Sunday, July 31, 2011

Short Gain, Big Moment

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Nick Schwieger

Top 100 Moments of 2010:

#48: Schwieger's First Push

One of the unique things about eventual co-Bushnell Cup winner Nick Schwieger last season was his ability to break off big runs and pick up short yardage gains when the Green needed them too.

On Dartmouth's first drive of the week 6 game at Wien Stadium, Schwieger proved that with a tough three yard gain on a 4th and 2 at the Columbia 21.

The Big Green ended up getting a field goal on that drive, thanks greatly to 27 big receiving yards by Schwieger and four very tough net rushing yards as well.

Dartmouth's ability to convert tough 3rd and 4th down plays would come back to haunt the Lions much more later that day.

Book of Remembrance: Dick Donelli

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The Old Blue

Donelli's Teammates and Friends Share their Stories

Six days ago, I brought the sad news that Dick Donelli '59, had passed away.

Since then, I have been privileged to hear a rich treasury of stories about Dick. Most of them center around his founding and long association with the Old Blue Rugby Club, but they go further than that.

With the help of my friend Roger Dennis '66, I have been given this compilation of the memories below.

Feel free to add to them in the comments sections and spread the word of this Columbia legend in his own time:

Roger Dennis

I was shocked when i heard about Dick passing. even though he had gone through so much, it never occurred to me that we would lose him. He was an amazing man. Such a powerful personality. Probably the loudest quiet person I ever met.

Along with quite a few fellow Columbia footballers, I started playing regularly with the Old Blue in 1966. Dick, and fellow founders Billy Campbell, Billy Smith, and John Wellington were, to me, the heart and soul of the Old Blue. Individually and collectively, they were tough, smart, and impassioned leaders. As great as they all were, when we were on the field, during the game, Dick was our general, (obviously an ‘in the trenches’ general), he was the best scrum half in the country. He was in a class of his own because of his physical abilities and especially his psychological and emotional strengths – he had this leader mindset and energy that just permeated every effing cell of his body!

I remember one game, not sure vs. whom, I must have been playing wing because I was near the pack just before a set scrum or a lineout. In a calm but deliberately loud enough voice to be heard by both teams, Dick says: “just (do such and such); they’re afraid of us anyway.”

Off the field he wasn’t the friendliest guy; for quite a while he didn’t say hello to me and i thought he didn’t like me... or that the jury was out – like he was deciding whether I was okay or not. At some point he seemed to decide I was okay, and I remember feeling relieved and honored.

A number of you knew Dick better than I did. I wish that weren’t the case; I would have liked to have spent more time with him, talked more with him, shared ideas. but I appreciated him greatly. He was honest, he was a thinker, he was a very ‘for real’ guy. And he loved the Old Blue and worked very hard for us all these years, and he meant and means so much to us! (and to the rugbyworld)

You know, I didn't realize how much he meant to me.

One more thing. If you haven’t already read it, I suggest you read the book Alive. It's the one about the rugby players whose plane went down in the Andes. It's a true story; only 16 of the 45 guys survived. You get to see the personalities of the players, how they cope, who steps up, etc. When I read it I recognized in these guys many of the Old Blue, but there was one guy who really stood out; and i said to myself 'that's Dick Donelli; that's their Dick Donelli.'

Lucky for them because not every team has a Dick Donelli. They were lucky; as are we! Thank you, Dick!

Barry Nazarian:

Dick Donelli was the backs coach for the freshman football team in ‘62, when there was still freshman football, and Billy Campbell was the line coach. Shortly thereafter, they joined with some others to form The Old Blue, and in the immediate years that followed, the undergrads branched off to form their own team.

What struck me then as an undergrad player and remains with me now was the way we organized ourselves and played the game must have been how all of sports had been conducted during those early years depicted in the sepiaphotographs of men with mustaches and wearing no pads ranked around some football championship banner. As Rugby was played back then, there were no coaches other than those who rose informally from the ranks of the players themselves, no training rules other than to lose a bit of weight or smoke less if your strength had waned a bit early during the last game, and no governing body to enforce a series of informal arrangements made between the increasing number of teams. If you played for the Old Blue you didn’t even have to have an association with Columbia, although you probably knew someone who did. And it all worked beautifully.

I was an undergrad player, but I was there from the start to witness the Old Blue in its earliest incarnation, and I knew then that I was witnessing something legendary in the form they took during those early teams. In his underrated novel, Sometimes a Great Notion, Ken Keasy has a passage that refers to a team of men who, as I remember, are engaged in a frantic bout of cutting timber in the face of some on-coming threat like weather. In remarkable and poignantly phrased prose, he states that in a frenzy of coordinated motion, they became The Team, meaning that they achieved some Platonic ideal that epitomizes being ON and is as present in the right pick-up basketball game as it is in the Knicks during a championship season.

And that was what the Old Blue achieved during those years. I can tell you that watching Dick, John Wellington, Balsy Campell, and the rest of those people communicated a rarely witnessed sense of The Other, that being a whole that was unmistakably greater than the sum of its considerable parts. But they were as understated as they were deadly.

As Roger so beautifully put it, Dick himself was the noisiest quiet person in the world, and the loudest Wellington got was a glare – although you could, of course, hear the sounds of the collisions from the sidelines.

I remember one game they played when they were undefeated. Just before the coin toss, I remarked to someone, (Hank Deiselman?), that Donelli appeared to be in a good mood. “Yeah,” he replied to me, “they’re obviously way off form, so here goes our first loss of the season.” And sure enough, they did lose.

Well, I guess the Old Blue of that era really are the men in sepia photographs now and I am a sepia witness, but I’ll take the deal, and with thanks. When we look back on our lives from the vantage point of age, some things that seemed quite large appear smaller, like that elementary school classroom. And some things now seem much larger than whoever won the NCAA football championship back then... at least compared to abunch of normal-sized guys on some muddy field being watched by a few wives, girlfriends, and their B squads roiling to take the field after them.

A scene that seems to me to sum up the greatness of a particular sport, during a particular time and place, played by a man with the stature of Dick Donelli.

Darryl Stromberg:

I spoke with my buddy in Wales; we frequently talk about rugby and the OB tour in '66.

He has frequently referred to the speed by which our scrum half was able to get the ball out from rucks or scrums and the "funny" pass he used to do. That of course was the conventional underhand spiral that Donelli and many other American QB's of the late 1950's used.

At any rate, he went on to say that the conventional method used by scrum halfs in Ireland, the UK, (and presumably France and the southern hemisphere), used the more traditional "layout", "flat" no-spin that Billy Dreher and most other scrum halfs of our era used, (Chorba might be able to confirm this).

Today, that underhand spiral is all that is used. Coincidence? I think not. Furthermore, the conversation prompted me to look at some of the more popular online rugby sites. One of them, in an obituary notice, credited Dick with popularizing something called the "torpedo pass."

From Tom Holmes:

In 1969 we played a combined Richmond/Saracens touring side, who had big-time players with them & had gone rather easily undefeated up the East Coast until they arrived here and played us at Baker.

When they saw a higher level of opposition, they tried intimidation – a fist fight between George Sherriff & Joe Tuths, (Joe never blinked), which didn’t affect our play - and so then they severely broke Dick’s nose thinking Dick would have to leave the field, as most any other rugby player would. He didn’t. Dick acted like nothing had happened, other than playing even harder than before. We won. They weren’t pleased.

Later that year the All Blacks under Head Coach Fred Allen came through NYC on their way to their UK tour and had asked if they could “stretch our legs?” at Baker. We accommodated them providing a scrum to push against, etc. At that time both line-outs and scrum service were short tumbling,(not longer spiral), passes. As Dick had been quarterback for the CU Lions, he developed an underhand spin pass that enabled a scrum-half to reach a fly-half much further away. Dick asked Fred Allen & the All Black #9 if Dick “could show you something?”. Their scrum-half said “I very much doubt it”. But they saw what Dick was doing and when their Europe Tour was finished, they went back to New Zealand and developed the spin pass for themselves,cwith no thanks to Dick. But we saw what happened. Dick had shown them something strategic that changed the game of rugby worldwide.

Years later when MetNY played the ’72 or ’73 All Blacks at Downing Stadium/Randall’s Island, Dick literally picked up his opposite #9 Sid Going who had 60 caps for NZ and threw Going bodily off the pitch – somethingcneither Sid Going nor NZ hadn’t seen before. Dick had incredible self-confidence, strength and determination. No one ever beat Dick Donelli oncor off the field, that I’ve ever even heard of happening.

Having been one of Dick’s patients for over 20 years, when Dickcwas designing a crown for me once, he asked me do “you want anything oncit?”. I said, “like what?”. He said – “well how about a rugbyball?”. So for the next 20 years, I had a funny brown ceramic rugby ballcon one of my lower molars, which I was pleased to display to people overcmany barroom-bars in many places. We had a lot of laughs there in Dick’scHartsdale office – too many to recount here, but, suffice to say, Dick was acfriend with a great sense of humor.

I thought Dick was bullet-proof, invincible, indestructible andcwould last forever. Some air has gone out of things for me with Dick’scnot being here with us anymore.

I just ran into one of us from yesterday's wake on the street-we allowed as how "we'll be going to more of these", as we're all getting "up there". He said "yeah, but Dick was special". He wanted to continue but, he was unable to speak and he didn't want me to see him cry.

I didn't either. I think there is something here like Dick representing the player, the competitor, the winner, the man for many of us-the person we admired and aspired to be, and tried to emulate, to follow. But in our own estimation - fell short. Maybe that's why those of us who played with him did so well - they had a standard of self confident defiance and self-assuredness to emulate. And that made us virtually unbeatable, as there was always an air of our knowing we were going to win before the match began. And our opposing teams felt it too. I hope The Old Blue of the next 5 years can get that back.

Al Butts:

Jeff Joseph emailed me with the news of Dick's death.

Like you, I was shocked. Of all of us, I thought Dick would have been among the last to go. Dick was a giant of a man: tough as nails, smart as hell. The heart and soul of the Old Blue. He was an absolutely terrific player himself, but more than that, he taught many or us ex-footballers, including me, how to play.

On the field he made us all better. A superb tactician, we looked to him in close games to find us a way to win. And more often than not, he did. He could be frustrating from time to time, but there are few people I have respected more. Like, all of us, I'm going to miss him terribly.

Max Carey:

These tributes are extraordinary.

Dick must REALLY be in heaven.

Hope someone compiles and saves these.

It is its own cultural history.

It's called LEADERSHIP, and Old Blue was built on it.



And thanks.

Kathleen Donelli:

Dick would hate dialogue about credit. Heplayed Rugby and lived in the moment
for life, not about opinions.

I am missing him.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Great Start

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Gerst Scored First

Top 100 Moments of 2010

#49: The Long March

On a beautiful Homecoming day, the Lions began the game in what seemed like the best way possible.

After starting the game's opening possession on their 20, the Columbia offensive line took over by providing running holes for Sean Brackett, Zack Kourouma and Nick Gerst... in that order.

It was Gerst who finished off the 80-yard TD march with four straight runs for a total of 22 yards including the three yard score.

For some reason, possibly injury, Gerst would only carry the ball four more times the entire game.

Luke Eddy's PAT was perfect as usual, and Columbia had an uplifting 7-0 lead and a great beginning in front of a packed Wien Stadium house.

Time's Running Down

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Robert Lipsyte

Blast from the Past

Veteran sportswriter Robert Lipsyte has an interesting new piece in The Nation, and it all starts with a story about the role a particular Columbia sports coach played in the 1968 riots. You have to read how it ends.

I'll let you judge the piece for yourselves, but I think it's obvious that Lipsyte is not considering the tremendous academic and physical commitment of Columbia and other Ivy school athletes.

If he did, he might have his whole world view thrown for a loop!

Tick Tock

Were just 50 days away from the beginning of the 2011 season, about about three weeks from the start of training camp. But the new season is even closer for our week one opponent Fordham.

The Rams kickoff at Connecticut in just 34 days at Big East powerhouse UConn and I would guess that training camp begins the Bronx in the next 10 days.

For the record, week two opponent U. Albany starts its season in just 36 days on September 3rd at Patriot League powerhouse Colgate. Week four opponent Sacred Heard starts at home against Marist also on September 3rd

We’re getting close folks… really close.

Top 100 Moments of 2010

#50: You Gotta Have Heart

With 5:31 left in the 4th, the Lions began their final possession trailing 27-13 and without any real hope of winning the week five game against Penn.

But you wouldn’t have known that by the determined way Columbia closed out the game fighting.

On the first series, the Lions beat a 4th and 7 with an eight yard pass from Sean Brackett to Nico Gutierrez.

Several plays later, Brackett converted a 4th and 2 with an eight yard run to the Penn 28.

On the next play, with just 19 seconds left, Brackett found Kurt Williams for a 15 yard gain to the Quaker 13.

Two incomplete passes followed and the game ended.

On one hand, it was just another opportunity lost at Franklin Field that day.

On the other hand, it was five and a half minutes of strong evidence that Brackett and Co. don’t quit.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Staff Filling Out

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Mike Neuberger

New Coach

Football Scoop is reporting that Maryland’s Mike Neuberger is joining the Columbia staff as tight ends coach.

Now the big question is: Will he have anyone to coach?

Since tight end is just not a starting position that typically goes to an incoming freshman, one has to assume that Neuberger may be working more to develop tight ends this year as opposed to working with them on varsity game plans.

But, as always, we are hoping to be pleasantly surprised.

Top 100 Moments of 2010

#51: Eddy’s Big Kick

Trailing 27-10 to Penn late in the 3rd quarter, the Lions’ chances of coming back against the Penn defense seemed slim.

And when Nick Gerst was swamped for a five yard loss on 3rd and 1 at the Quaker 26, another promising drive came to an end.

But the Lions were able to get something out of it when freshman Luke Eddy boomed what was easily the most impressive FG kick for Columbia all season long.

Luke’s 48-yard kick, (and by the way, considering how high his kicks go, has anyone thought to nickname him “Skywalker?” Just wondering…), sailed through the uprights and was a thing of beauty.

It would end up as the second longest FG kick in the Ivies in 2010, second only to the a 49-yarder by Cornell’s Brad Greenway.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

More TV

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The Wien Stadium Channel!

We just learned that YES will broadcast the Yale-Columbia game for the sixth year in a row.

That means the week seven home game against the Elis on October 29th will now start at 12 NOON NOT 12:30. Yes likes to start its games early.

Because of the added TV timeouts, the Yes games that start at noon tend to end at the same time as the non-broadcast TV games that begin at 12:30.

So, the Lions will be on national TV twice in the span of three weeks. The other game being the Homecoming tilt against Penn on Versus beginning at 3:30pm on October 15th.

I love seeing more of our games on national TV, but I’d like to see us WIN on TV even more.

ESPN’s College package televised the Columbia win over Lafayette last season for those who signed up for the broadcast… and that was great.

But I don’t have to tell you how much greater a nationally televised win over Yale or Penn, or both, would mean to our players and to our program.

Top 100 Moments of 2010

#52: Penn Seals the Deal

After Bradford Blackmon’s kickoff return put the Quakers at the Columbia 40, Penn easily marched down the field for the score that would truly ice the game.

What was different about this drive is that it included an actual pass by Quaker QB Billy Ragone, a 17-yarder to TE Luke Nawrocki that gave Penn a 1st and goal at the 10.

Brandon Colavita got the TD two plays later on an eight yard run, and he would finish the game with 103 yards on the ground.

The score made it 27-10 Penn and no one really thought that was a deficit the Lions could overcome.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Let's Make a Deal

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Free Agent Frenzy

Now that the NFL lockout is officially over, the fates of a number of Ivy football grads will be sealed in the next few hours as rookie free agents try to get signed to pro teams and get into training camp.

I’m not sure how this will affect Alex Gross, but I am hoping to see his name in the free agency tracker websites that are sprouting up right now.

I will keep my eyes open.

Penn Transfer

The Ivy League football version of free agency is the transfer action.

Columbia is getting a former walk-on at Texas A&M this fall in transfer DL Wells Childress.

Not to be outdone, Penn is getting a former walk-on at Texas Tech this fall in WR Ty Taylor.

Dartmouth is also getting a transfer WR, (as reported here and other places months ago), in former walk-on Clemson Tiger Robbie Anthony.

Penn’s passing game has been a concern in recent years, not that it matters when you are a two-time defending Ivy champ with a 15-game Ivy winning streak.

But if the Quakers do pass the ball more this fall, (I’m not convinced they will), Taylor could be a real positive factor at Franklin Field.

The conventional wisdom is that Penn will have to throw more because of all the great offensive linemen the program graduated back in May.

I’m not really on board with that assessment because the same offensive line that makes running holes is also the line that needs to provide pass protection. And is anyone willing to really bet that Al Bagnoli and Co. don’t have decent talent waiting in the wings on the O-line?

The real clincher in my argument is the loads of talent the Quakers bring to the table at running back. QB Billy Ragone is basically just a runner, and only Columbia’s Sean Brackett rivals him in running talent at that position.

Then you have RB’s Lyle Marsh, Brandon Colavita, and Jeff Jack, all guys who could start and be the feature back at just about any other Ivy.

So for all the talk about how Bagnoli will have Ragone splitting time with the passing QB Ryan Becker in 2011, I’m not really buying it.

Sure, Penn might mix it up a bit on offense in the game against non-Ivy power Villanova. But everyone else will have to prove they can stop the run before the Quaker coaches mess with a winning formula that no one in the Ivies has had an answer for since late 2008.

I’m not trying to pour cold water on this transfer news. It’s clear to me that Taylor makes Penn a better team right now.

Just what we all needed… no?

In truth, it seems like every opponent Columbia faces this fall is clearly better than they were the year before.

I’ll get into the details of that in the coming weeks, but this is going to be a hack of a challenge for the Lions this fall.

Top 100 Moments of 2010

#53: Matt’s Fury

After Sean Brackett and Andrew Kennedy hooked up for a pretty 57-yard TD play, a strange incident occurred on the PAT.

Luke Eddy boomed the kick right through, but Lion LB Matt Morretto got too physical in his special teams blocking assignment and was flagged for a blatant personal foul penalty.

Anyone who knows Matt knows that he is a very charming, well-spoken, and was the “most likely to be a successful politician” type on the team.

So, the fact that the flag was officially thrown on him was curious. Some witnesses say the actual offender was Lion OL Tim Skalak.

Either way, for Moretto or Skalak to lose it like that surely the result of a frustrating day in the trenches against the super-physical Quakers.

The penalty was assessed on the kickoff and the result was predictable. Penn’s Bradford Blackmon took the kick in full stride at his 11 and returned it all the way back to the CU 40 yard line.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Kennedy's Pretty Play

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Andrew Kennedy

Top 100 Moments of 2010

#54: Ray of Hope

Columbia began its second possession of the second half backed up all the way on its three yard line.

Suddenly, the Lion offense came to life. Two runs by Nick Gerst, a pass completion to Andrew Kennedy, and a personal foul against the Quakers gave the Lions a 1st and 10 at their own 40.

But then the drive started to stall and after two short runs, Columbia had a 3rd and 7 to contend with.

One of the prettier plays of 2010 came next.

QB Sean Brackett took a shot at a long pass to Kennedy along the right sideline and connected despite Kennedy being well-covered.

Then Kennedy avoided several tackles and burst into the end zone for a 57-yard touchdown.

For a brief shining moment in that crucial game, the Lions seemed to have a chance once again.

(You can see video of Kennedy's great TD here... just cue it in about 3:10 into the tape).

Monday, July 25, 2011

Breaking: Dick Donelli Passes Away

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Dick Donelli

I just learned of the death of a great Columbia legend.

Dick Donelli '59, varsity starter at QB in 1957 and 1958, and son of the late Head Coach Aldo "Buff" Donelli died yesterday.

Donelli gave nepotism a good name as he showed incredible toughness playing the key role on the team during his dad's first two years as head coach of the Lions.

After Columbia, Donelli became a dentist but he stayed at Baker Field for years as a standout founding member of the "Old Blue" Columbia rugby club.

Donelli was super tough, playing his last few seasons even while needing a pacemaker!

They don't make them that tough at Yale or Princeton... believe me.

Breaking: New D-Line Coach Hired

St. Norbert Rides Again! reports that St. Norbert College defensive coordinator Bill Lund has accepted the defensive line job at Columbia University.

(thanks to Bruce Wood for the heads up on this one)

Slap a medal on your chest if you can honestly say you've ever heard of St. Norbert or its football team... because before yesterday, I was not among you.

I don't have much info on Mr. Lund either other than that he was a 1997 graduate of Lawrence University (Wis.). There, Lund was a three-year starter and helped the Vikings lead NCAA Division III in rushing in 1995 as the starting center. He also lettered two years in track and field, qualifying for the conference championships in the discus his junior year.

After college, Lund also played for two seasons with the Granite State Warriors in the Eastern Football League, a semi-professional league. He served as a coach/player, leading the Warriors to the American Football Association national semifinals and a 12-3 record in 1997.

For the record, St. Norbert is a D-III school that went 7-4 last season and qualified for the playoffs.

On defense, the Green Knights gave up 15.8 points per game in the regular season before a 57-7 drubbing in that D-III playoff game against North Central College.

A red flag is the 203 rushing yards per game St. Norbert allowed in 2010, because stopping the run is such a top priority for the Lions this fall.

But if all the reports of his hiring are true, we certainly welcome Mr. Lund to the Baker Complex.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Almost a Break

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Penn'sBradford Blackmon has graduated

Top 100 Moments of 2010

#55: Missed Opportunity #3

Trailing 20-3, Columbia got the ball first in the second half with pretty good field position at the Lion 34 after a good kickoff return by Craig Hamilton.

But a sack of QB Sean Brackett sealed yet another three-and-out and Columbia had to punt.

Then, for a brief moment, it looked like the Lions' luck might change.

Greg Guttas boomed a 51 yard punt that Quaker returner Bradford Blackmon, (who four years earlier spurned an offer from Columbia and chose Penn), couldn't handle.

But Blackmon was able to recover his own fumble right at the Penn 23.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Another Countdown

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Meet Norries

Fans who want to meet and talk with Head Coach Norries Wilson will get a pre-training camp chance to do that at the Village Pourhouse on August 12, details here.

Ivy League Countdown

For the last several years, I've been counting down the 100 days until the Ivy football season begins with some kind of special daily feature, (although last year, I dedicated that time to assembling the "Lion Feeder" database of all the know high schools that have sent football players to Columbia and published that data every day for that 100 day period).

Anyway, the folks at the Ivy League sport website are doing something very similar starting today to count down the 56 days until the season starts.

Top 100 Moments of 2010

#56: The Goal Line Stand that Wasn't

After Columbia's second straight failure to capitalize on a drive that had begun inside Penn territory, the Quakers took over at their own 29 with about seven minutes left in the first half and a 14-3 lead.

The ensuing drive would essentially ice the game.

Seven rushing plays and one pass put Penn at the Lion two yard line with a 1st and goal.

Suddenly, the Columbia defense stiffened up the middle.

First Brandon Colavita was stuffed for a one yard loss by linebackers Nick Mistretta and Matt Moretto.

Then on 2nd down, Mistretta and safety Steven Grassa combined to stop Jeff Jack right at the one.

On 3rd and goal, Jack couldn't get moving and fell down right at the one.

Instead of going for the FG and handing the Lions a minor moral victory, Quaker coach Al Bagnoli called a timeout with 2:06 remaining in the half.

On the crucial 4th and goal, Jack ran to the outside instead of the inside runs Penn had tried on the three previous three plays and he danced into the end zone for a 20-3 lead.

Into a Brick Wall

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Top 100 Moments of 2010

#57: Missed Opportunity (part 2)

After failing to capitalize on possession that started at the Penn 39, Columbia immediately got another chance when Quaker RB Brandon Colavita fumbled the ball right back to the Lions at the Penn 33 just moments later.

But the Quaker defense was just not going to yield.

After three plays netted the Lions just four yards, Columbia decided to go for it on 4th and 6 from the Penn 29. But QB Sean Brackett’s pass to Zack Kourouma fell incomplete and two straight golden opportunities had fallen by the wayside.

And after this failure, Penn’s offense would no longer be in such a generous mood.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Invisible Men

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Steele List Looks Past Columbia

This morning, I noticed that Harvard’s web site was trumpeting the fact that eight Crimson players are on Phil Steele’s preseason All Ivy team.

I couldn’t find that release anywhere, so I asked the people at Phil Steele to forward me some info and they did right away!

As a way to thank them for their help, I want to help them sell a few more copies once the Phil Steele FCS preview comes out. So, go ahead and pre-order it here!

So here’s the deal for Columbia on the Phil Steele preseason All Ivy team:

Most of the news is not good. Only two Lions made the list, but both were on the first team.

For the record, here’s how many players from each school made it on the list of the combined first and second teams:

Dartmouth: 11

Yale: 9

Brown: 8

Harvard: 8

Penn: 8

Princeton: 7

Columbia: 2

Cornell: 2

QB Sean Brackett, who many of us contend is the best all around QB in the league, is not on the first or second team. Yale’s erratic Patrick Witt was the first team choice, Penn’s Billy Ragone was the second team QB.

A pleasant surprise was junior DL Josh Martin making the first team. Jeff Adams, already a two-time 1st Team All Ivy honoree, was a no-brainer as Columbia’s other preseason first team pick.

Other than Brackett, I think the most snubbed Lions on this list are PK Luke Eddy, and RG Bob Hauschildt.

Steele’s preseason picks have been pretty good over the years, and I’ve written about that in the past

For the record last season, seven players on Steele’s preseason list of 11 first team offensive players made the real 1st Team All Ivy list, and six of the players on Steele’s preseason list of 11 first team defensive players made the real 1st Team All Ivy list.

That’s really a good percentage.

Here’s hoping this will be a really OFF year for them!

Top 100 Moments of 2010

#58: Missed Opportunity

Columbia’s rush defense wasn’t always weak in 2010.

What could have been a key sequence in the Penn game proved that.

Trailing 14-3 and needing a spark early in the 2nd quarter, the Lions defense denied the Quakers on a 4th and six play when Penn RB came up three yards short to the Quaker 39.

That gave Columbia a 1st down and a real chance to get back in the game.

But a Penn sack highlighted what turned out to be a three-and-out for the Lions and the chance was missed.

As good as Columbia’s rush defense was at that moment, the Quakers’ defense was better.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Sad News

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Myra and Robert Kraft

Myra Kraft, (1943-2011)

Myra Kraft, wife of Robert Kraft, died today after finally losing her battle with cancer.

She was 68.

Baruch Dayan Emet.

Myra joined Robert as being a very generous friend of Columbia and Columbia football.

We all wish him and his entire family our deepest sympathies.

Concussion Decision

It seems like most of the initial response is positive for the new Ivy League rules on full contact football practices.

After the death of Penn’s Owen Thomas last year, I am not surprised by this.

And before anyone jumps to call the Ivies a “soft league” for doing this, remember that the NFL doesn’t really conduct full contact practices after training camp anymore either.

A number of former Columbia players have already told me they think this is an especially good development for our program as they believe our practice schedule was too rigorous for its own good.

I think the real issue is that the referees will surely be even more aggressive when it comes to throwing the flags for helmet-to-helmet contact.

But here’s another thought: the next time we see a bunch of missed tackles in a real game, how quickly will we blame the dearth of full tackle and contact practices?

Top 100 Moments of 2010

#59: Fumbled Away

Trailing Penn by 7-3 late in the first quarter, the Lions began their second possession of the game looking like they had a chance to either draw closer to the Quakers or take the lead.

After QB Sean Bracket ran for one first down and put Columbia on its own 37, disaster struck.

Brackett was sacked on the 1st down play, lost the ball and it was picked up and returned for a 25 yard touchdown by Penn’s Drew Goldsmith.

The Lions offensive line was very strong overall during the 2010 season, but it gave up five sacks in the Penn game for a total of 42 lost yards and a very costly TD.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

BREAKING NEWS: New Practice Rules

The New York Times is reporting that the Ivy League will announce new rules today in hopes of cutting down on athlete concussions.

Here's the key paragraph:

According to the new rules, teams will be able to hold only two full-contact practices per week during the season, compared with a maximum of five under N.C.A.A. guidelines. On the other days of the week, practices cannot include contact or live tackles, and no player may be “taken to the ground.”

Under the Wire... Again!

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Scouting Report

Chuck Burton of Lehigh Football Nation has a pretty good scouting report on our week 3 opponent, Princeton.

Chuck emphasizes the key fact that Stephen Cody will be back to star at linebacker after missing most of last season including the Columbia game.

Vaughn Scott

Four years ago, Columbia was preparing to take on Fordham for the season opener at Jack Coffey Field in the Bronx.

But the Lions had to throw their scouting reports in the garbage when they learned, just hours before game time, that a new freshman running back was just cleared by the NCAA to play in the game, (the second game of the season for the Rams).

That freshman was Xavier Martin, and he ended up shredding Columbia for 157 yards rushing and three touchdowns in a 27-10 Fordham win.

Now, the Lions will at least have 60 days to prepare for a standout running back from New Jersey who has just been cleared for a full scholarship at Fordham.

Vaughn Scott rushed for more than 1,700 yards and scored 36 touchdowns last year alone for West Deptford HS in South Jersey.

Now I want to make it clear that I am NOT suggesting that any rules have been broken either in Scott’s case or Martin’s case.

But this is a rough new challenge for Columbia not unlike the new challenge the Lions faced back in September of 2007.

Hopefully, Scott won’t do the kind of damage Martin did.

Top 100 Moments of 2010

#60: March of Shame

Columbia fans were more than a little excited to see the Lions standing at 3-1 heading into the crucial matchup with defending Ivy champ Penn at Franklin Field.

But that giddiness soon dissipated as the Quakers opening drive exposed Columbia’s weaknesses for all the world to see.

Penn started the possession on its own 25 and proceeded to rush the ball eleven straight times before scoring a touchdown on that 11th and final play.

Six different Quakers carried the ball, but none better than QB Billy Ragone who scored the TD and gained 47 of the 75 yards on the drive.

Only one of the ten tackles made on the drive was made by a defensive lineman, and half of the stops were made by safeties.

Penn’s coaches didn’t really need to see anymore. In total, the Quakers would run the ball 57 times and pass it just five times in the game. They netted 281 yards on the ground and scored three rushing touchdowns.

The rest of the league didn’t need to see anymore either… Columbia’s fate for most of the rest of the season was sealed.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

NFL = No Financial Love

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Oh look, that's just enough for parking at the Meadowlands!

It’s looking more and more like we will have an uninterrupted NFL season in 2011.

Thank goodness for that.

But, as is always the case, the real result of the new labor agreement will be higher ticket prices in the near future.

That’s where Columbia football comes in.

I love the NFL, but I really can’t get in to rooting for individual players and it’s harder and harder to justify paying thousands of dollars per year and hundreds more to see a game and park the car at a pro venue.

For LESS than the price of the parking for one NFL game, you can get parking AND a prime ticket to a Columbia game… (and most other Ivy games at other stadiums too), such a deal!

If you’re reading this and you want to preemptively avoid a heart attack caused by NFL sticker shock… just buy Columbia season tickets right now.

Top 100 Moments of 2010

#61: Chao’s Good Hands

When Lafayette scored late in the 4th quarter and got the two point conversion to make it 42-28 Lions, some of the more paranoid Columbia fans probably started to go into that familiar negative mental spiral.

With about four minutes to play and the Leopards lining up for an onsides kick, there was a unique silent groan rising up from the Wien Stadium seats that, like a dog whistle, only PTSD-Lion fans can hear.

Enter David Chao, the hard working junior, (now senior), backup RB and special teams regular.

Chao helped cheer up even the most pessimistic Columbia fan when he grabbed the bouncing kick and erased any chance for even a miracle Leopard comeback right then and there.

Whether Chao will be able to make biggest contributions on the field in 2011 remains to be seen, but his heads up play to secure the first Lion win over Lafayette in 10 years will not be soon forgotten.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Rumbling Down the Field

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Martin grabs the ball! (CREDIT: Columbia Athletics)

Top 100 Moments of 2010

#62: Martin the Ball Carrier

At the start of the 4th quarter, Columbia had a semi-comfortable 35-20 lead when Lafayette faced a 3rd and 4 from its own 32.

That's when the fun started.

Leopard QB Ryan O'Neill completed a short pass to receiver Mike Bennett only to have Alex Gross knock the ball right out of hands and into the waiting arms of Josh Martin.

Martin then proceeded to put on a show of masterful, and yet still comical, running all the way back to the Lafayette 10 before a holding penalty pushed the Lions back to the Leopard 41.

It was yet another example of how strong an early season Martin enjoyed in 2010.

Columbia needs #95 to play like that all year in 2011.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Close to Home

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Sweet Home New York

The athletics department website has a cool new feature near the top of the homepage that counts down to the home opener against Albany on 9/24.

Remember, the season starts a week earlier at Fordham.

With six games at home and one of the four remaining road games at Fordham, there will seven Columbia games played in New York City this fall.

Another road game is the contest against Princeton, Columbia's nearest rival.

Of course the other two road games are traditionally the Lions' longest trips - at Dartmouth and at Cornell - but that's a trade off I think almost every Lions fan would take.

Super Sean! (Credit: Columbia Spectator)

Top 100 Moments of 2010:

#63: Brackett Takes Flight

With Columbia already in control with a 28-20 lead, QB Sean Brackett used his running ability to take command of the game once and for all... and he had a few friends.

Starting at their own 31 with 7:41 left in the 3rd quarter, Brackett got things started with a three yard run followed by carries by Nathan Lenz and Leon Ivery that netted 19 more yards.

Brackett ripped off a 19 yard run of his own on the following play as it became evident that Lafayette could not stop the Lion run.

Brackett capped the drive with a four yard TD leap, where he somehow managed to stay airbourne while seemingly levitating the ball across the pylon, that was captured in a great still photo, (above), that made him look like Superman.

In all, the drive went nine plays, all of them runs, for 69 yards. Brackett netted 46 of those yards, while Lenz, Ivery and Zack Kourouma combined for the other 23.

All in the Family

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Ray Childress in pursuit

Ray Childress, 3rd overall pick in the 1985 NFL draft and five-time Pro Bowler --- but most importantly the dad of incoming transfer DL Wells Childress --- is featured in this great article in the South Bend Tribune.

Childress is about to be enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame, which is in South Bend of course.

I’d like to take this opportunity to publicly congratulate Ray on behalf of all Columbia fans and invite him to be a half time interview guest this coming season!

Top 100 Moments of 2010

#64: Craig’s Best Return

After Columbia fell behind, 17-14, to Lafayette early in the second quarter the Lions needed a lift.

They got one right away when Craig Hamilton exploded for his best kick return on 2010.

Hamilton fielded the kick at his own 10, and burst all the way to the Leopard 36 before Greg Stripe finally brought him down.

The strong field position thanks to Hamilton’s return set up Columbia for another TD just three minutes later.

I know there are a lot of great recently-graduated seniors Columbia football fans are worried about replacing in 2011.

They’re guys like Alex Gross, Andrew Kennedy, Adam Mehrer, Calvin Otis, etc.

But no one should overlook the contribution recent grad Craig Hamilton made to this team and how hard it may be to replace him this fall as well.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Columbia "Reunion"

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Joe White

A Columbia "reunion" of sorts will take place this season at Bowdoin, where former freshman football and running backs coach Joe White is teaming up with another former CU assistant, Andrew Cohen as assistants on the Bowdoin staff.

It was White who developed so many great Lion freshman teams and RB's.

Cohen had a good run at Bucknell, for which he is best known.

Good luck Joe and Andrew!

My Own Horn

I don’t do this much, but I have to crow a little bit about my day job: senior producer of Varney & Co. on FOX Business.

This week, our top competitor, CNBC, made it clear it was aware and afraid of the Varney & Co express. The same CNBC network that is in nearly TWICE the homes as FOX Business, and has a 20 year head start, decided to throw the kitchen sink at us with a new Squawk Box show featuring almost every one of their well-known anchors.

That includes Joe "I really belong on FOX Business" Kernan. Jim "50.0001% of my stock picks are almost decent" Cramer. Carl "Stay at La" Quinta-Nilla." David "I'm so boring, I don't need to tell you I went to Harvard, but I will anyway," Faber. And many more.

And yet, on Tuesday in the 10am hour, Varney & Co BEAT CNBC in the all-important 25-54 age demo by a 28% margin!

Did I mention they're in almost twice the homes?

We've beaten them in the demo a few times before, but not with this kind of firepower aimed straight at us.

We beat them with our issue-based focus on the markets.

We beat them with a debate on taxes and charity.

We beat them with a priest, a judge and an Englishman.

There is a parallel here with what I do on FOX Business and what I hope to do on this blog and my Columbia coverage in general.

I believe in being as REAL as possible. I like stimulating respectful debate and not hiding behind too much data, bullet points, and other soul-less items that abound in sports and general news reporting and blogging today.

My show will eventually start beating CNBC every day because viewers will see that the raw data they need is right on the screen and there’s no need to waste everyone’s time reading numbers for our very literate viewers. They will stick with us because we will debate the issues behind those numbers – the things that affect their money – rather than just offering empty stock picks or “tips.”

There are some viewers who also like my propensity to feature guests who are Columbia football alums turned business giants!

And we always ask the key question to all athletes who come on the show, like Yankee great Bernie Williams who stopped by today.

I suspect this blog succeeds for the same reason. You come here for editorials, debate, and a chance to really sound off.

You can’t do that anywhere else.

No one else has the guts.

Top 100 Moments of 2010

#64: The Short Field Fiasco

How many times in recent years have we seen Columbia get a big score, only to lose the momentum with a bad ensuing kickoff?

The good news is that kind of thing happened a lot less in 2010 than just about any year I can remember. (In fact, in week nine against Cornell, the Lions pulled off a perfect squib kick at the end of the game that ended in a Big Red turnover and sealed the win… but more on that much later this summer).

The bad news is early in the second quarter against Lafayette last year, Columbia followed the spectacular 69 yard pick six by Alex Gross with a Greg Guttas kickoff out of bounds giving the Leopards the ball at their own 40.

Lafayette went right to work, completing a 19 yard pass on first down before stalling a bit and needing to convert a 4th and 2 at the CU 33 with a short little five yard pass.

Two plays later, the Leopards faced a 3rd and six at the CU 24. Leopard QB Ryan O’Neill then abused the same player who had embarrassed him moments earlier –Alex Gross – with a pass into the left side of the south end zone for a TD. Gross had missed his coverage of the receiver, Jerome Rudolph, on the play.

Just like that, Lafayette was back ahead by a 17-14 after a drive that took barely over three minutes.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Fordham Takes on UCONN

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Home of the Huskies

Adding the Huskies

Fordham has made a late add to its 2011 schedule.

Two weeks before the Rams take on Columbia for their home opener/homecoming, Fordham will play the UCONN Huskies in Connecticut.

Going from playing the Big East champs to the Lions in three weeks, (the Rams have a bye in between the games), is quite a swing.

Last year, Towson had a similar experience, taking on Indiana in Bloomington just before coming to New York to play Columbia.

Towson lost both games.

Show Up

It occurs to me that we haven’t paid enough attention to the fact that the start time for the Homecoming game vs. Penn this Oct. 15th is 3:30pm

I have yet to find one fan who isn’t really happy about this.

Homecoming is always a great day to enjoy all the festivities Columbia puts together for the alums.

Now we all have more time to enjoy the tent, the carnival, the bounce houses… and then there’s the stuff for the kids! J

The fact that the game is also being carried nationwide on Versus is another bonus.

I’m willing to bet the that Lions next home game after Homecoming, vs. Yale on 10/29, will also be on national TV vis the “Yale on Yes” series, (which Yale pays for, by the way).

I really like the idea of showing two national TV audiences within three weeks a fully-packed Wien Stadium.

I fell relatively confident we’ll get that packed house for Homecoming vs. Penn.

But the Yale game may be a stretch in case neither team is contending for the title by week seven.

So, make a commitment right now to show up to BOTH games at least in 2011.

Top 100 Moments of 2010

#66: Alex’s Perfect Day

It’s hard to imagine a better day in the life of Alex Gross.

On the same morning that he was featured in the Wall Street Journal in an article about his excellence on the field and the classroom, Gross came up big in the eventual victory over Lafayette at Wien Stadium.

With the Leopards leading 10-7 early in the second quarter, Lafayette had the ball and was moving down the field at will once again.

But on a 3rd and 6 from the Columbia 38, Gross came to the rescue. He stepped in front of Ryan O’Neill pass at the CU 31 and raced all the way to the end zone for a spectacular 69 yard pick six.

The PAT made it 14-10, Lions and should have been the final turning point of the game.

But because the Columbia defense still didn’t have enough answers, this competitive phase of this game would last quite a bit longer.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Bulldog, Bulldog, How? How? How?

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The Yale Mystery

The biggest surprise in the Ivies last season wasn’t Dartmouth’s rebound.

After all, the Big Green had, (and still have), the best running back in the league.

No, the biggest surprise was that Yale came out of nowhere to finish 5-2 in the Ivies and darn close to winning both games they lost… to Penn and Harvard.

What was the Bulldog secret?

Well, Yale did run the ball well and the defense was generally good if not spectacular.

But the real reason why Yale did well in 2009 was because the Bulldogs won close game after close game, showing a surprising set of guts for team coached by a still very new staff.

How close were those close games?

In the week 7, 8 and 9 Bulldog wins Yale outscored its three opponents, Columbia, Brown and Princeton, by a grand total of seven points.

Just a TD difference equaled three wins.

Yesterday I spent some of this space going after Harvard Head Coach Tim Murphy.

And while I’ll need to see another year of Tom Williams and his coaching staff do their thing, I am close to being ready to awarding the Elis my sincerest admiration as a group of coaches who get things done.

As Bill Parcells has said and many of my readers remind me, “you are what your record says you are.”

And that being the case, Yale looked pretty good last year.

Will that continue in 2011?

It will be tough to do it again with the same overall talent, but if these Yale coaches are miracle workers, this will be the year to prove it.

Top 100 Moments of 2010

#67: 104 Seconds

After Columbia took a 7-3 early in the 1st quarter against Lafayette, the Leopards shredded the Lions defense again.

In fact, Lafayette needed just 104 second, or a 1:44, to grab the lead back.

It took just four plays, ending with a 34 yard Ryan O’Neil-to-Kyle Hayes TD pass.

To understand why the Leopards’ offensive onslaught was so important you have to remember that up to week four, the Lions defense had looked generally good. It gave up just 16 points to Fordham, 10 to Towson, and 14 to Princeton.

In this game Lafayette would score four times, all on drives that took fewer than five minutes.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Collier's Story

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Collier Winters

A Winters Tale

Harvard’s Collier Winters has won the "Air It Out" competition at the Manning Passing Academy at Nicholls State University.

Winning that competition doesn’t mean that Winters is the greatest thing ever… or even the best passing QB in the Ivies.

But it sure makes you wonder why Crimson Head Coach Tim Murphy risked bruising Winters’ ego and confidence when he yanked his starting job away and put the spot up for grabs last offseason. It was all in favor of what I would call a disastrous experiment with QB Andrew Hatch who finally didn’t turn out to be much in the end.

Now Winters did injure himself just before training camp last year, and after getting a chance to compete for the job before that injury, Hatch won the job by default. But my questions is why did Murphy take such a gamble with such a great asset like Winters already on the team?

Hatch ended up playing in three games, got a concussion, and that was all for Mr. “Down the Hatch.”

Winters surprised everybody, except probably everybody at Harvard who knows that coaches in the Ivies routinely screw around with injury reports, and recovered from what was supposed to be a season-ending injury to get back on the field by midseason.

He finished the season with a 61% completion rate and at least put Harvard in a position to win the title against Penn.

Now Hatch is gone for good, Winters is presumably healthier, and the Crimson can go about trying to win a title again after a two-year hiatus from the top spot.

Or maybe the situation in Cambridge is still tender.

Maybe Winters will always wonder if his head coach is still itching to replace him with the latest shiny new toy that comes along?

In the end, Hatch wasn’t even good enough to challenge Winters for the job. He didn’t have the heart, and after two transfers in little over four years, he didn’t have the loyalty.

We keep hearing time and again about how “you can’t beat mighty Harvard in the recruiting battles.”


When even the best players at most positions never get a chance to play before junior year and even then they can be tossed for UNPROVEN and DISLOYAL non-talents like Andrew Hatch, you wonder why anyone goes there at all to play football.

(And as far as academics go, Harvard is great if you like being taught by bitter grad student T.A’s who know they will never get a real job even in academia. Four years at Columbia, I never had a course with a T.A. let alone had a class that was lectured by one).

The accepted truths in this league need to be radically re-examined.

Top 100 Moments of 2010

#68: Brackett-to-Williams for Six

Columbia started out the week four game against Lafayette showing off its crucial weaknesses right up the middle of its defense. It would be a signature weakness for 2010.

But on the ensuing possession, the Lions showcased what would be its signature strength of 2010: the talent and versatility of Sean Brackett.

Trailing 3-0, Columbia got off to a good start on its first possession of the game thanks to a 25 yard kickoff return by Ross Morand to its own 42.

Three plays later, Brackett rushed for 11 yards on a 3rd and seven to give the Lions their first 1st down at the Leopard 44.

Two plays later, he was rushing for another 1st down on a three yard run on third and 2 at the 36.

And two plays after that, Brackett connected on a beautiful play with Kurt Williams for a 28 yard TD pass play to give Columbia the lead.

Just as the Lions looked flat-footed up the middle on defense during the game’s opening drive, (and would again and again throughout the season), they also looked razor sharp and lethal when Brackett was running and gunning.

This trend would continue throughout this pivotal game and the season.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Reversal of Fortune

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Lafayette QB Ryan O'Neil and his old HS chum, Clif Pope

Top 100 Moments of 2010

#69: Bad Snaps Taketh, Bad Snaps Giveth

As we continue our chronological countdown of the key moments of the 2010 Columbia season, we now come to what I consider to be the most crucial game of last year.

The week four Lafayette game told us, and everyone else, just where the Lion strengths and weaknesses were.

For in this game, both the strenghts and the weaknesses were extremely evident.

But the initial important moment of this game was a stoke of luck.

After beginning their opening drive on their own 21, Lafayette started an impressive drive by mixing the pass and the run to get all the way down to the Columbia 20.

Every play seemed to put the Lion defense on its heels. It started with a 24 yard pass, then an 11 yard run, a four yard run, a nine yard pass, and then an 11 yard pass.

The Columbia defense just couldn't stop the Leopards.

But then in a shotgun formation, the snap flew way over Lafayette QB Ryan O'Neil's head. O'Neil made the heads up play to recover the fumble way back at the Lion 39.

The Leopards used the next two plays to resume their offensive assault, getting all the way back to the CU 15 before having to settle for a short field goal and a 3-0 lead.

But just three weeks after a long snap miscue had cost the Lions their opener against Fordham, it was nice to see the bad luck go the other way for once.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Glimpse of the Future?

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Marcorus Garrett (CREDIT: Columbia Athletics)

Top 100 Moments of 2010

#70: Garrett's Big Run

Already leading 42-14 late in the fourth quarter against Princeton, the game had already entered what Marv Albert decades ago dubbed "garbage time."

But Columbia fans were in for one more thrill that helped combine the present day joy with a strong sense of hope for the future.

With 5:13 remaining in the game and backup Jerry Bell now in at QB, the Lions were content to just keep running the ball to milk the clock.

The primary running back for that series was freshman Marcorus Garrett, and he put on a show.

On 1st and 10 from the Columbia 41, he exploded to the left of the CU line for a thrilling 36 yard run to the Tiger 23.

Three more rushes by Garrett produced just seven yards, but the young man from Georgia had served notice with his speed and confidence in what turned out to be his biggest cameo role of the season.