3-0 lead on a short field goal, but a beautiful 24-yard TD run by Jason Bivens made it 7-3 Lions at the end of the first quarter.

Bivens got his second TD on the next possession, capping a 65-yard drive to make it 14-3. After a 37-yard field goal by Matt Linit, Wiley scored his first TD on a short run to make it 24-3 late in the second. Holy Cross squeezed out a field goal just before halftime to make it 24-6 at the break.

The Crusaders kept the momentum in the second half, first forcing a Childress fumble and a 30-yard TD return on that fumble recovery. Moments later the Lions fumbled again at their 20, but the defense held on a fourth down play on the ensuing Holy Cross possession to stop the bleeding temporarily.

Still, in the fourth quarter the Crusaders got things started with a 40-yard field goal to narrow the score to 27-16.

But then Wiley and the Lions really took over. Coach Ray Tellier started handing the ball to Wiley more often and it paid off as he scored two more TD's to put the game away.

Childress finished the game going 18 of 27 for 184 yards, passing just enough to make the running game work well.

When the game was over, Columbia was 3-0 to start a season for the first time since 1946.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Leaky Penn?


Michael DiMaggio is one of the more talented runners in the Ivies (CREDIT: Penn Athletics)

Offense

When it comes to Penn, all everyone wants to talk about is whether QB Robert Irvin is healthy... as if he will be a world-beater if he is 100%. I'm not so sure.

I have nothing against Mr. Irvin personally and I wish him every success in life... but healthy or not, I have never been very impressed with him as a QB. I think the coaches at Penn like him mostly because, at his size and weight he looks like an NFL QB, and I think those coaches love the idea of tutoring a potential future pro. Again, that's just my take and I may be way off.

If Irvin is healthy, there still is the question of who he will throw too. Bagnoli seems high on his wide receivers, especially Marcus Lawrence. Again, I'm not so sold.

But there are some underrated players on this offense, and I the running backs, Michael DiMaggio and Bradford Blackmon are among them. Both are very talented and dangerous, in fact Columbia wanted Blackmon before he committed to Penn. And the Quaker offensive line is among the better ones in the league, or at least will be by the middle of the season. The big question is: can Penn adjust its attack from the pro-set passing strategy they've used forever, or will they rely too much on Irvin and the receivers.

The offensive line is solid if not as good as last year with high quality right tackle Chris Kovalcik with Drew Luongo and Matt Schaefer there to help. If Penn starts running the ball 40 times a game, watch out.



Defense

The Quaker's strength the last few years has been their defensive line, and it seems like a stretch that it will be anywhere near as good this year with all the graduation losses. Joe Goniprow looks good at defensive tackle, but everyone else is a question mark.

The linebackers also don't look as impressive as they have in recent years. Joe Colabella returns, but the guy who was really the defensive field general last season, Joe Anastasio, graduated.

Like so many other Ivy team defenses, the secondary is the strongest unit led by corners Tyson Maugle and all-Ivy Chris Wynn. But if the Quakers don't stop the run as effectively as they have in the past, the execellent corners and safeties won't be enough.

The bottom line is that opposing teams are going to test the Quaker defense on the ground more than this team and its fans are very used to seeing. I think a lot of teams will succeed unless some kind of adjustments are made to make up for the inexperience up front.


Special Teams

Placekicking finally seems settled after the disaster it was in 2006. Andrew Samson won't win you too many games as he is basically a 50/50 kicker from every distance, but he won't lose you too many either. Penn will break in a new punter this year and there is no way to know how that will factor into things.


Intangibles

Penn hasn't won a league title since 2003, and the pressure has to be the players and coaching staff alike. While Penn has a good chance to improve its record this season, winning the championship seems like a pretty big stretch with all the question marks at QB, wide receiver, and defensive line. Setting their sites a little lower might go a long way for this young team, rather than putting too many expectations on them.


Jake's Overall Take

The last time a Penn team posted three straight losing Ivy seasons, it cost Head Coach Gary Steele his job. Actually, I should say the loss to Columbia lost him his job, because after that loss Penn regrouped and played much better down the stretcn and it still didn't save Steele. Perhaps that's why Bagnoli seems so extra fired up at Columbia games.

Of course, Bagnoli has a big handful of championships and he is no Gary Steele. Yet this is the longest draught of his Penn career and I assume there is some concern that it may be time for a change.

I admit to having a lot of buyer's remorse every time I realize that I've picked Penn for fourth when there are so many fundamental questions about this team. But like Dartmouth, I think Penn will do well in many key situations because of the Quakers' rich talent pool at tailback. Blackmon and DiMaggio may only be sophomores, but they are a very tough 1-2 punch to stop. If they don't click, however, it could be another very disappointing season in Philadelphia.

Roar Lions Roar FAQ (2008 Edition)


Welcome to my world


As more students start to come back to campus and we get closer to the start of the season, I thought it was a good time to explain some of the basics to the many new readers coming to this site.


1) "Hey, are you an idiot? Don't you know the title of our fight song is "Roar LION Roar?"

Yes, yes I am aware of that. I'm doing something called, "a play on words." I like to pass myself off as a witty writer. I also like to pass myself off as Kaiser Wilhelm I, but a lot more people seem to go for the writer thing.


2) Why are you such a crazy Columbia fan?

First of all, let's define "crazy fan." Do I go to just about all the games? Do I get happy and depressed based on the team's performance, and then write about it online?... yes to all of the above. Do I wear a rainbow wig, paint my bare chest light blue, and beat up opposing team mascots... no, (well there was that incident with the Dartmouth kid who dresses up like a keg back in '79, but the charges were dropped).

Actually I never really realized it until after the fact, but I was pretty much destined to be a Columbia football fan even before I set foot on campus as a freshman in 1988. My grandfather was a close friend and pinochle buddy of Columbia and Chicago Bears great Sid Luckman. Wien Stadium is named after a distant relative of my grandmother's, Lawrence A. Wien. And I'm pretty sure, my mom, who isn't much a sports fan, was dragged to the Ivy League championship-clinching win over Penn at Baker Field in November, 1961 by her then-boyfriend when she was a first-year at Barnard College.


3) You Columbia fans make me sick. Why do you talk so much even though you haven't won a title in 47 years? You should just be quiet and leave us alone.

Yes, die-hard loyal CU fans tend to dominate Ivy Internet chat boards and the like. But we're usually not boasting; we're just talking about our team and the sport we obviously love. This was the same reason why the Red Sox fans were so dominant on the Web pre-2004 and also why Cubs fans follow their team so closely all over the world. Fans of super-successful Ivy football teams like Harvard and Penn just aren't battle-tested enough to take things to obsessive levels. We are.

I follow just about all the pro sports and "big-time" college football and basketball too, but those sports have lost a lot in my eyes over the years. The average pro team has more turnover than a second-term White House administration, and many of the BCS football teams are filled with young men who work hard, but can't really be called "college students." Every Ivy football player is a true student-athlete. It's damn nice as a father to take my kids to a game where they can see players who have their priorities straight.

I am sick of spors anchors on ESPN getting all high and mighty about college athletes and leagues that are corrupt and then they don't spend even a minute focusing on the players and leagues who do it right. It's hiprocritical and cynical and I won't have it.

Anyone who says that the Ivy League "isn't real college football," should be reminded that BCS football for the most part isn't reall college.


4) Okay we get it, you love the team. But why spend so much time writing about it on the Internet, and what are trying to accomplish here?

Writing is what I do anyway. It's the way I make my living and I actually enjoy it. The Internet gives you a built-in audience, however small sometimes, so if you don't hate your writing, why wouldn't you post it on the 'net?

And the point of all this is to create a virtual meeting place for CU fans, players, etc. I wanted to prove that there is a large and vibrant Columbia fan base, it just needed a sounding board. As President Reagan once told his speechwriters in 1981: "The choir needs music."

Everyone is welcome of course, but so far not ONE person has left a nasty personal attack-type comment on this blog or via email to me. Not ONE. By Internet standards, I think that's a record.

5) When do you sleep?

I'm a dad, so I still don't exactly bank on 8 hours of sleep each night. But since I don't kill myself with as much meticulous editing as I should for this site, it doesn't take me too long to get these posts online. Seriously don't worry about me, this is not as time-intensive as it looks.

6) How will the Lions do this season?

Better this year than last, that's for sure. We still have a lot of question marks, but the few Ivy teams that have players who have won back-to-back Ivy Rookie of the Year awards have all done much better in the season following the second award. Columbia is now one of those teams with Austin Knowlin winning it in 2006 and Alex Gross taking the award last year.

More important than the awards is the way this teams fights to the end. Even in the blowouts last season, the team never gave up. This trend was evident in 2006 as well, so I'm conifdent about team enthusiasm bringing us more wins this year and next.

Running Up The Score


Lou Little's team played like giants in 1946


Game of the Day (Day 24)

November 23, 1946

Columbia 59 Syracuse 21



1946 wasn't the easiest year in American history. It was the first full year after the war, but economic hardships and the scars of the war were still evident. In New York, a serious housing crisis was in full swing leaving hundreds of thousands of returning G.I.'s looking for some elbow room.

One part of the city that was especially crowded was Baker Field, where big attendance numbers were the norm that season. And more than 30,000 fans showed up on a very cold November day for the season finale pitting in-state rivals Columbia and Syracuse.

Columbia was in the middle of a very successful three-year run from 1945-1947 that would see the team go 21-6 during that span. After crushing Lafayette 46-0 the week before, the Lions were looking to finish the year on a high note.

But the game began in sloppy fashion as Gene Rossides muffed a punt return and Syracuse recovered on the Columbia 32. It only took five plays for the Orangemen to take full advantage. Rossides' old Erasmus Hall High School teammate Joe Watt caught an 18-yard TD pass for the touchdown and it was 7-0 Syracuse.

Columbia's great runner Lou Kusserow capped off a 77-yard drive after the Syracuse score and went in with an 18-yard run to make it 7-6, but the PAT attempt was no good.

Syracuse made it 14-6 on their next possession on a shorter 58-yard drive and it looked like it would be a long day for the Lions.

But Rossides, Kuserow, and some ends named Bill Swiacki and Bill Olson started rolling after that. Rossides got it started with a 31-yard TD pass to Olson and it was 14-13. Rossides set up the next score with a 36-yard pass to Swiacki before the young QB ran it in himself from the 9 to make it 19-14. It was 25-14 at the half after Don Kasprzak found Swiacki in the end zone from eleven yards out.

Columbia kept it going in the third quarter with three more TD's, a 24-yard TD pass from Rossides to Kusserow, a 29-yard TD run by Olson, and 21-yard TD catch by Olson from a pass by John Nork.

Rossides iced the game with an interception and a 56-yard return after the pickoff, setting up a 5-yard TD run by Bob Lincoln.

The Lions have not scored so many points in one game since.

Columbia finished the season 6-3, the worst single year in that three year span of 1945, '46 and '47, but the team was still impressive. The record 158,000 people who came out to see the Lions at home that season would agree.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Big Green Question Mark


Eric Paul is back for the Big Green in 2008 (CREDIT: Dartmouth Sports)


Offense

Critics will point to Dartmouth's question marks at QB and the offensive line, and they are a big concern. But Dartmouth has something that just about every other Ivy team doesn't, a gamer at tailback in Milan Williams. Is Milan Williams going to make people forget about Mike McLeod at Yale? No. But I think he has a real shot at a 1,000-yard season. Columbia was lucky enough to play the Big Green last year during one of the two weeks Williams was out of the lineup.

The fact that Williams has been named a co-captain is another encouraging sign for this offense and Dartmouth fans in general.

As for the QB position, I think Alex Jenny, who played well in the Columbia game last year, will win the starting job and he has enough talent to lead.

The wide receiver corps does not instill the most confidence with a lot of new faces, but there is hope that Eric Paul will be back at 100% and challenge for All-Ivy status. Paul was out with an injury most of 2007. Phillip Galligan is the most experienced receiver back from last year.

Only one real starter is back on the offensive line, but he's a good one: Alex Rapp. This is a major concern though, and this problem more than any other will probably keep the Big Green out of the top three in the final standings.


Defense

Another top player who missed 2007 due to injury is a key to Dartmouth's hopes on defense. It's safety Ian Wilson who should help the Big Green improve on the 266 yards passing allowed per game, (7th in the league), last season.

Like just about every other Ivy, there isn't a lot of star power on the defensive line, but I like Max Copello, who certainly had a nice game against the Lions last year.

Andrew Dete leads the linebackers along with Joe Battaglia who is the top returning tackler on the team.


Special Teams

Senior Brian Scullin is a solid punter and Phil Galligan does a good job returning kickoffs, (not so much on punts).

But the real question is at placekicker, where the Big Green needs to fill an open slot due to graduation. Frankly, Dartmouth has not been strong kicking the ball since Tyler Lavin graduated a few years back. Getting lucky here with a new kicker could help the Big Green in a big way... or vice versa.


Intangibles

Buddy Teevens is in the 4th year of his second stint at Dartmouth and the team seems to be generally improving in a tough environment. I say tough because of the resurgence of Harvard as a power and that always seems to take something away from Big Green when it comes to regional recruiting and support.

The Teevens factor should loom large though, as he is someone who has already seen the "big time" college football world and come back. Any fears that he will bolt again or leave this program in general are probably more unfounded here than any other Ivy.


Jake's Overall Take

Perhaps I am overrating Milan Williams, or perhaps I'm overrating the value of a potential 1,000 yard rusher. But it just seems like Dartmouth has something so many other Ivies don't and I think Williams will step it up this year because he has something to prove.

But like every other team in this league other than Harvard, there are too many questions about the offensive and defensive lines to feel confident about picking the Big Green to do better than 5-5.

Stealing in the Night


The Liberty Cup Trophy


Game of the Day (Day 25)

September 17, 2005

Columbia 23 Fordham 17



For this year's surviving 4-year seniors, it's been a roller coaster ride all the way through. But their Columbia careers started on a high note with this thrilling win at Fordham to begin the 2005 season.

Here's an extremely detailed account of the game I wrote three years ago.

Cheers to our seniors as they set out for one last charge up the Ivy football hill. Y

JV Schedule Released!



Now we have the 2008 Junior Varsity schedule and as reported before, it features five games. More J.V. games are a good thing for this team that lacks a super number of upperclassmen. The time of the Fordham game is not set yet, but here's what we know:

Sun. Sept. 21 FORDHAM, tbd (all the way from the Bronx!)
Sun. Oct. 5 at Princeton, 1 p.m.
Fri. Oct. 17 BRIDGTON ACADEMY, 12:30 p.m. (all the way from Maine, ladies and gentlemen!)
Fri., Nov. 14 CORNELL, 4 p.m. (all the way from Ithaca, ladies and gentlemen!)
Fri., Nov. 21 at Brown, 3:30 p.m.


More football is a good thing.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Tiger Trouble?


Mark Paski is a rarity of rarities, a junior three-year starter on the offensive line (CREDIT: Princeton Athletics)



(The team-by-team Ivy predictions continue with a look at my 6th place team, Princeton. My detailed Columbia prediction will come last.)


Offense

The only team that scored fewer points than Princeton last year was Columbia, and many of the key Tiger skill players are gone this year. The first big question is at QB, where on the heels of one good game in his only start last year against Dartmouth, Brian Anderson is getting the nod as the #1 signal caller. It's really the only logical choice right now for Head Coach Roger Hughes, but one would expect a program like Princeton to have a deeper bench.

The running back situation is also in question. Workhorse fullback Rob Toresco has graduated and he will be missed. Senior R.C. Lagomarsino could step up from a supporting role the last two seasons, but he'll get pushed by junior Jordan Culbreath who showed some flashes last season. The big problem in the running game is the fact that now-graduated QB Bill Foran was the top ground gainer last season, and it's not clear if Anderson will leg it out as much in 2008. But even if he isn't as quick, look for Princeton to keep whoever starts at QB as mobile as possible.

The wide receiving corps is also suffering from graduation losses, most notably Brendan Circle, who had his best game last season against Columbia. Adam Berry is back, and I expect him to have a big senior year and fellow senior Will Thanheiser is also very talented. Neither is a game-breaker though.

The tight ends all look pretty untested. I don't think the Tigers will use this position for much more than blocking again this year.

Princeton's much-studied and talked-about offensive line, (this was the totally green group in 2006 that held up just enough to allow the Tigers to win the championship), is now a veteran, if not a spectacular group. And with the running QB game plan, a lot of their problems are smoothed over. Keeping the QB mobile allowed Princeton to gain the second most rushing yards of any Ivy team last year... sure they were more than 900 YARDS behind the #1 Yale team in that category, but second place is better than the other six spots behind them.


Defense

In contrast to most other Ivy teams, Princeton has a strong and veteran defensive line this season. All-Ivy Pete Buchignani, Tom Methvin and Matt Koch make up a formidable group that should help the Tigers improve on the already decent 128 yards per game they gave up on the ground in 2007. Upfront, this is a great group.

But then things get very iffy. The linebackers are inexperienced and so is the secondary. Cart Kelly is a good corner but I'm not sure the pass defense will be much better than it was last year, when teams like Columbia absolutely shredded the Tigers in the air.

In short, the front line will have to have a great year against the rush and rack up some sacks and pressures on passing downs. An injury of a letdown on the defensive line would be disastrous for Princeton.


Special Teams

Kicking is a strength for the Tigers where Ryan Coyle is a top punter and Connor Louden is a dependable short-range placekicker. The return game is just average, and that is a liability


Intangibles

The momentum and renewed school spirit that seemed to be growing after the 2006 championship may be waning just a bit in Tigertown. It's beginning to look more and more that Princeton's seeming rise as a general program was more about Jeff Terrell than anything else. Now that he's two years gone, Princeton seems like it's just an ordinary team that's just as likely to play well as it is to lay an egg on any given Saturday.


Jake's Overall Take

I'd like to comment more about the key players on this team... but too many of them are unknown. And therein lies the problem.

Princeton has such great resources, so it's downright surprising that so many key positions have so many question marks. I still think Roger Hughes is a good coach and a very good guy, but this is a mistake you don't see guys like Tim Murphy or Al Bagnoli making.

If the QB Anderson plays like he did in his one start last season, Princeton could surprise. But either way, people will pass a lot against these guys and that will put pressure on the offense to score more points than last season and certainly more than they needed in 2006.

The Tigers have a tough overall schedule, especially early in the season with an unusual, (good for them), trip to The Citadel and a week 4 home game against Colgate. Princeton may need to use those early tough games to figure out its starting squad and then the team might enjoy a better second half.

Overall this team may not exactly be on the decline, but it certainly seems like it's taking a break. Whether this break time will be spent in the middle of the pack or at the bottom of it is up to the defensive line and the quarterbacks.

Ivy League Football Predictions


Nathan Ford and the Big Red face a brutal schedule in 2008


Once again, before I do these team analyses, please look again at the disclaimer above AND remember that anyone who feels 'disssed, slammed, hurt, or generally in a state of ennui about what I write here should take it out on me and me alone.

Also, remember that we are talking about real sports here, and not pre-nursery t-ball where everyone has to be declared "winners." I believe in the spirit of competition and you should too.

That said, does this mean I'm 100% certain of these predictions? The truth is, (and I'm not just saying this to sugarcoat matters), is that every team other than Harvard is kind of a crapshoot this season. Columbia could finish as high as second and it wouldn't shock me. Yale could collapse, (especially if Mike McLeod stumbles or gets injured). Penn could fall apart too or turnaround big-time.

But Harvard is a very, very deep team with strenghts on both lines that just about no one else in the league can match. Of course, the Crimson have never repeated as champs under Coach Tim Murphy, so they have some history to overcome at least.

Obviously, I will do a more in-depth look at Columbia in the coming days. But I do think 2008 will be a lot better than 2007 was as this team matures. I also think 1-2 things falling into place could make the Lions contenders.


Let's start my more detailed breakdown of each team with Cornell:


Offense

The buzz around the Big Red is the return of 2005's 1,000-yard rusher Luke Siwula who was injured most of last year. The hope in Ithaca is that a healthy 5th year Siwula will combine with junior Randy Barbour to make for a potent running attack.

Veterans abound at the other skill positions as well. QB Nathan Ford is heading into his third season as a starter and Head Coach Jim Knowles is looking for a breakout final year from him. Zac Canty, Jesse Baker, and Bryan Walters make for a very good wide receiving corps. Junior Stephen Liuzza is on-again, off-again as either a wide receiver or a QB, but Knowles hasn't been able to figure out how best to utilize his speed and other talents.

On the offensive line there is trouble. Three starters have graduated, including an All-Ivy center. Coach Knowles seemed to be a bit concerned about the line in his preseason interviews.

Overall, the offense SEEMS impressive as it scored more than 27 points per game last season and returns more than a large chunk of its starters. But looks can be deceiving in this area... stay tuned for why.



Defense

The Big Red defensive line has some veteran experience, but there are still a lot of holes to fill. Frank Kunis is the leader, but not a game-breaker. He will need some help to improve on Cornell's 160+ yards rushing allowed per game, (5th in the league), and just 18 sacks made, (tied for fourth in the Ivies), in 2007.

The Big Red are also trying to fill some big holes at linebacker where All-Ivy Ryan Blessing and Doug Lempa have graduated. Graham Lihn will move over from the D-line to help out here and he should have an impact.

The defensive backfield is led by Tim Bax, who some consider to be the best corner in the Ivies. But he is also a little lonely due to graduation. Bax and the key returnees can boast that Cornell gave up just 203 yards per game passing last season, only Harvard, Yale and Columbia gave up fewer yards in the air and the Lions did that mostly because people were too busy running against us to throw. So Cornell was essentially the third-best pass defense in the league in 2007.


Special Teams

Any discussion about the Big Red and special teams begins and ends with the return game. This is absolutely the best return team in the Ivies, and Columbia got a double dose of that last season with a kickoff return and a punt return for touchdowns that basically made the difference in the game. Bryan Walters proved his 2006 freshman season was no fluke with lots of huge returns, especially on punts. Shane Kilcoyne burned lots of teams on kickoff returns. The return game is easily the most exciting part of this team two-years running.

Nick Maxwell is a solid punter and he is back, but veteran placekicker Peter Zell is gone to graduation. It looks like the Big Red will split the field goal and kickoff duties between two kickers this season. But this is a shaky slot right now.


Intangibles

Cornell's great strength over the last few seasons has been home field advantage. But that may fade this season because they've finally replaced that brutal old school Astroturf with FieldTurf... and it was that horrible turf that I think helped the Big Red win and rack up a few more return yards especially.


Jake's Overall Take

Last season the window closed on Cornell's chances to surprise and break into the top three. This year, the Big Red will see the bottom fall out. A tough schedule and deep losses to graduation are big reasons why.

The Big Red should be happy with 33 seniors returning, an unusually high number, but not enough of them are impact players. The names of the returning seniors are not as impressive as the ones who are now gone to graduation like Lempa and Blessing.

Nathan Ford is one of those returning seniors, and he is just not an effective QB. Cornell's seemingly impressive offensive numbers are more about their return game and general special teams than strong leadership and skill at QB. I would be surprised if Ford is still starting in week 9 or 10.

The weak defensive line is a major problem, even though this is a league where weaker D-Lines abound. Some of that upfront weakness was helped by the outstanding linebackers last season, but those linebackers are mostly gone now.

The best thing Cornell has going are the numerous talented running backs and wide receivers on the roster. The only trouble is that the offensive line is inexperienced and the QB is not an ace. That's a bad combination.

Also, Siwula is not the game-breaker many who cover this league seem to think he is. He ran for 1,000 yards in 2005 behind a superb line that included a future-NFLer. I don't expect him to gain more than 800 yards this season.

Not to beat a dead horse here, but I also don't think having two top runners equals the sum of its parts. Columbia learned this the hard way in 2004 when the Lions had Ayo Oluwole and Rashad Biggers healthy and ready in the backfield at the same time. The result was both runners failed to get a good consistent thing going.

When you talk wins and losses there are also some big questions. Cornell won two Ivy games last season, and they were both at home against Brown and Columbia. I think there is a very good chance they will lose to both of those teams on the road this time around. At home, the Big Red will have to face a tough Yale team that is good enough to wipe out any remaining home field advantange in Ithaca. If things go really well for Cornell, they could challenge Dartmouth and Princeton at Schoelkopf, but I'm not betting on that right now.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Unpack Some School Spirit!


If you haven't learned the school fight song yet, be ashamed... be VERY ashamed! (PHOTO CERDIT: BWOG)

So the class of 2012, (except for the football team and probably the soccer teams who arleady arrived last week), are moving on to campus right now!

That means it's time for the:

Columbia Football Freshmen FAQ *2008 Edition!
(*15% new material for this year!)


1) Is Columbia football going to be a subject on the final?

Yes, yes it is. Study this blog hard my friends. Your 4.0 GPA dreams rely on it.



2) Where's the football stadium?


The Lions play at Wien Stadium about 100 blocks north of campus at the Baker Athletics Complex. It's a beautiful spot and with the construction of YET ANOTHER parking garage less than two blocks away, parking for your parents or friends with cars is no longer an issue for the first time in more than 20 years.

The best way to get to the games from campus is to take the #1 UPTOWN train to 215th street and then walk three blocks to Wien. Before you start whining about the trip, (you should leave about 25 minutes or so to get there), let me let you in on an little secret: the subway is your friend. You will NOT enjoy your four years at CU if you don't start getting used to using the subway early and often. There is no better way to get around this city, NONE. Yes, it would be nice to walk to the games at a spot right on campus, but it can also be fun to get out of the Morningside Heights neighborhood once in awhile.



3) Um, I heard the team is really bad...

The last 40 years have been mostly bad for this proud college team. After giving the sports world some of its greatest stars like Lou Gehrig and Sid Luckman, Columbia started to become a consistent loser in the mid-1960's. Our last winning season was in 1996 when the team went 8-2, and our last Ivy League title was in 1961.

But before that the Lions actually won the Rose Bowl in January 1934, and ended Army's then-record winning streak with a huge win at Baker Field in 1947. More recently, the Lions have boasted some great individual stars, like former NFL All-Pro Marcellus Wiley.


4)I'm a big sports fan, isn't Ivy League football going to look like high school to me?

Where'd you go to high school, the set of Friday Night Lights? All the Ivy football teams use a much more sophisticated system than anything you saw in high school. Columbia in particular uses intricate and innovative formations on offense and defense. Football experts who watch Ivy football for the first time are always amazed by how professional the games look.

The contests are also exciting. Most Ivy games are close and filled with big plays. And each Ivy team has at least one player in the NFL right now, so there's likely to be 2-3 future pros on the field at any time. Is it Ohio St.-Michigan? No, but it is great football no matter how you slice it.


5) But I think football is a sexist, warlike exercise that helps to oppress the indigenous people of New Guinea.

Please Professor Bulliet, this forum is for the kids.


6) What else is there to do at the games?


There's a quirky, funny band that's worth listening to from time to time, (depending on how original they're going to be with their humor and whether they use their wit to support the team instead of bash it). And the cheerleaders are great too. Basically, being at the games is a great way to enjoy some time outdoors. Leave your laptops in your dorm room.



7) Oh yeah, who the Hell are you?


I'm a class of '92 alum which means I am positively ancient at age 37, (I was a sophomore or a junior depending on the year you were born). When I came to campus, the Lions were in the midst of a 44-game losing streak that they finally ended at my first homecoming against Princeton. I've been a huge fan of the team since I first stepped foot at CU, and it's been a lot of fun despite the lack of championships. Of course, I expect that drought will end sometime soon.

I'm also do the color commentary on the radio broadcasts of the games that I suggest you tune into when the Lions are on the road, (when we're at home, just come to the games, okay?).


8) Who plays on the team, a bunch of dumb jocks?

Hmm... I guess when you went to the sensitivity training that taught you how to not be sexist, racist, homophobic, etc. they somehow forgot to tell you to not be prejudiced against athletes. I'm SHOCKED, SHOCKED! Seriously, the football players are all excellent students, a good number of whom could have been accepted to CU even without athletics. Don't listen to ANYONE on campus who tells you otherwise or tells you to look down on anyone before you get the facts yourself. This should be obvious on what's supposed to be such a diverse and inclusive campus, but you'll soon learn that everyone has the potential to be bigoted. Be unique and buck that trend now!


9) Okay, I'm sold. When's the first game?

The first game is a mere 26 days from now, September 20th at HOME at 1230pm. This is a special game because it's for the Liberty Cup, a trophy that was made in 2002 to remember the victims of 9/11 from both Columbia and Fordham, (and there were quite a few, I'm sorry to say). Columbia has won three of the six Liberty Cup games so far, and that means Fordham has won... anyone, anyone. (Isn't this supposed to be a smart class?)


10) Are we going to win some more games this year?

I think so, and you can actually help make that happen by showing up to the games and supporting the team on campus as well. The players have been working hard all offseason and they deserve your appreciation.

News! We're Getting News!


Updates from the Coach!

I am loving the daily updates we've been getting from Coach Wilson at training camp. Hey, I know we're not getting state secrets, (nor should we want any in a public forum), but it does feel like we have a general understanding of what it's like. Everyone responsible for getting this done deserves our thanks.

These kids and coaches are putting in long days in a desperate struggle to get ready for the season before the brutal reality of classes sets in. I don't know how the incoming freshmen handle all the changes, but perhaps the familiarity of working out on a football field is a comfort to them.

Someone told me registration is no longer the Hellish experience it was when I went to Columbia. I just remember terribly long lines and trying to do the math in my head on how much time I needed to get from one class to the next. Going to Columbia is pretty good for your health because you will do some serious walking. I gained a few pounds after graduation without it.


The New York Times published a preview of the Ivy League football season yesterday. Columbia was picked last, which was not a surprise, and neither was the Times' decision to make the season all about Mike McLeod. We news media types love to personalize the story; it makes it easier both for story focus and legwork. But if I were McLeod or a Yale fan I would be worried. The last time the media made and Ivy season about one guy it was Clifton Dawson in 2006, and he and his Harvard Crimson underachieved that year. I would hate to start the season with a giant bullseye on the back of my jersey.

But I am grateful for the Times coverage. I was once told that Ivy football stories get a huge amount of hits on the Times online page when they actually publish them. You'd think that would wake some people up at that paper about giving more coverage to Ivy sports in general, but that would be asking too much. Maybe the ad sales people would be interested. I regularly page through the Times sports section and notice NO ADS... I mean NONE. Today I saw one for the U.S. Open coverage. ONE! I think advertisers wouldn't mind marketing to Ivy grads and their families, though.

Later today, I will bite the bullet and release my own predictions for Ivy football. I will release the basic list of my predicted final standings and then do daily capsules of each team, my predicted 8th place team first and counting backward to the predicted 1st place team.


Game of the Day (Day 26)

October 26, 1996

Columbia 13 Yale 10



Columbia's defense in 1996 was the strongest just about any Lion fan has ever seen. And it was its most dominant in this surprisingly close game against a weak Yale team in front of almost 25,000 fans at the Bowl.

The Lions jumped out to a 10-0 lead at the half on a short field goal by Matt Linit and a bootleg four yard TD run by QB Bobby Thomason, but again, offense was not the story.

On every Yale offensive play, Marcellus Wiley was in the backfield before the play was over. It was the most blatant example of harassment I've ever seen. He finished with seven tackles, four for a loss including two sacks. He also pressured Eli QB Kris Barber into three interceptions. He also blocked a field goal attempt in the first quarter.

On offense Wiley carried the ball seven times out of the wishbone and gained 35 yards.

But the Lion offense got sloppy in the third quarter and let Yale back into the game. A couple of turnovers made it 10-10 going into the fourth quarter.

Both offenses seemed stuck until Columbia put together a drive that did not stall until it reached the Yale 18 with about 2:30 left in the game. From there, Linit hit the 35-yard field goal to give Columbia the victory and a 6-0 record.

The win also made the Lions 3-0 in the Ivies, winning all three games by a total of seven points.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Games of the Day (Day 28 & 27)


Archie Roberts often ripped out the hearts of the competition on the football field, now he works to keep the players' hearts healthy


(I'm off to Hershey Park and the Hershey Lodge this weekend, (please don't rescue me if I get stranded there), so I need to get my games of the day in now).


Game of the Day (Day 28)

November 16, 1963

Columbia 33 Penn 8


Two weeks before his remarkable performance against Rutgers, Archie Roberts lit things up at Baker Field versus Penn to close out the home schedule.

Things started well for Penn as the Quakers mounted a good drive after the opening kickoff, but Al Butts intercepted a Penn pass at the Columbia 13.

Both teams then got into a pattern of trading punts, (one kick by Roberts landed dead at the Penn 6), before the Lions finally took over at the Quaker 49 and moved quickly down the field. Roberts hit Bob Donahue for a seven yard pass for the TD and a 7-0 lead.

On the other side of the ball, Donahue forced the Penn QB to fumble and he recovered at the Quaker 18. A few plays later, Roberts tossed a short TD to Jerry Hug for the 14-0 advantage.

Penn answered with a 62-yard drive and a two point conversion to make it 14-8 and it looked like it would be a tight game from then on.

But it wasn't.

After a Lion punt, the Quakers fumbled the ball back to Columbia at their own 35. The Lions moved the ball 12 yards more to the Penn 23 before sending in the field goal unit. That was a surprising development because Columbia hadn't successfully converted a field goal all year, (something that really caused their bitter 7-6 loss to Princeton a few weeks before), but John Bashaar finally made his first kick after 13 previous misses and it was 17-8 at the half.

The third quarter was scoreless, but in the early moments of the final quarter Roberts provided some big-time excitement.

He hit Donahue with a 41-yard pass to set up a play where he carried it into the end zone himself from nine yards out for the TD. Then hit Donahue for the two pointer and it was 25-8.

A couple of minutes later, Roberts lined up for a punt, but threw the ball instead for a 49-yard touchdown. Archie faked a pass and ran it in for another conversion and the scoring was over.

Roberts was a perfect 9 for his first 9 passes and finished 12 of 15 for 174 yards. He also ran 12 times for 55 yards and punted for an average of 39.1 yards per kick.

And by the end of the game he had set the Ivy League record for passing yards after just two seasons and 14 games. He broke the old record set by fellow Columbian Tom Vasell over three seasons. Roberts had already broken the Ivy career record for completions two weeks earlier.


Miracle in the Rain

Game of the Day (Day 27)

November 3, 1962

Columbia 25 Cornell 21



Archie Roberts didn't have too many opportunities to pull games out at the final gun, but as a young sophomore he did just that at a rainy Baker Field in late 1962.

Cornell dominated at first, jumping out to a 14-0 lead in the second quarter before the 19-year-old Roberts got used to throwing the wet ball.

Big Red QB Gary Wood looked like he would be the star after scoring the TD on a short run and then connecting for a 52-yard TD for the second score. Legendary kicker Peter Gogolak was perfect on the two PAT's.

Harry Hersh capped off a decent Columbia drive after that with a short TD run, but the two point conversion failed, and Cornell looked in control with the 14-6 halftime lead.

It looked even better for the Big Red after another TD made it 21-6 early in the third.

But then the turning point happened, Cornell fumbled a Roberts punt and Hersh picked it up at the Columbia 38. The Lions finally scored on another short Hersh run on that drive and it was 21-12.

In the fourth quarter, Hersh showed off his skill as a receiver, grabbing a 55-yard pass from Roberts that set up the Lions' third TD, (which Hersh scored on a nine yard run), and made it 21-19.

But the Big Red defense stiffened after that and the Lions had to settle for one last chance with 2:16 left to go and the ball on their own 16 yard line.

Roberts was ready. He hit Harvey Rubin with two straight passes and then found Robert Nelson for another completion. Cornell then went into a prevent defense, and Roberts burned them with a nice underneath pass to Tom O'Connor that put the Lions on the Big Red 24. The next play was an incomplete pass, but with 19 seconds left Roberts found Al Butts with a defender all over him in the end zone for the winning TD, (in fact a pass interference flag was thrown on the play before Butts made the grab).

Cornell's last ditch Hail Mary pass after the kickoff was batted down by Roberts himself as time ran out.

The legend of Archie Roberts was born.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Delayed Sensation


Archie Roberts rolls out


The Columbia Athletics Web site is posting periodic training camp updates from Coach Wilson. This is a great development and should help quench our neverending thirst for news about the team.


Columbia alum and New York Times reporter Warren St. John has written a fascinating book about what makes us football fans. He's seen football fandom from both ends of the spectrum as this article relates.


Game of the Day (Day 29)

November 30, 1963

Columbia 35 Rutgers 28



When President John F. Kennedy was shot, the Ivy League didn't make the same mistake the NFL made and it cancelled all the football games scheduled for the following day... including the Harvard-Yale game at the Bowl.

That pushed the date for the final weekend of Ivy games to November 30, 1963, and it looked like it might delay the impressive momentum Columbia QB Archie Roberts was building up in his junior season.

The weekend before the assassination, Roberts was dominant in a 33-8 win over Penn at Baker Field to finish out the Ivy schedule with a 2-4-1 record. But the cross-river rivalry game at Rutgers remained, and those who braved the week's delay and the cold on the near-December day in New Brunswick really got their money's worth.

At first, it was all Columbia. The Lions went 77 yards after the opening kickoff and got the touchdown on a 36-yard Roberts pass to Bob Donahue.

Later in the first quarter, Roberts intercepted a Scarlet Knight pass, (Roberts was an excellent safety in the two-way playing days), and that gave the Lions the ball back at their own 46. On that drive, Gene Thompson broke off two tackles and rumbled to a 23-yard TD run to make it 14-0.

But it was about to get better in the second quarter. Jerry Hug recovered a Rutgers fumble at the Scarlet Knight 25 and Roberts took it in from the one moments later for the 21-0 lead.

Later in the quarter Roberts took the air again, hitting Donanue with a 34-yard pass and then Ed Malmstrom with an 11-yarder for Columbia's fourth TD.

It was 28-0 at the half and it seemed over.

But it wasn't.

A penalty on the opening kickoff in the third quarter gave Rutgers the ball at the Lion 36 and it only took five plays for the Scarlet Knights to cash in with a TD. The two point conversion failed.

On the second play of Columbia's ensuing possession, the Lions fumbled away the ball at their own 34. It only took two plays for Rutgers to get another TD, and with the second straight unsuccessful conversion it was now 28-12.

The Lions turned it over on downs on their own 35 when Roberts failed to get a yard on a sneak. Three passes later and a successful conversion made it 28-20.

Columbia and Rutgers traded a few turnovers, (one of them an interception by Roberts and another an interception THROWN by Roberts), before Rutgers got it going again in the fourth quarter. A 56-yard screen pass highlighted a 62-yard drive and another successfull two-pointer incredibly tied score at 28-28.

The Lions decided to stick on the ground for their next possession and it paid off. After four decent gainers, Roberts kept the ball for a 38-yard TD run and Columbia was back ahead 35-28. But there were still seven minutes left to play.

Rutgers got the drive going and milked the clock until they had a 3rd down at the Lions 10 with just over a minute to go. The 3rd down pass was deflected at the line by Harvey Rubin.

But the 4th down pass went off cleanly and was headed straight for an open receiver in the end zone when it was suddenly broken up by... Archie Roberts! His near interception saved the game.

Those kinds of heart-stopping performances must have prepared Roberts for his later life, when he became one of, if not the top heart surgeons in the world.

Roberts is now giving back to his beloved sport with the Living Heart Foundation project I've written about here in the past.

Hey Mr. Weather Man...


As the boys hit the field at Wien Stadium today I can report that it is 80 degrees here in Midtown Manhattan with no hummidity... thank goodness.

Of course, that gets me thinking about how bad the weather was at most of our home games... actually all but one of our home games, last season.

It rained against Marist in week 2.

It rained hard against Yale in week 7.

It was overcast and rained a bit against Harvard in week 8.

It was overcast and a little wet against Brown in week 10.

Only Homecoming versus Penn gave us nice weather throughout, and well... we lost that one by a lot.

The funny thing about the Baker Field Athletics Complex is it tends to accentuate what the general weather conditions are on any given day. So if it's a nice day elsewhere in New York, it tends to be downright glorious at Baker Field. But if it's gloomy, well it seems worse up there.

My money is on better weather this time around. And that should mean better attendance as well, which is always the goal.


Game of the Day (Day 30)

November 14, 1998

Columbia 22 Cornell 10


Speaking of the weather, I'm often asked by people from California and the Deep South just how cold it gets at Columbia football games.

I don't know if global warming has anything to do with it, (I'm not even sure I buy that alarmist stuff), but I can count on one hand just how many times I've been very cold at a Columbia home game and still have a few fingers left over.

But it was a chilly day in late 1998 when the Lions returned home to face the Cornell Big Red.

It felt a lot colder after a sloppy first quarter left the Lions trailing 10-0 and searching for answers. Luckily two-way star Chris Tillotson had plenty of them as he led the Lions to victory.

First he caught a key 20-yard pass to set up a short field goal and then made a nice 12-yard punt return to help Columbia pick up another chip shot FG to make it 10-6 at the half.

Then Tillotson really took over.

Early in the third quarter, he grabbed a fumble by Cornell's Justin Bush on a hop and dashed 70 yards for a touchdown and a 13-10 lead.

Tillotson was just getting warmed up. He began another Columbia drive with a 17-yard gain on a reverse, and that eventually led to Kravitz's third field goal to make it 16-10.

Tillotson didn't do it ALL by himself. Kirby Mack did pull off a splendid 48-yard TD run for the final points of the game.

It was also a decent game for freshman Johnathan Reese, who had 70 yards on 10 carries.

But Tillotson still wasn't finished.

After that Mack TD, Cornell mounted a drive that looked good until Tillotson forced Big Red receiver Joe Splendorio to fumble and Lion linebacker Kevin Wright recovered.

Minutes later, Tillotson truly iced the game with his second interception of the contest.

Tillotson finished the year as a first-team All-Ivy free safety, but Columbia fans knew he was a force on offense as well.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Catching Up With Tad


Outside of a few factual errors, (and I'm guilty of them too sometimes), this article in the Vancouver Sun about Tad Crawford is a good one. Someone just needs to tell them that Ike is a former Columbia president, not an alum, (the guys at West Point tend to get a little sore about these things, and they have guns).

And here's another piece about how a top veteran is teaching Crawford the ropes even though that may mean he'll be replaced very soon.

Speaking of West Point, the program for the 1938 Columbia-Army game at Michie Stadium arrived in my mail yesterday. It is in excellent condition.

Considering Columbia was the road team for the game, the program is chock full of great Lion material including an article written by Lou Little about football rules. There are close-up pictures of just about all the Columbia starters and a long article about the history of athletics at CU written by the Columbia athletic director at the time. Who would include a 3-page piece written by the opposing team's AD in a program?

As is often the case with old publications, the ads are the most telling. The majority of them were for restaurans, inns, and shops in the nearby town of Newburgh, NY. There wasn't a chain or a corporation among them. Now I'm not saying that for editorial purposes, it's just an interesting comment about the changing nature of commerce in this country from a service economy of small proprietors to major corporations.

And the last big thing I noticed was how small these varsity squads were. Both teams suited up about 30-35 guys. That must have been brutal.

The media guides for 1971 and 1983 should get to me next week.

Official Preview Now Online


Let's hear the news!

A nice overview of the football team on this first day of training camp is now live on the Columbia Athletics site.

I won't editorialize about any of the comments in the preview other than to say that it's great to hear as much as we are about the team at this juncture. This blog aside, the amount of information available to Columbia fans has really jumped in recent years and I think that's a good thing.


Game of the Day (Day 31)

October 7, 1995

Columbia 24 Penn 14



The Penn Quakers of the early 90's were a formidable group. They were stacked with All-Ivy players on both sides of the line, and they rarely made mistakes.

After just being edged out for the Ivy title in Coach Al Bagnoli's first season in 1992, the Quakers started rolling in 1993. They finished '93 and '94 with undefeated season, and their winning streak was at 24 by the time they came up to Baker Field on a rainy Saturday in early October.

The Quakers boasted future Major League Baseball star Mark DeRosa at quarterback, all-time Ivy great and All-American Miles Macik at wide receiver, and many, many more.

But this would prove to be the zenith of the Mike Cavanaugh era at Columbia, and with Cavanaugh doing the work at QB and Rory Wilfork dominating things on defense, the 1995 Lions were at the top of their game.

There was also a major contribution from free safety Joe Cormier, a talented free safety who was the catalyst at the beginning and then again at the end of this game.

Cormier's interception of DeRosa gave the Lions the ball early in the first quarter and Cavanaugh faked out a defender for a 34-yard TD run moments later.

But Penn fought back and tied it at 7. The Lions struggled to make it 10-7 at the half on a 27-yard field goal by Joe Aldrich.

Penn took the lead on a 40-yard DeRosa-to-Mike Fabish TD pass, but midway through the quarter Roy Hanks returned a punt 39-yards for the go-ahead TD.

But down just 17-14, Penn had plenty of time left. The Quakers moved to the Lion 34 before disaster struck. On second down, DeRosa was sacked for 7 yards. And on third down he was sacked for 12 more yards and fumbled. Senior Eric Keck recovered that fumble at the Quaker 47.

The Lions milked the clock but kept moving forward on the possession until Cavanaugh took it in from the 2 for the 24-14 lead.

Cormier sealed it on the ensuing Penn possession with his second interception.

Cavanaugh finished the game 10 of 15 passing for 147 yards and rushed 29 times for 92yards. Wilfork had 11 tackles, four of them for a loss, one of which was a sack.

It was easily one of Columbia's greatest victories of all time. Within a month of the win, Cavanaugh and Cormier had both suffered career-ending injuries. The 1995 season fell apart without them.

But that day against Penn was just perfect.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Welcome Back!


Fans under 35 will not understand why this picture is here


The Columbia Football Lions report to Coach Wilson today and training camp is underway. There should be some basic reports coming out of the official athletics web site somewhat soon and of course, keep your eyes on the roster page for any changes in weights, etc. (I will point those changes as soon as they are updated, or as soon as I realize something's changed... which could take a while).



The 2008 Media Guide

Seniors Drew Quinn and Jordan Davis adorn the cover the 2008 football media guide, which is for sale now here. Have I told everyone how addicted I am to media guides? I do collect vintage Lions media guides and they are always a joy. I have the 1971 and 1983 guides on their way to me in the mail this very week, along with a game program from the Columbia-Army contest of 1938... you know the one where Sid Luckman become a true legend.


A few housekeeping announcements. Next week I will post my 2008 Ivy League football Predictions made up of a team-by-team analysis of each squad going from my predicted 8th place team first to my predicted champion last.

My Columbia preview will be more detailed and rolled out separately. It will include my "Keys to the Season" much like my "Keys to the Game" segment that I do with Jerry Recco during our Columbia football broadcasts.

Speaking of broadcasts, while the official details are not yet available, Jerry and I WILL be back for another year doing the games on Columbia's website stream and most likely a local radio station here in New York as well. Jerry doesn't need to, but I will try to do a better job this season! Jerry has been busy lately covering Jets training camp for WFAN where a little-known player named Brett Favre is making a wee bit of news.

But getting back to the return of the football team to campus, do any of you remember how great move-in day was every year at Columbia? If you were lucky enough to get there early, you usually enjoyed almost a week in New York City with no classes or other obligations. Good times. Of course, the football players don't get that freedom, but I hope they enjoy today anyway. Especially the freshmen, who at least won't have to sweat through a practice yet.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Championship Quality


Harvard Stadium, as it appeared in 1961

Game of the Day (Day 32)

October 21, 1961

Columbia 26 Harvard 14



After the dinner with the coaches event last night, I stopped by one of the trophy cases at Chrystie Field House and saw the game ball from the 1961 contest at Harvard that essentially proved that those Lions were the best in the league.

I knew then that this game would have to be my next "Game of the Day."

The Lions roared into Cambridge with a 2-1 record, coming off an 11-0 shutout at the Yale Bowl that stunned the league. Columbia's offense expected a boost in this game as halfback Tom Haggerty was back from injury after missing the Yale game.

Harvard was 1-2, but 1-0 in the Ivies and the two losses had been extremely close. The Crimson's defense was considered top notch.

The first quarter was scoreless, but Columbia's varied running attack filled with reverses and sweeps finally broke through for a long drive capped off by Tom O'Connor's six-yard touchdown. The two-point conversion try was no good.

On Harvard's next possession, the Crimson had a bad snap on a punt and were forced to eat the ball at their own 19. Haggerty scored on a nine-yard TD moments later to make it 12-0 as the ensuing two-point try was again no good.

Columbia's kickoff was returned 66 yards to the Lion 22, but that still didn't make scoring easy for the Crimson. Harvard did finally score on a 4th down pass and the PAT was good to make it 12-7.

But the Lions responded well with a 69-yard drive that ended with a short TD run by runner-kicker Russ Warren. QB Tom Vassell had a mostly tough day, but he was sharp on this drive, completing key passes of 13 yards to Warren and 20 yards to Walt Congram. This time, Columbia finally converted a two-pointer when O'Connor lofted a pass to Warren in the end zone. It was 20-7 Lions at the half.

Harvard came out looking possessed in the third quarter, going on a 70-yard TD drive on 12 plays that narrowed the score to 20-14.

With the wind and rain chilling the crowd of about 11,000 fans, both teams then started to play the field position game. The Lions and the Crimson traded a number of punts, but neither could get total control of the game.

Late in the fourth, Columbia looked like it would ice the game with a slow-moving drive that got the Lions as close at the Harvard 10. But a fourth down pass was incomplete and Harvard had one more chance.

On third and four from the 19, Warren broke up and recovered a Harvard lateral and the Lions scored quickly thereafter on another short Haggerty run.

Columbia put the exclamation point on the win with an interception on the final play by Len DiFiore.

Great Night


Coach Kelton made a great impression (CREDIT: Columbia Athletics)

Last night's first-ever dinner with the coaches for season ticket holders was a truly great event that I do hope becomes an annual pre-training camp tradition. Just to be clear, the event was open to all season-ticket buyers, and all were made to feel very welcome.

Of course, I never shy away from getting a chance to visit the Chrystie Fieldhouse with all the great pictures of former Lion players and coaches, game balls from historic wins, and other memorabilia.

The grilled buffet was very good, and whoever is responsible for the brownies deserves a medal!

Each of the eight tables was full and everyone was in a friendly mood.

All of the coaches I saw were very outgoing, introducing themselves and talking with the fans. New defensive coordinator Coach Aaron Kelton was extremely outgoing, as was a very friendly wide receivers Coach Aaron Smith. (And by the way, I have been remiss in mentioning the great job Coach Smith did last year bringing along some of the new receivers, especially Nico Gutierrez. He is a very good and very young coach with a nice future ahead of him).

The crowd actually was made up more of former players than just random fans. Most of the people there seemed to basically know one another which added to the relaxed mood.

Head Coach Norries Wilson gave a quick but thorough assessment of each unit of the team, mentioning key names along the way.

Starting on defense, he talked about the guys who will need to compete to make the defensive line better. He named Conor Joyce, Lou Miller, and Eli Waltz but seemed to pinpoint Brian England as a key factor; if he improves, the line will be very good as it gets anchored by the all-ivy candidate Phil Mitchell on one side and England on the other.

Wilson singled out Calvin Otis in the secondary, but the focus was on Andy Shalbrack who Wilson says had a good spring and will have to lead the defensive backfield.

Then the coach made the unusual move of lavishly praising strong safety Kirk Weller. He said Weller had as good a spring as you can have and he's looking forward to seeing him get back on the field this week.

At linebacker he talked about Alex Gross and Drew Quinn, but generally was brief about that squad.


When Wilson talked about the tight ends, he specifically pointed out that he personally spent time coaching Andrew Kennedy one-one-one. Then he talked about Clif Pope and how the coaches have been working hard on boosting his confidence.

Even though he didn't say it in so many words, there is definitely some excitement, or at least satisfaction, in the fact that this will be the most veteran offensive line Columbia's had in many years. Wilson talked a lot about how he "left Ralph DeBernardo alone this summer," but kept tabs on Brandon Veldman, who as he said at the Ivy media day, he called on the phone last week and felt he had matured. He mentioned fellow junior Evan Sanford would be the center this year, and another junior John Seiler got a mention as well. With 3 juniors and two seniors< (he mentioned the other senior, Mike Brune, as well), on that offensive line, you can understand why getting the third junior Veldman to mature is important.

During his comments, Wilson said Shane Kelly, Millie Olawale, and Paul Havas would compete for the starting QB job, and the other coaches backed that up informally during some of the dinner conversations. In fact, one or two of them said the competition would last all season. But during the formal comments by Wilson he did mention all the excitement about Jerry Bell, thus making him the ONLY incoming freshman he acknowledged by name. Coach Wilson tried to temper some of that excitement by reminding everyone that Bell has a four-inch playbook he'll need to start learning first.

He mentioned Ray Rangel and Jordan Davis at running back, but also Zack Kouroma and Leon Ivery. He said Ivery was someone many of us may not have heard about, leading to the speculation that perhaps we will be hearing from him from now on. It's possible Ivery needed his freshman year to fully recover from his high school injuries and now he is ready to emerge. Coach Wilson also talked about a "few freshmen coming in."

At wide receiver he of course mentioned Austin Knowlin and pointed out that there are many ways to get him the ball other than down-the-field passes. We could see more reverses and screens to him this season. He mentioned Nico Gutierrez and how they're looking to get him back if he recovers from knee surgery. Taylor Joseph got a mention, but Derek Jancisin was singled out for having the right size and being the kind of big blocking, possession receiver the Lions have been lacking.


When asked about special teams, the coach insisted he would put the best players out there whether they were starters or not. It seemed like he was fine with letting Knowlin continue to return kicks, but he again wants to relieve Jon Rocholl of having to do the placekicking and punting duties. Wilson definitely wants Rocholl to continue to punt, where he has a great chance at going from second team to first team all-ivy, but he mentioned his hope that either Joe Stormont or Mike Siebold will make a campaign at kicker.

There were some other interesting key comments. Wilson actually began his speech by reminding all of us how the players on this team all play very hard and don't quit, which I think has become the signature of the Wilson era so far that will translate into more wins soon. Of course, this is also exemplified by the fact that so many players have stayed on the team and we now have well over 100 guys on the roster. Another general comment Wilson made was his hope not to have to continue to play so many freshmen.

On a personal note, I spent much of the evening talking to some great Lions, some who played for Lou Little and Buff Donelli and some a lot younger. I was humbled by the fact that so many of them read this blog regularly... I hope I don't let them down.

I also spent some time chatting with some of the Columbia administrative staff who will again be helping me line up some great halftime interviews for this season. Some of the names we batted around were pretty exciting, so stay tuned for more details on that as we approach the season.