One of my favorite ways of thinking about Columbia football is the story of Charlie Brown and Lucy. As most of you know, in the comic strip “Peanuts” Lucy often offered Charlie Brown the opportunity to kick a football, Lucy playing the role of holder.
Every time Charlie swung his foot towards that ball—usually after an elaborate and powerful run-up—Lucy would swiftly pull the ball away from him, leaving Charlie to flip in the air and land flat on his back, emitting a loud “AAUGH” of shock and despair.
No matter how many times Charlie Brown was brutally injured by Lucy’s betrayal, he was always willing to give it another try. Every time he was willing to believe that things would be different.
It should be clear by now that in this case, Charlie Brown represents the Columbia football team and the fans that care passionately about its success, two groups of people who dream of lifting the Ivy League football trophy. And Lucy? Lucy is fate and blind referees and passes off the fingertips of receivers and holding penalties and botched snaps and Norries Wilson and the University of Pennsylvania. She is everything, from the small to the large, that has conspired together for 51 years to keep that damn trophy out of our grasp.
(The football, in case you’re wondering, is just a football.)
It was with this metaphor in mind that I rolled up to 218th and Broadway on this gorgeous past Saturday to witness the first game of the Mangurian Era.
Immediately, it was clear things were going to be different from last year. Both sides of the ball played with discipline in the first half, a successful running game was established behind junior Marcorus Garrett, and a physical defense kept Marist to a scant field goal.
That’s not to say things were perfect. There were, for example, several shanked punts and a field goal attempt that seemed closer to landing on the Marist sideline than going through the uprights. And the success running the ball did not translate to the passing game, where quarterback Sean Brackett struggled to find a rhythm, unable to put his scrambling skills to good use.
But as the teams re-emerged for the second half, there was a sort of nervous optimism in the solid crowd at Baker. Maybe Lucy was going to let us kick that football—after all, it wouldn’t take more than one field goal to make the game even.
The team even got their share of breaks in the second half, stringing together a long touchdown drive and then somehow convincing the Marist punter to kneel at his own four-yard line.
Why does Charlie Brown trust Lucy every time, despite knowing that it is exceedingly likely that she will just set him up again? He may just be naive, but I think he’s seduced by the knowledge that, if he ever gets to kick the ball, the victory will be all the sweeter because of how many times it was pulled away from him.
That belief sucked me in, once again, on Saturday. Right up until Marist scored a touchdown with six minutes left in the game. Every one of the nearly 4,000 in attendance thought that now the ball would be pulled out from under us once again.
And then Wells Childress made the play that could define a new era of Lions football. He split the line on the extra point and got a hand on the ball, which fluttered lifelessly to the ground. If we couldn’t kick the football, he was going to make sure that Marist wouldn’t get to either. We were still winning.
Even when the Red Foxes drove downfield again with under four minutes to play, things felt different. There was a holding call that wiped out a touchdown pass of over 70 yards. On a key fourth down, the crowd at Baker Field woke up and forced a delay-of-game penalty from Marist, providing a home-field advantage that we don’t always see for the Lions. And Zach Olinger—who was a beast all game, anchoring a stellar performance from the linebacking corps—pulled down the fourth-down pass for an interception.
So that’s what it feels like.
This is only one game. There are nine more to come this season, plus games for many years to come after that, games where every possible thing could go wrong for the Lions. Maybe Coach Mangurian’s shine will wear off after the first few games, even when we want badly to believe that he is the man who will lead us to the promised land.
But, you know what? I want to believe.
Sure, Lucy, I’ll try a kick.
Peter Andrews is a junior in Columbia College majoring in history. He is an associate copy editor for Spectator.