Monday, June 29, 2009

Day 82 & An Otis Family Moment

Jim Otis strikes a pose

I switched to Verizon FIOS earlier this summer and I really love the service and the channel choices.

One of those new choices is The Big Ten Network and the channel was playing the classic 1969 Ohio State-Michigan game yesterday.

One of the stars of that game was Buckeye fullback Jim Otis, father of great Columbia QB Jeff Otis '05.

Ohio State famously lost that game, but Otis had a great day rushing for 144 yards on 28 carries, one of them for a TD.

During Jeff's career at Columbia, Jim was often seen at Wien Stadium on football Saturdays. He even gave a great interview to the YES Network during the 2003 game against Harvard which the Lions won on an Otis-to-Zach Van Zant TD pass.

The elder Otis became an All-American and a good running back for the St. Louis Cardinals for a few years.

Steve Cargile in 2003

Player of the Day, Day 82: Steve Cargile '04

One of the players on that 2003 team was defensive back Steve Cargile, who switched positions to help the team midway through his college career and ended up finding a place in the NFL.

Cargile came to Columbia as a wide receiver from the Cleveland area and did quite well in that role through his junior year. But then Head Coach Ray Tellier, (or was it Bob Shoop? I'm not sure if the switch happened before or after the end of the 2002 season), decided to encourage Cargile to switch to defensive back, and he turned in a stellar 2003 season which landed him on the All Ivy second team.

More importantly, Cargile stood out so much in his new role, the NFL took notice. Everyone agrees Cargile would never have been recognized by the pro scouts had he stayed at wide receiver.

Many Columbia fans last saw Cargile sitting with another Columbian-turned-NFLer Marcellus Wiley '97, at this year's spring game.

He has spent the last year or so on the Giants practice roster, but is still hoping to get into the action at the Meadowlands sometime soon.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Gregory, Crawford and Prosper

Ted Gregory Today

Day 85: Ted Gregory '74

The Middletown, Ohio came to Columbia in 1970 as a wide receiver who many thought wasn't big or strong enough to make an impact.

Then, Head Coach Frank Navarro switched him to the defensive side of the ball and by the time he was done, Gregory would have put in a career that would later earn him a spot on the Ivy League Football 25th Anniversary All-Time team.

Gregory made opposing teams crazy in the secondary and as a kick returner. He started his Ivy League career with a bang in his first Ivy League game against Princeton in 1971. In a game Columbia eventually won, Gregory intercepted Tiger QB Rod Plummer and went 56 yards for the TD to make it 13-7.

Gregory finished that season as an Honorable Mention All Ivy, but he was a 1st Teamer in both his junior and senior seasons of 1972 and 1973.

Gregory remains very close to the Columbia program and was my guest for a great interview during halftime of the Lafayette game last season.

Star of Two Prides: Tad Crawford as a BC Lion

Day 84: Tad Crawford '07

The Ontario native broke into the lineup right away as a freshman and played in all 10 games in 2003. Then in each of his next three seasons, he ended up as the Lions top tackler for the year. His biggest impact came in his senior campaign of 2006 when he also came in third in the Ivies for tackles. He was also a very steady punt returner, bringing stability to a position that had been more than a little shaky in the season before he got the job.

Now Tad is in the middle of his third season in the Canadian Football League, going from the Columbia Lions to the British Columbia Lions. In 2007, he had an outstanding rookie season with BC after being selected by the Lions in the 3rd round of the CFL Draft. He wound up with 9 defensive tackles, one sack and a fumble recovery.

Last year Tad avoided the sophomore jinx, recording 11 defensive tackles while adding another 12 on special teams. His highlight game of the season came against Edmonton on Aug 8th when he grabbed his first career interception and a blocked punt which resulted in a TD by teammate Rick Foley.

Day 83: Prosper Nwokocha '06

Originally, Nwokocha wanted to follow his brother Chuck and play for Harvard. But he settled on coming to Columbia and he ended up as one of the best corners and kick returners in CU history.

Harvard would come to really regret not grabbing Prosper in 2003, when his two interceptions sealed a shocking 16-13 win over the Crimson at a windy Wien Stadium.

My second favorite memory of Prosper was his kickoff return for a touchdown that turned things around in a 23-17 win over Fordham in 2005.

Nwokocha now works in Dallas as a personal banker at Bank of America.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Day 86: Roy Hanks

Salpulpa High School in Oklahoma: Where the Roy Hanks legend began

Today's memorable Lion defensive back of the past makes the word "memorable" and understatement. When Roy Hanks '98 was on the field, or on campus, you remembered him... he made you remember him.

Hanks came to Columbia in 1994 from a small town outside of Tulsa and immediately made an impact as a freshman on that Lion team that earned the first winning season at Columbia in 23 years.

By the time he was done, Head Coach Ray Tellier would call Hanks the best defensive back he's ever coached at CU.

During that freshman campaign, Hanks contributed in the secondary and as a kickoff return man. He made an interception to end the Elis final drive in the 30-9 whipping of Yale at the Bowl. A few weeks later, he recovered a fumble in the win over Cornell that clinched the winning season.

He continued to develop as a sophomore, enjoying many memorable games including a starring role in the 24-14 win over Penn that ended the Quakers' best-in-the-nation 24-game winning streak at the time. Hanks had a 39-yard punt return for a TD that gave the Lions the lead to stay in that game. Later he knocked down a desperation Penn pass, and that iced the game.

A few weeks earlier, his key punt return for a TD helped the Lions beat Harvard at Harvard for the first Lion win over the Crimson since 1978.

In the magical 8-2 1996 season, Hanks made first team All Ivy. It started on the right foot for Hanks as he intercepted a Harvard pass in OT to seal the victory on opening day.

He would repeat that feat the following year in his senior season, despite the Lion's disappointing 3-7 campaign.

But what made Hanks truly memorable was his outgoing personality. On the field he was a big-time trash talker, but it pumped him up and he just about always put his money where his mouth was.

He was outspoken in classes and on campus too.

How outspoken?

I'm happy to announce that the New York Daily News, which did a great job covering the Lions during the happy days of the mid-1990's, has finally made its archives available online. So you can read this great profile of Hanks written in 1997 to get an idea of what a great personality he was.

Day 87: UNH & Chris Tillotson

Will the Lions roam to the Granite State?

Bruce Wood of Big Green Alert is reporting that Columbia is one of the schools the University of New Hampshire is considering replacing Dartmouth with on its schedule after this year.

Taking on a team that has recently beaten BCS clubs like Northwestern sounds pretty scary... but it also could be fun.

And if we add UNH to the schedule, a scholarship-strength Fordham team won't look so scary anymore!

Chris Tillotson

Getting back to the "100 Players in 100 Days" countdown, I continue my look at notable Columbia defensive backs with the spotlight today on Chris Tillotson '99.

Chris was recruited first as a wide receiver, but he first started getting his feet wet helping out the great defense on the 1996 team that went 8-2.

In 1997 he earned honorable mention All Ivy honors, mostly because of his efforts at defensive back, but he also stepped in at wide receiver from time to time and scored some key touchdowns.

Tillotson's 1998 senior season didn't start out great, as he was suspended for the first two games, but he made up for it with stellar play the rest of the way.

It all came to an impressive crescendo against Cornell on November 14, 1998 when Tillotson almost singlehandedly defeated the Big Red in a 22-10 Columbia victory.

Tillotson finished the game with two interceptions, a 25-yard reception to set up one field goal, a cagy 12-yard punt return to set up another, a 17-yard game on a reverse, and a 70-yard return of a fumble recovery for the game-icing touchdown.

Tillotson finished the season as a first time All Ivy member, an impressive feat for someone benched for the first two games of a 10-game season.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Day 88: Ed Backus

Movies like "Taxi Driver" made NYC look good in 1976... NOT!

For a short, shining moment in the mid 1970's, it looked like the Columbia football team was going to make a return to respectability.

Under popular young Head Coach Bill Campbell, the team made some modest strides in 1974 and 1975, then things seemed to fall into place in the 1976 season, thanks to some heroics to star senior safety Ed Backus '77.

After stumbling out of the gate with a 34-10 loss to Harvard, the Lions got their first win of '76 with a 38-31 win over Lafayette at home thanks to two interception returns for TD's by Backus.

A week later, Columbia went down to Franklin Field and eked out a 14-10 win, thanks in no small part to Backus' excellent work against the pass.

Sadly, the Lions anemic offense was finally exposed in the ensuing weeks and Columbia only won one more game all season.

But Backus, who had been a second team All Ivy honoree in '75, stood out enough to grab 1st Team honors his final year.

He was also a star baseball player for the blue and white, batting .368 his junior year and pitching the Ivy League championship clinching victory over Penn.

As a sophomore, Backus made headlines in the New York Times when he was mugged on campus, and the Times decided to use this as an example of how Morningside Heights was extremely dangerous, (and back then, it kind of was... A LOT has changed). But Backus ended up mugging a lot of opposing players with big interceptions and rough tackles in his varsity career. He was inducted as member of Columbia's football team of the century in 2000.

After graduation Backus dived into the business world, eventually becoming an Eastern Division GM at Pepsi. He currently is the president of EMP Management where he provides consulting services in sales, marketing and strategic planning for restaurant and consumer product companies.

During some tough times for New York City and Columbia football, Ed Backus was a definite bright spot.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

All in the Family

Charles Argast preps for the Empire Challenge

Add this to the long list of things I didn't know, but should have:

Columbia's new offensive line coach Ed Argast has a talented son Charles
who played defensive line for Fordham Prep. Charles is graduating this month and will go to Worcester Academy for a postgrad year.

Charles told Five Boro Sports he's hoping to get his weight up next year and hopefully get a scholarship offer. But does that mean he won't give his dad's new team a shot?

Tonight, Charles will play for the New York City team in the Empire Challenge.

Good luck!

Day 89: Lou Kusserow

Lou Kusserow (CREDIT: Columbia Athletics)

As I continue my look at memorable defensive backs in Columbia history, many of you may be surprised to see Lou Kusserow '49 on this part of the list rather than among the running backs.

Kusserow may actually be the best running back in Lions history, but I want to focus on his amazing career as a pass defender this time. He was a key part of the Columbia defense in his time and he did it in the era when the players played offense and defense.

Kusserow was one of those rare players in the old days who was able to play varsity football all four years because of the war exception that was kept in effect until 1949 or so. (QB Gene Rossides was another one of those players). And because he stood out so much on both sides of the ball an argument could be made that he was the greatest football player in Columbia history.

Here are some of the more interesting records and tidbits from Kusserow's Lion career as a defensive back:

1) He still holds the Columbia record for most interceptions in one game with four. He did it in a 27-13 win over Yale in 1945. Kusserow is tied with three other Ivy players for that single game record, but he was the last to accomplish the four-pick feat, (Paul Busse of Princeton did it also against Yale in November of 1940).

2) He's tied with Phillip Murray '03 for the all-time Lion career interception record at 16. That ties him for fourth on the Ivy career list. (Princeton's Dean Cain, of acting fame, holds the record at 22).

3) He made what was perhaps the most significant interception in Columbia history, the pick off that iced the historic 21-20 win over Army in 1947. (He also rushed for a TD in that game).

4) During his four years roaming the secondary, Columbia's opponents averaged just 15.8 points per game. The Lion "D" allowed 30 or more points just 5 times in that 36-game stretch.

5) It was as a defensive back that Kusserow became a star in the Canadian Football League. He is still remembered fondly by Hamilton Tiger Cat fans who talk about the plays he made to help preserve a Grey Cup title.

6) He was also a great kick returner, and still holds the record for the longest kickoff return in Columbia history, a 100-yarder against Dartmouth in a 26-21 loss in Hanover.

In fact, a possibly apocryphal, but fun story about Kusserow involves his kick returning prowess. It goes something like this:

Before his first game, Lou Little warned Kusserow not to try to run back kick-offs if they went over the goal line, but to down the ball in the end zone.

The opening kick-off went to Kusserow over the goal line. Lou fumbled, recovered, fumbled again, grabbed the ball and started to run.

On the bench, Little sprang to his feet, his face red with anger. "Get that fool kid out of there!" he yelled to his assistant. Kusserow had reached his own ten-yard line and seemed trapped by a host of tacklers. Somehow, he squirmed away and wasn't caught until he had reached the enemy eight-yard line.

Little stuck out a hand to stop his assistant from carrying out the instruction he had just given.

"Let the kid stay in," Lou Little growled. "After all, he's only seventeen years old. You wouldn't want to shake his self-confidence, would you?"

After his playing days, Kusserow, like Columbia basketball great Chet Forte, became a pioneer of sports television. He won three emmys and produced several Super Bowl and World Series broadcasts.

Lou Kusserow died in 2001 at age 73. He was inducted into the Columbia Athletics Hall of Fame in 2006.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Siegel, Knowlin & Murray

John Siegal, right, with Sid Luckman during their days with the Bears

Day 92: John Siegal '39

Sometimes wide receivers and quarterbacks forge an incredible bond on the field that makes history. Joe Montana and Jerry Rice. Roger Staubach and Drew Pearson. Dave Krieg and Steve Largent... the list goes on.

But the most extraordinary QB-WR bond of all time may be the Sid Luckman to John Siegal connection because it began in college and continued into the NFL.

Luckman and Siegal started working together right during Luckman's first varsity game, a 34-0 rout of Maine at Baker Field. Siegal caught a 36-yard bomb from Sid just when the Black Bears were getting into the habit of trying to stop Luckman from running the ball all over them.

Siegal would go on to play a big role in each of Luckman's greatest games as a Lion. That includes the suprising 27-14 win over Yale at the Yale Bowl in 1938, and the greatest game of Luckman's career, the 20-18 win over Army at West Point just one week after that Yale win.

Siegal joined Luckman as a member of the Chicago Bears in the 1939 season. He played on the Midway for five seasons through 1943, earning three NFL titles on the way.

But his real purpose in Chicago was to study for a dental degree, which he earned at Northwestern.

John Siegal is still alive and living with family in Pennsylvania. I did get in touch with him last year, but he was too hard of hearing for even a phone interview. It was still great to talk to him briefly.

The moment we knew he was special: "AK" scoring his 1st TD in his very 1st game

Day 91: Austin Knowlin '10

The last of the 10 wide receivers I want to focus on during this 100 day countdown to the season opener is current star Austin Knowlin.

Even before his senior season, I have no hesitation when I say that Knowlin is a once-in-generation type player in Columbia history.

In three seasons, "AK" has done it all. Grabbed tons of passes, scored handfulls of TD's, and returned kicks for scores. He gets open even when everyone knows the play is going to him. He makes things happen.

It all started in his very first game, a 37-7 win over Fordham at Wien Stadium. Knowlin grabbed a 62-yard TD catch to ice the win and announced his presence to the Lion faithful in grand fashion.

He is now in striking distance of a number of Columbia all-time records, including total receiving yards, total receptions, and receiving touchdowns.

Knowlin has been placed on the 2009 Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) Preseason All-American second team for the coming season.

I look forward to chronicling a glorious final chapter in Knowlin's brilliant Columbia career.

Day 90: Philip Murray '03

Philip Murray, the man who is tied for the Columbia all-time record for interceptions at 16, leads off my list of 10 memorable defensive backs in Lions history.

Murray came to CU from Mesquite, Texas and made an immediate impact in the 1999 season. By his sophomore year, he was a 1st Team All-Ivy at free safety. He fell back to the second team in 2001, but returned to the 1st Team in his senior campaign in 2002.

His best moment came in that 2001 season, when he picked off Yale QB Peter Lee and returned it for an 85 yard TD just seconds before halftime to give the Lions a 14-7 lead in an eventual 28-14 win. Before that play, Lee hadn't been intercepted all year and he was working on an Ivy League record for most attempts without a pickoff.

A frustrating moment that I also won't forget came in Murray's final home game against Cornell in 2002. Clinging to a 14-10 lead, the Lions were trying to hold Cornell off in a final drive of the game. Murray made a great athletic move to almost pick off a pass by the Big Red's Rick Rahne, but it fell through his fingers. Just a few plays later, Cornell would score, snatching a win from Columbia's hands.

But Murray's career was still impressive any way you look at it. Sophomores don't often make 1st Team All Ivy, and Murray is one of the rare few who did.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Day 94 and 93: Demko and DeGasperis

Nick DeGasperis, 2006 (CREDIT: Columbia Athletics)

Sorry for missing the daily player countdown yesterday, but I am officially sick. It happens. Don't worry, I'm docking myself an imaginary pay check.

There is a bit of interesting news coming from the Athletic Department release on the incoming freshmen for the baseball team.

One of those players is the speedy Nick Crucet from Cypress Bay High School in Florida.

That's the same high school where incoming football freshman Joe Nathan hails from.

I say this is interesting, because it seems like there are more and more cases where we find multiple Columbia athletes, on different teams, coming to us from the same high schools. I hope this is the result of our recruiters comparing notes about promising athletes, even when they don't play the particular sport they're scouting.

Synergy is a goal often strived for, but rarely achieved. It seems like some level of positive cynergy is at work right now for us.

Player Countdown: Adrian Demko & Nick DeGasperis

Since I missed a day yesterday, it seems fitting to mark players number 94 and 93 by citing the WR duo of Adrian Demko and Nick DeGasperis, both class of 2007.

Nick DeGasperis came to Columbia as a two-sport athlete in football and baseball. He may have been the first Columbia recruit to get attention on the Internet as I remember a number of articles about him and his future college prospects showing up on the Web from his local paper in Schenectady, NY.

He was a great "possession-type" receiver who really stood out in his senior year of 2006. He did not grab any TD's that season, but he did have 35 receptions for 462 yards. He made some very gutsy grabs, holding on to the ball after really vicious hits, that helped set up key scores in the wins over Iona and Cornell. He had another crucial catch and run in the finale at Brown that helped set up the dramatic winning field goal in that game.

It's truly a travesty that DeGasperis only had one touchdown catch in his CU career; that one score came in a close loss at Brown in his sophomore season of 2004.

Adrian Demko grabs one vs. Harvard

At 6"3 and about 210 pounds, Adrian Demko brought a perfect size for his position to the table. Demko came to Columbia from the dominant Valparaiso High School program in Indiana, and while he never put up stunning stats, he did provide key leadership on the team as it transitioned from Head Coach Bob Shoop to the Norries Wilson era.

DeGasperis and Demko may not be the first names Columbia fans rattle off when they list their favorite receivers. But they made enough sacrifices on and off the field to deserve to be remembered well.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Day 95: Doug Peck

Doug Peck at Practice with Coach Tellier

Doug Peck '02 was the Lions leading receiver at a time when you could argue it was not a very good time to be a wide out at Columbia.

You see, his career came at the same time as Johnathan Reese's time in Morningside Heights and wide receivers don't usually get much of a chance to shine when they play along with a school's all-time leading rusher.

But Peck made the most of his abbreviated time on the field. I say "abbreviated" because he only played two full years with the varsity and graduated early after the 2001 campaign.

Peck led the Lions in receiving in 2000 with 39 cathces for 560 yards and 3 TD's. But the 2001 season was his best. Peck made honorable mention All Ivy with 57 grabs for 822 yards and 6 scores.

The best game of his career came in the 2001 contest versus Yale at Wien Stadium. With the Elis mounting a fantastic effort against Reese, (they held him to just 51 yards on 21 carries), Peck filled the void with 9 catches for 186 yards and two TD's.

The second score was a stunning 76-yard stop and go route that iced the 28-14 win for Columbia.

I won't soon forget the wild dance Peck did with his teammates on the Columbia sidelines after that score.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

An All-Time Great

Bill Wazevich never joined Marty Domres in the NFL... but he should have

DAY 96: Bill Wazevich

No discussion of wide receivers in Columbia history should exclude Bill Wazevich '70.

Wazevich was QB Marty Domres' favorite target for two seasons, but he was much more than just a small cog in a combo.

Wazevich caught 45 passes for 593 yards in 1967; in his varsity career he caught 102 passes for 1,336 yards, then an Ivy League record. His 214 receiving yards against Princeton in 1967 still is a Columbia record and was an Ivy League record at the time. That game was a heartbreaker loss, as it came during Columbia's long losing streak to the Tigers that stretched from 1946 until 1971.

The Ohio native then made the jump to the NFL, getting signed by the Cleveland Browns and putting up a Hell of a fight to get a slot on the team before he finally was cut.

Here's a fantastic local newspaper piece about Wazevich's struggle to make the Browns that I recently found.

Wazevich went into finance instead, becoming a vice president at Merrill Lynch.

In 2002, he died at the way too young age of 54. When I interviewed Domres during the 2007 season, Marty said Wazevich's was still too new, painful, and raw to talk about.

But it's easier to talk about what he did as a student, athlete and an alum. He excelled at all those roles.

After football, he still had a career in sports. He was a very well-respected high school basketball official for boys’ and girls’ games. He worked district and regional tournaments and officiated in three state tournaments in Ohio.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Deadline Coming!!

One last reminder that tomorrow is the deadline for the early-bird season ticket special for football.

Logon to the Columbia Athletics Web site and if you buy your season tickets by tomorrow you'll get the invite to the coaches' pre-season dinner event in August.

See you there!

Call for a Volunteer

Jared Duke

Columbia is in the running to land 6-foot-6, 336-pound Jared Duke of Walker Valley High in Charleston, Tennessee.

Duke tells that Columbia has come closer to giving him a formal offer than any other team.

On another front, word has finally leaked out that Stanford safety Fred Craig, a truly fast and talented player from Cincinnati's St. Xavier High School, will be transferring to Penn. He'll be eligible to play right away and will probably shift to outside linebacker where he'll make more of an impact. Penn's stock has surely risen on this news.

At first, I thought about what this says about former Stanford assistant and new Yale Head Coach Tom Williams. But then an astute reader reminded all of us that Williams hasn't been at Stanford for awhile; he's coming to Yale directly from the Jacksonville Jaguars. But in my defense, all the headlines out of Yale about Williams really emphasize his years at Stanford... almost as if they were embarrassed by his NFL connections. But that's an oversight on my part and I'm going to fire some of my highly-paid research staff because of it.

Friday, June 12, 2009

3 Wide Out Set

Go deep. Real deep, like to that deserted island on Lost

I continue my look at 100 special players in Columbia football history with three more wide receivers to tide us over for the next 3 days in the 100-day countdown. (Days 99, 98, and 97).

He never racked up huge stats in his career, but Matt Fox '89 has become one of the most famous Lions because of a very successful TV and film career. Fox was not a wallflower on the field, however. Fox was a starting wide out on an offense that wasn't half bad in his senior season of 1988.

Here's how he described himself as a CU wide receiver to Sports Illustrated a couple of years ago:

SI: You were a wide receiver in college. What current NFL receiver would remind us of Columbia’s Matt Fox?

Fox: Joe Jurevicius [laughs]. He’s the guy who can do the 17-yard dig route, get clobbered by the middle linebacker and always get up. I prided myself on getting up no matter how hard I took it. I didn’t have great speed, so I had to make up for it with heart and good hands.

SI: You played in the 16-13 victory over Princeton in 1988 that broke Columbia’s record 44-game losing streak. How sweet was that win?

Fox: I had a 40-yard touchdown that was called back. It was a rainy day and the sidelines were muddy, and I got chucked coming off the line and apparently went out-of-bounds. I thought I scored, but it was called back. But more than anything, I remember the immense relief and euphoria that win brought. We had gotten the crap knocked out of us for a long time. Every week we lost, we were news. Then the goal posts came down, and the campus partied for two days. It was a great day.

A great day indeed.

Fox crept back into Columbia-centric news two years ago when he was named the Class Day speaker at Columbia College's 2007 graduation. Many students were upset with the choice, something I wrote about extensively at the time. (Hint: I wasn't too happy with those kids).

David Ramirez celebrates the win over Harvard, 1996 (COURTESY: Columbia Athletics)

David Ramirez '97

They first started letting freshmen play Ivy football in 1993, and this Edinburg, Texas native burst onto the scene right away with 2 TD catches as a first year. He was the top starting split end by his sophomore season and a team leader throughout.

His best season statiscally was the 1995 junior campaign when he grabbed 46 passes for 708 yards and 5 touchdowns. He finished his career 4th on the all-time list for receiving yards, but has since been pushed out of the top 5, (by Travis Chmelka and Austin Knowlin).

My favorite memory was Ramirez's game-winning TD catch in the 20-13 overtime win over Harvard to start the 1996 season.

Ramirez was an All Ivy honorable mention in both 1995 and 1996.

Jesse Parks '73

The 6-1, 175-pound Parks burst onto the scene as a sophomore in 1970, grabbing 29 passes for 443 yards and 4 TD's.

He became the Lions leading receiver in the magical 1971 season and remained on top as a senior in '72. He and QB Don Jackson were classmates and they started to click on the field in a close loss to Princeton in 1970. Three weeks later, they combined for a stunning deep-ball TD connection in a 30-14 win over Rutgers.

He was a 1st Time All Ivy member in 1970 and '71, falling back to second team in '72.

Parks was also a standout baseball player for the Lion nine.

100 Players in 100 Days

We have reached the 100 day countdown to the 2009 season.

Just 100 days left before we finally end our 300 day offseason.

Last year, I tried to make these last 100 days go by faster by sumarizing 100 great Columbia games of the past 139 years or so.

This summer, I thought it would be fun to portray 100 great players of the recent and not-so-recent past. These players will be portrayed in no particular order, and this is NOT my list of the 100 greatest Lions of all time.

But I will focus on ten different players at 10 different positions: wide receiver, offensive lineman, defensive end, defensive tackle, tight end, linebacker, defensive back, quarterback, running back, and kicker.

I'd like to start with wide receivers for the next 10 days and begin with the speedy Travis Chmelka '04, who excelled as a wide receiver and punt returner during four years with the varsity from 2000-2003.

Chmelka made his biggest impact as a senior in the exciting 2003 season. My favorite memory was a huge punt return he brought back for a near TD against Princeton which helped turn a 20-0 deficit into the eventual 33-27 win that stands as one of the great Columbia wins of all time.

He finished 2003 with 57 catches for 667 yards and three TD's... perhaps the most dramatic came at the start of the homecoming game against Penn when he went up in a crowd a grabbed a jump ball at the goaline in the north end zone. It was to be the only real highlight of an historic day for the Lions who were marking the beginning of Columbia's 250th anniversary celebrations.

Chmelka finished his career as the third all-time Columbia receiver for yards with 1,588. And as one astute reader has pointed out, he still holds the record for the longest punt return in Lions history, a 91-yarder for a TD against Fordham in the 2003 opener.

I have no doubt that if Chmelka were 3 inches taller, he would have starred for a BCS team, probably his homestate Nebraska Cornhuskers.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

ODU Moves Forward

Old Foreman Field in its heyday, circa 1945

A lot of Americans, even sports fans, spend a lot of time discussing the very validity of college athletics.

Football seems to be under siege at a number of schools across the country, and the recent economic downturn isn't making the arguments for football easier, at least for those who don't have all the facts at their fingertips.

Enter Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia.

Years ago, the school noticed that despite a raucous and spirited undergraduate lifestyle, a paltry number of alumni were staying connected to school. Even fewer were donating money.

So ODU sent out a questionnaire asking the alums what the #1 thing the school could do to get them more interested.

The top answer?

"Start football."

And so, after many decades of just wishing for it, Old Dominion will begin varsity football this fall.

The Monarchs will play as an independent team until 2011, when they will join the CAA, (home of teams like Towson and Richmond).

ODU already has 33 scholarship players on full or partial scholarship; 18 more arrive in August. The remaining 22 scholarships are being saved for future classes. (A total of 63).

Foreman Field, pre-Renovation

Foreman Field, a renovated version of the old Foreman Stadium will seat about 20,000 people for football. It cost $24.8 million for the renovation.

Foreman Field originally cost $300,000 to build and was completed in 1934 as part of a Public Works project under President Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal.” (The original stimulus plan).

And get this, ODU has received 14,859 season-ticket applications for this season. No Ivy team comes close to that kind of season ticket to total seats ratio.

The football program’s '09-10 operating budget is projected to be $2.5 million. Ticket sales will cover about $1.4 million of that; suite sales another $540,000. The difference will be covered by student fees and private donations.

The prices for a single-game ticket: $20 for adults, $15 for 17 and younger.

ODU could begin scheduling games against BCS schools like Virginia and Virginia Tech as early as 2016.

I first wrote about the ODU story when I first heard about it 2007.

Since then, the school has met every published goal from fixing up the stadium to getting the local community behind the team and the program.

ODU will be the fifth school to start a Division I football program this decade. In 2001, Florida Atlantic went 4-6. Florida International was 5-6 in 2002, followed by Coastal Carolina (6-5 in 2003) and Campbell (1-10 last season). Of those four, Florida Atlantic’s attendance was highest, at 12,987 a game; Campbell was lowest at 3,683.

Artist's rendering of the new Foreman Field

ODU was originally scheduled to play Cornell this season, but that game was later scrapped. The Monarchs will travel to New York City to play Fordham on October 3rd.

Will any Ivies, including Columbia ever put ODU on their schedule? I'd love to see the Lions play the Monarchs, but I'm biased.

My dad used to teach at ODU when we lived in Norfolk in the late 1970's-early 1980's. I used to always wonder what they would ever do with that big stadium at the entrance of campus. I think they used for graduation and nothing else. For a time, they played a college all-star game sponsored by the Shriners called the Oyster Bowl, but that ended in the mid 1990's.

Good luck Monarchs, we'll be watching you closely.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

The Weighting Game, Pt. 2

Lou Miller zips around the end at 220 pounds

There were some great comments and questions about yesterday's post, so I thought I'd crunch the numbers some more on the weights of Columbia's linemen over the years.

But first, some perspective. Most people would probably say that 220 lbs. is a little light for a defensive end, but that's Lou Miller's weight, and he was a 1st Team All Ivy standout last season. Lou is also a great wrestler and he was honored last week by being named an academic All Ivy in wrestling.

But these weight numbers are just too much fun to ignore.

Let's look at the 1961 Ivy champion Lions, but first remember that in those days, most linemen played both ways. In that championship season, the average varsity Columbia lineman went just 204 pounds. Captain and current Columbia Board of Trustess Chairman Bill Campbell was a 180-pound guard.

The average guard was 196 pounds, the ends also averaged 196 pounds, the tackles averaged 225, the three centers on the varsity averaged 202 pounds each.

Junior Tackle Louis Asack was the biggest man on that squad at 240 and 6-foot 5-inches tall.


10 years later, much had changed in the country and in Ivy League football. Hardly any team featured any two-way players by then. And as you will see, the players got bigger too.

1971 was also the yeat the Kardiac Kid Lions made a serious run at the Ivy title with players like Don Jackson, Paul Kaliades, and Ted Gregory.

Now for the numbers:

The average offensive lineman on the 1971 Columbia varsity went 221 lbs. The average defensive lineman in the '71 squad was 211 pounds.

John Bell, a sophomore center from Thomas Jefferson High School in Brooklyn was the biggest Lion that season at 270 lbs.

A Bigger Lesson?

Seasons like 1971 and 1994 should serve as inspirations for current Lion fans. Why? Because they were winning seasons that came after campaigns that didn't seem so great when you consider wins and losses.

The 1970 Lions went just 3-6, 1-6 in the Ivies and finished in a tie for 7th. The 1993 Lions went 2-8, 1-6 in the Ivies and finished in a tie for 8th.

The biggest reason for the exciting winning years that came after those two seasons was the big number of experienced returning players who stacked the lineups. Sure there was great talent and new strategies, but rarely has Columbia enjoyed the kind of veteran representation in the lineup that it had in 1971, 1994, and now again in 2009.

I'm not saying the Lions will have the kind of super season we enjoyed in '71 or '94, but when the overwhelming majority of the starters are coming back, including both first team All Ivy honorees, we have to be a little optimistic.

The Weighting Game

Just how much bigger are today's Columbia football players compared to the squads of the not-so-distant past?

I crunched some numbers from the rosters of significant Lions teams of the last 22 years to find out.

Most of the results were not surprising.

First, let's look at the 1987 team. It was the final winless season for Columbia's varsity during that 44-game losing streak. Every varsity team since 1987 has won at least one game.

In 1987, the average weight of a Lion varsity offensive lineman was 233 pounds. The average defensive lineman was 228 pounds.

The 1994 Lions posted the first winning season for a Columbia varsity team since 1971.

The average varsity offensive lineman on that 1994 team was 258 pounds, the average defensive lineman was 238 pounds.

Not to be mean, but the 2005 Lions were just about the weakest squad I've seen us put together in 22 years.

The average 2005 varsity offensive lineman was 274 pounds and the average defensive lineman was 236 pounds. (I'm not including incoming freshmen, because freshmen were not allowed on the varsity before 1994).

And that brings us to today.

These numbers will change, (and likely go considerably higher), but as of now the average weight of a varsity Lion offensive lineman is 280 pounds and the average defensive lineman is 244 pounds.

So, from 1987, the average weight of our offensive linemen has jumped 20.1% or 47 pounds. The average weight of our defensive linemen is up 7% or 16 pounds.

Bigger is better? Well it doesn't hurt.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Breaking News from Fordham!!!

Well, they've gone and done it. Fordham will begin offering football athletic scholarships starting with next year's recruiting class.

The official Fordham announcement makes special mention of the annual game with Columbia, which tells you they know, or at least fear, it will be in jeopardy now.

This could also jeopardize Fordham's continued membership in the Patriot League.

Could big-time college football be coming back to New York City, or will this blow up in Fordham's face?

We certainly have a good issue to talk about leading up to the season opener at Fordham on Sept. 19th.

Odds and Ends

Chris Manna, left, is at Columbia to wrestle

It's been a busy week, and I haven't been able to cover all the things I wanted to on the blog.

-First off, please re-read yesterday's latest installment of the Roger Dennis interview. I've added a new story about Archie Roberts' baseball prowess at the very end and have included some links to stories about Archie's greatest games as a QB.

-I hope none of you missed the news that a former football team captain for high school powerhouse Don Bosco Prep is coming to Columbia. But Chris Manna is joining the wrestling team, not football. Either way, Columbia is happy to have him.

-Former safety Proctor Hug's mom is featured in this great story about a mentoring program at the high school named for Hug's grandfather in Reno, Nevada.

-Here's another great column by Robert Boland of the National Football Post. He pays a nice tribute to former Columbia Head Coach and current Columbia Board of Trustees Chair Bill Campbell.

-Harvard was the last Ivy school to list its incoming football freshmen yesterday. Click here for a convenient one-stop shopping list of all the schools' freshmen from Bruce Wood's Big Green Alert Blog.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Working and Playing with Archie

Columbia Hall of Famer Archie Roberts (CREDIT: Columbia Athletics)

We are now at part three of the Roger Dennis interview. Click here for part one and here for part two.

This part is solely dedicated to Roger's memories of Columbia great Archie Roberts.
My own posts about Roberts' greatest games are here and here.

Jake: You came to prominence as one of QB Archie Roberts' favorite weapons. What was he like and did you change your style of play to accommodate his skills?

Roger: Archie was – probably still is – very quiet, very humble, I would say shy. A very nice guy. You didn’t really get to know him very well. I always felt that he felt that he so had to live up to his All-American image that he was not really free to experiment in life; he had to do well as an athlete, he had to do well in the classroom, he had to become a doctor or a lawyer or a governor or something like that; he had to stay away from drink or drugs, had to behave himself at all times.

Now, two things here: (1) I don’t know for sure that this is true, because he and I have never had a really heavy and emotionally open conversation (not yet anyway), and (2) I don’t say these things in any kind of derogatory way, because I like Archie a lot, and I don’t believe for a minute that he was insincere; I believe he was truly a kind-hearted person who actually made the decision that he wanted to live his life doing things along the ‘high road’ that people expected of him. On a personal level I sometimes felt sorry for him because it seemed he would never, could never, ‘let his hair down’ and have some wild, crazy fun! But that was me trying to look at his life through my eyes. Most important thing: He was, and I’m sure still is, a good guy; and he has done some real good things with his life. Funny, writing this now and thinking, reflecting like this makes me think I might wanna get in touch and spend some time with him.

Roberts went on to become one of the world's greatest heart surgeons

Archie was a SUPERB athlete, a Prep school All-American in football, basketball, and baseball. Before I comment on what it was like to play with him I’ll tell you a funny little story that illustrates his gentleness and humility. I believe it was my first day on campus in September of 1961 (I was originally Class of ’65); definitely it was the first time that the freshmen football candidates got together. The late Art Cutler and I were talking – we were both from Long Island and had gotten to know each other via recruiting activities. Then a third teammate was there, and Art commented that he heard we had a great quarterback recruit from Massachusetts coming in, a guy named Archie Roberts. Of course the third guy was in fact Archie. He got a sort of embarrassed look on his face, kind of an ‘aw shucks’ look, put his fingers up to his lips, and said something like, “Oh, well, that’s me.”

You didn’t have to adjust your game to Archie; if adjusting was necessary he would do it. In fact we had a favorite play we ran, wherein I would run one of two routes, he would pick up which one it was, and then deliver an almost always beautifully thrown pass. (I’ll tell you more about this in a later post, because it fits in with some of my best football memories.) His passes were great. He had a strong arm, so he could throw the ball way downfield, or if he were throwing a shorter pass it would get to you quickly and right on time. Yet even with this strength his passes arrived gently and were easy to catch.

I’ll tell you something. For reasons which I might get into later on I took a year off, starting in the spring semester of my sophomore year (February of 1963). Also, I never played wide receiver until my junior year, which was after I came back to school and was by then Archie’s last year. If I or the coaches had discovered earlier that wide receiver was the ideal position for me and I had caught passes from Archie as a sophomore, I might very well have not have missed the 1964 season. I might have only taken one semester off, instead of a full year. (I say ‘might’ because there was so much going on inside me at that time – so much confusion, frustration, hurt, anger, etc. – that I might not have been emotionally ready to come back, even if it meant missing a season of catching passes from Archie. I truly don’t know. But I can’t help but wonder ‘what might have been’).

And I'll tell you another Archie story. The summer after our freshman year Archie was staying in the city. Since I was from the metro area he asked if I knew of a good summer baseball league. (I played freshman baseball). Well, I don't know if they still exist or not*, but at that time the Merrick Rangers - out on Long Island - played in a real good summer amateur league that was kind of like the Cape Cod league; a real solid league with some fine ballplayers. I brought Archie out for a tryout. After watching him swing for about a minute, the coach turned to me and said, "That's a major league hitter!"

I don't know why Arch chose football over baseball professionally; probably because he could work out attending medical school better with football. (Like I said, I liked him a lot, but we didn't talk that much.) And I don't know why he didn't do better as a pro quarterback - not that what he did was shabby. Maybe trying to juggle pro football and medical school was just too much.

Another bottom line: it was a real honor and privilege to play with someone with his kind of skills AND that kind of humility. Don't see that combo very often!

*Editor's note: It appears the Merrick Rangers went defunct many years ago. I live in the neighboring town and most people in the area tell me they stopped playing sometime in the 1970's.

Deserted Island?

The rosters for the Empire Challenge High School Senior All-Star game have been announced and two incoming Ivy recruits will be participating. They are: Princeton's Caraun Reid, who will be on the New York City team and Yale's Chris Dooley, who be on the Long Island team.

It's been two years now since Columbia had a player in this game, Carl Constant, who played quite a bit in the 2007 contest, and this year none of Columbia's incoming frosh were from the Island or the City anyway.

Which leads me to today's topic: what's happened to high school football in New York City and Long Island? It seems like the available pool of players keeps shrinking.

A lot of the answer comes from demographics. On my home of Long Island the percentage of the overall population that includes families with children is getting really small. What was once a region of the country known for people raising their families is now becoming something else entirely. Fewer kids, fewer football players.

As for New York City, I would guess that finances are a factor. This latest economic downturn aside, the city's overall financial situation improved greatly from the late 1980's until 2001 or so. But the school system did not enjoy the same upward trajectory. And football is an expensive sport. The number of city schools fielding serious football squads is noticeably down since the 1960's, 70's and even 80's.

Luckily, Columbia still has some outstanding New York City and Long Island players on its current roster. They are:

1) Dan Cohen (Horace Mann School, NYC)

2) Carl Constant (St. Francis Prep, NYC... but a Long Island resident of Uniondale, NY)

3) Mike Murphy (St. Joseph by the Sea, NYC)

4) Chris Paruch (Chaminade, Long Island... but a NYC resident of Bayside, Queens)

One big surprise for me was the fact that Seamus Kelly, the same Seamus Kelly who is ditching football to play college rugby at Berkeley, is on the New York City squad! I guess that says it all. One of the city's all-time record breaking running backs plays an All-Star high school game, but isn't even looking to play college football.

The Empire Challenge is a charity benefit for the Boomer Esiason Foundation. The game will be played June 23, 2009 at Hofstra's Shuart Stadium at 7:30pm.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Saturday Night Lights

The Lions will take on the Leopards under the lights once again

We now have the game times for all but one of our 10 games for 2009. You can see them here.

Some thoughts:

1) I'm sure all these times are subject to change, but you knew that already. I'm not sure yet whether the VERSUS or YES networks will change any of the listed start times for their coverage, but that can happen and we should find that out sometime before September.

2) After no night games last season, it looks like the Lions will have at least two in 2009. The road games against Fordham and Lafayette on the road are both slated for 6pm.

3) Just like it was in 2007 at this point in the offseason, we still don't have a start time for the week 3 Ivy League opener at Princeton Stadium. That game ended up being a 3pm start time. In the past, the Tigers have also made the Columbia game a nighttime contest as they did in 2001 and 2003.

The weird thing about the game this time is Princeton will be starting a short week that day as they play Colgate also at home the following Thursday on ESPNU at 7pm.

Will the Tigers try to make the Lions game an early start to maximize their already abbreviated time off?

Will they try a night game to get used to the lights before they make their 2009 national night time TV debut.

Will Ross and Rachel ever get married?

Will they ever explain what the Hell is going on on that show Lost?

Stay tuned.

4) All in all, this seems like a pretty convenient schedule for the fans. The Fordham season opener, (at Fordham), starts at 6pm, making it possible for a lot of people to observe the first day of Rosh Hashanah without missing the game.

5) The 12:30 start times for 4 of the 5 home games, and two other road games make it possible for people to see the game and then enjoy a nice free Saturday evening on the town or at home.

6) The 1:30 start time for Homecoming will again allow people to enjoy the pre-game festivities and still catch the game.

I'll keep an eye open for any time changes prompted by TV coverage.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Early Polls and Prognostications

Lots of Ivy football fans are buzzing about two preseason predictions for the 2009 final standings.

A writer for Lindy's Sports predicts it this way:

1. Harvard
2. Penn
3. Brown
4. Princeton
5. Columbia
6. Yale
7. Cornell
8. Dartmouth

And the Sporting News writer Steve Silverman has it:

1. Harvard
2. Penn
3. Yale
4. Brown
5. Princeton
6. Columbia
7. Cornell
8. Dartmouth

Silverman goes on to predict that Princeton RB Jordan Culbreath will be the offensive player of the year, Penn cornerback Chris Wynn will be the defensive player of the year, and that the best newcomer will be Penn wide receiver Joe Holder.

The first thing we should point out here is that both sets of predictions are singular predictions, not "polls" as some people are calling them.

Second, I wonder if these guys who both picked Harvard know something we don't know about the QB situation in Cambridge. It's still not public knowledge whether former LSU starter Andrew Hatch, (who started his college career at Harvard), will be allowed to play this season now that he's back in Cambridge. While I'm not sure that Hatch would tear up the league if he is cleared to play, I don't think he'd be a liability on a team that has a lot of other strengths as it goes for its third title in a row.

I'm more concerned about the attrition on the Crimson's defensive line, which has been really dominant for the last 4-5 years. No team can be expected to simply "reload" at that high a level year in and year out.

Both writers chose Penn to come in second, presumably also both thinking that the Quakers could take this thing given a break or two. I have some questions about Penn's offense, especially the passing game, and I also have expressed concerns recently about the fact that Penn has to play both Harvard and Brown on the road. But at this point in the preseason, I actually like Penn's chances better than Harvard's.

Should Columbia fans cheer about the Lions not being picked last in either poll in the knee-jerk fashion we're used to seeing? I guess we can be happy in the fact that it's clear that Columbia's improvement last season wasn't just our imagination. But, as always, the only list that matters is the final one and the games are decided on the field, not in the papers or on the Websites.

An argument can be made that this will be a wild year for the Ivies. At least five of the Ivies will be starting new QB's and the other three teams, Columbia included, don't exactly have their starters set in stone. Penn will almost certainly start Kiefer Garton this season, but he only took over the job in the late stages of last season, so he's not exactly a totally seasoned veteran.

I feel like we're ripe for a power shift in the league like we haven't seen in some time. It may be wishful thinking on my part, but Columbia's veteran roster should be able to take advantage to the upheaval at so many other schools right now.