Page A57
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 
"Topless."

   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 
my faith.
   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
stupid, also.
   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 
played.
   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
fact.
   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 
victory.
   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
the game.