Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Legend from Lindenhurst

Day 4: John Witkowski '84

If John Witkowski had played at Columbia at any other time before the 1980's, he probably wouldn't have been more than a footnote in Ivy history. Even in the 1960's with guys like Archie Roberts '65 and Marty Domres '69 under center, the idea of a college football team at any level having a quarterback throwing the ball 45 times in any game was ridiculous.

In 1982, Witkowski averaged more than 45 passes per game. In 1983, he averaged 43 tosses per contest.

Before Witkowski, the previous Columbia record for most passes thrown per game for a starting QB was Marty Domres' 38 tosses per week in 1968... and that was considered a once in a lifetime anomaly.

I mention the frequency of Witkowski's passes first, because you have to understand how often he threw, how often he HAD to throw, to get an appreciation for what he did in his years at Columbia.

But if you want the meatier stats, here they are:

In 1982, Witkowski passed for 3,050 yards and an incredible 29 TD's in just 10 games.

In 1983, he passed for 3,152 yards and 23 TD's.

That's on top of the 1,647 yards and four TD's he passed for in limited duty as a sophomore.

John Witkowski came to Columbia in 1980 from Long Island's Lindenhurst High School, where he was an all-state talent at football, baseball and basketball.

He made a splash as a frosh right away, and was later voted the retroactive co-captain of the team.

In '81, he eventually won the varsity starting job after struggling in the early going. He was the main reason Columbia got its lone win that year, a 20-9 victory over Penn where he passed for 162 yards. He made Honorable Mention All Ivy that year.

Then came the incredible 1982 season. Most people who were there will tell you that the final year at Baker Field was all about how Witkowski looked like he might demolish the old stadium himself with his rifle passes. They'll also tell you the Lions had a weak defense to start and the quick-strike Columbia offense did little to help the Lion D get the rest it needed when the offense was on the field.

Witkowski's three weapons were wide receivers Don Lewis '84, Bill Reggio '84 and tight end Dan Upperco '85.

Witkowski used them to pass for 250 or more yards nine times in a ten game season. Despite going 1-9, he made every game exciting.

The lone win came on Homecoming against Princeton, where Witkowski's 316 passing yards and four TD passes made the difference in a 35-14 win.

But the most astounding game of his career, and perhaps the most jaw-dropping achievement of any Ivy QB of all time came in week 8 at Dartmouth.

Witkowski's line for that game:

Attempts: 64

Completions: 39

Yards: 466

TD: 5

INT: 1

Witkowski was 16-of-28 for 209 yards in the 4th quarter ALONE in that game, as the Lions put up a furious rally in an eventual 56-41 loss. Just about every Ivy passing record fell to Witkowski in that game and some are still tops in the book.

The Lions were a bit more competitive in Witkowski's senior season of 1983, but not much. They finished 1-7-2 rather than the usual 1-9 but Witkowski continued to garner national attention.

After Columbia, Witkowski had a brief NFL career, mostly with the Detroit Lions.

Today he lives in the Buffalo area and works in the banking industry when he's not following his children's high school athletic careers.


At Fri Sep 25, 01:48:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Curtis said...

Hello. I'm a reporter at Bloomberg News and I'm trying to track down former Columbia receiver Don Lewis. Anyone know where he is these days? Austin Knowlin might break his school receptions record and this is why I am trying to find him. -- Curtis Eichelberger ... ceichelberge@bloomberg.net


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