The Passing (Perhaps) of an Eerie Era
By D. Keith Mano. D. Keith Mano is a writer
based in New York. His most recent book is
I wore a ski mask to Columbia
University's Baker Field last Saturday (and,
boy, is it hard drinking hot chocolate
through that little hole).
I came in disguise as a veiled former
lover might, attending the marriage of her
ex-fiance. I saw Columbia poleax Brown,
31-27, for its best season record (8-2)
since Harry Truman was president. I felt
joy. But I also felt really irked at myself.
Because, you see, along the line I'd lost
I am a recovering Columbia football
addict. When at last I went cold turkey, I
had attended 221 consecutive games, home and
away - and each fall I spent about a week
conditioning my passion in pre-season camp.
Both children, Roderick and Christopher,
worked the sideline at Baker Field: My
divorce agreement made mention of Ivy League
schedules, not Christmas or Easter. In a
23-year period I tailgated with (and bought
admission for) more than 1,000 guests.
Baker Field became an enormous fetish to
me. If I attended each game, I would never
lack potency or die.
But, by 1993, this magic had begun
instead to feel like a malevolent force -
as though the brutal sacrifice of young men
in light blue were essential for my
continuing good health. Columbia lost: at
one point, you remember, 44 times in a
row. It was humiliating. And pretty damn
A Columbia Lion, back then, would've lost
to the Christian martyrs. And, worse yet, my
right arm was becoming paralyzed. I could no
longer lift an ice chest full of Amstel Lite
and onion dip. I had Parkinson's Disease;
the dumb mojo didn't even work.
In fact, I no longer believed that
Columbia could have a winning season. Ever.
This pessimistic vision had first appeared
to me as I drove six torrential, lonely
hours back from Hamilton, N.Y., (part of
Gulag) after the 1993 Colgate game.
(Columbia led 24 to 7 with around 5:35 left,
but lost 27-24. I mean, think about it. Do
the doggone arithmetic. (It is not
possible.) I pulled over in the
diluvial rain and ate my seat-belt harness.
Columbia, I knew, was making me far too
unhappy. So I swore off Baker Field forever
under a highway viaduct.
Whereupon Columbia proceeded to win.
It was me, friends said. I had been the
problem. And, absurd as that sounded, there
was probably some small truth in it. People
like me represented tradition. For Columbia,
though, "tradition" meant one Rose Bowl, Lou
Little and endless Jersey pine barrens of
disaster. Did anyone need reminders from me?
It was time the team just went out and
Columbia has won 16 games since I've been
gone. I saw them win only seven in the
entire decade 1980-1989.
So it was with nostalgia and release that
I stared down through tiny cloth eye-slits
at Baker Field. The band hasn't changed -
still a musical version of Marat/Sade. The
sublime view toward Fort Tryon and Spuyten
Duyvil is still as Wekweskik warriors once
saw it, pretty much. Yes, I hate artificial
turf. Sure, the crowd should've been larger.
But there was an innocent confidence around:
people who saw no reason why Columbia
shouldn't win. I passed, as some outcast and
bodiless spirit might, amongst friends who
had not lost faith. It got kind of eerie, in
And then there was the game. With about
4:40 left, down 27-24, Columbia went 80
yards in seven plays to win. The team
seemed both disciplined and unflappable,
character traits we do not usually associate
with light blue.
That drive, from concept through
execution, was elegant swordplay and should
lead past the goal line to Harvard 1997,
where Columbia will be favored for its first
Ivy championship since 1961.
If I have written overmuch of myself
here, it was to establish certain
credentials. I know about Columbia and
defeat . . . whereas the young fans I saw at
Baker Field are already quite accustomed to
They cannot appreciate what is happening
at Columbia. Nor, therefore, can they
understand how extraordinary Coach Ray
Tellier's achievement has been: how, under
relentless pressure, he overcame the
negative, inertial attitude of Columbia
football, and did so while providing an
exemplary role model for his players and for