By Jay Sharbut, page 16.
Columbia, No Gem of the Gridiron
Fans Retain a Sound - and Cheerful -
Perspective Despite Lions' 30-Game
"Roar, Lion, roar, and wake the echoes
of the Hudson Valley..."
- Columbia University fight song
Interesting thing about Columbia's
football team. Not one player is studying
broadcasting, even though that has replaced
physical education as the preferred major of
many players at the larger universities.
Another interesting thing about
Columbia's football team is that it has lost
30 games in a row. If it keeps this up, it
will break Northwestern's National
Collegiate Athletic Assn. record of 34
consecutive losses on Oct. 10, 1987, when it
Still, hopes were high, at least for no
rain, last Saturday when Columbia's 58-man
squad suited up for what proved a frank and
cordial exchange of fumbles here with a
delegation of hearties from Cornell.
The pregame festivities outside Wein
Stadium, Columbia's home field, featured
tailgate parties with very dry martinis and
strolling scalpers who gently murmured:
"Seven-dollar tickets for only $5."
But then, this is the Ivy League.
The multitudes included an elderly lady
swathed in mink. She carried a hand-painted
sign that read "Go Big Red." That meant
Cornell, not the chewing gum, a
new-to-the-league visitor was told.
It was a day of occasional sun and
numbing cold. Inside the stadium, however,
and even though no beer is sold there, the
Columbia faithful were cheering lustily, at
least for the Columbia marching band's
musical salute to Dr. Ruth Westheimer.
But when this was halted by the start of [ooh! Well put!]
a football game, the impatience that has
persisted at Columbia for some time could be
noticed. For example, when Cornell gained 12
yards on a pass, a young Columbia fan in
horn-rimmed glasses said of his team:
"That's bad coverage. That stinks."
"Go for the field goal," sneered another
in the party as Cornell marched-OK, a few
guys also fell down-to the Lion 30.
But a third member of their group-all
appeared to be what some call Yuppies-
refused to abandon hope. "Come on, guys,
make it difficult," he pleaded as Cornell
stalled at the Lion 11.
The eight ladies and gentlemen of the
Lion cheerleading squad, clad in Columbia
blue and white, refused to abandon hope.
"Dee-fense, dee-fense, get that ball!" they
Alas, four minutes into the game, Cornell
fullback Jeff Johnson, a business management
major, made his way into Columbia's end
zone. That augered ill for the Lions,
32-point favorites to lose when they took
to the field.
On the bright side, no Columbian was
heard to chant, "Beat the spread," which is
said to have become a school cheer of sorts.
The bad news, other than that the Lions
must still face Brown today before this
season is over, was symbolized by the Wein
Stadium public address announcer. As the
game wore on, he kept saying things about
the Lions like "fourth and eight," "fourth
and 16" and even "fourth and 27."
The lads fought bravely, and showed a lot
of heart. But it must take something out of
even the stoutest heart when the stadium
announcer, during a lull in the action,
says: "Attention Columbia class of '52.
There will be a cocktail reception at the
boathouse after the game."
They pay a lot more attention to football
at UCLA and Michigan and places like that.
They also pay a lot more attention to the
marching bands for the halftime show.
Cornell did. Its band had four tubas.
Columbia's had none.
"A guy in law school occasionally plays
for us," said a tambourine player in the
Lion orchestra. "But I guess he's not here
It must be noted that this marching band
consists of 35 free spirits who would fit
nicely into Pasadena's annual Doo-Dah [that's a compliment]
Parade. Columbia's en foot ensemble even has
a violinist, Catherine Censor.
A freshman, she was asked why people
keep showing up at Columbia games. She
explained things this way: "Some people like
hockey fights, some people collect Coke cans
and some people watch Columbia football."
Down on the field, meanwhile, Columbia
fumbled on its 20-yard line just 30 seconds
before halftime. Cornell, whose turn it was
to use the football, scored on the next
play, making it 14-0.
"They used to be great," sighed a
volunteer usher, Tim O'Neill, Columbia '50,
a tall, ruddy-faced man with a soft-spoken
Irish mix of wry humor and mild resignation.
He was asked what might happen if the
current Lions won.
"They'd go crazy," he said, nodding at
the Columbia faithful in the stands. "But
there aren't enough people here to make much
Indeed. Wein Stadium can hold 17,000
patrons. On this cold, brisk Saturday, it
After halftime, when Columbia's marching
band saluted Cornell's famed school of
animal husbandry with a ragged rendition of
"Talk to the Animals," one of the Lion
minstrels sat down to talk to a visitor.
A cheery kid, the young Lion asked to be
identified only as the unknown band member.
Sure, he said, it would be nice to win. But
it's only a game, he said, and education,
not football, is - or should be - the main
As he spoke, Cornell scored again, making
it 21-0. The unknown band member shrugged.
He cited the relaxed atmosphere, the lack of
big-time college hoopla and pressure, the
sheer fun of getting out on a brisk fall
"This is what college football should be,
not a pro training camp," he said.
His words lingered long after Columbia's
30th consecutive loss, long after Cornell
made the outcome 28-0, long after the
Columbia Lions refused to say die and called
a timeout with only 34 seconds left in the