It’s the first day of Columbia University’s 260th academic year. Welcome! Whether it’s your first time on campus or you’re settling in for your 50th year teaching Lit Hum, you, my hypothetical readers, have one thing in common—you’ve never seen the Columbia football team win the Ivy League.
The last time the Lions held the Ivy title was 1961, and it’s been a rather unpleasant 52 years since. Columbia’s record of futility on the gridiron is somewhere between New York Mets and Washington Generals on the Sports Scale of Suck.
Now, despite what you may have heard from your orientation leaders at NSOP or from the snarkier corners of our campus community, there are certainly people at this school who care about the football team—probably a little too much. I’m among them, and I’d like you to be, too. (Misery loves company, I have been told, though usually when I am miserable I choose to wrap myself in an overlarge hoodie and hiss at anyone who comes within 30 yards of me. But that is neither here nor there.)
But to convince you to become a Lions fan, I think I probably need to provide a better justification besides “because I said you should.” And I could go on about how beautiful most fall afternoons are at Baker Field or how healthy and cathartic it is to scream obscenities at people who go to rival Ivy League schools (if, that is, you can call Princetonians “people,” and if you can call Penn “an Ivy League school”).
Most importantly, though, I should say a word or two about why we still have hope. Why do we put our time and effort into what, historically speaking, is a lost cause? Why do we hope against hope that this is the year we’re finally gonna win it all?
Hope is a dangerous, tricky thing, and I don’t think it’s a topic that comes up much in the academic circles we spend time in. It is far more sober to always believe in the worst-case scenario, to realize that what Bane says to a broken Batman is true—“there can be no true despair without hope.” (Ergo: Stop hoping and it will be impossible to despair.) And it’s important to be sober about the challenges and problems that we gather together at Columbia to learn about, think about, and hopefully one day solve.
But it’s also important to be not sober every now and then. (Double entendre totally intended.) It seems to me that true despair actually comes when you no longer are able to summon any hope, and so hope is a good thing to nourish inside us. And in this sense the Columbia football team is uniquely life-affirming. If you can have some hope about the Lions, then what can’t you be hopeful about, believe in, wish for?
It’s not like this team is going to be bad, either. Columbia returns the bulk of a squad that improved from one win in 2010 to three last year under new coach Pete “the Mango” Mangurian. After a full year to build his program, the players and coaches should be poised to make a big step forward this year. And—most excitingly—there’s been an infusion of top-class talent at the quarterback position, as Stanford’s Brett Nottingham has transferred to Columbia and should see most of the action at QB this year.
Make no mistake—a top-program QB transferring to Columbia never happens. There are legitimate, genuine reasons to get drunk on excitement and anticipation heading into this year. Now, it is possible that at the end of the year we may all wake up with a really bad hangover. But much like an actual hangover, that can be a fair price to pay for a really good day.
The odds may be long, and history suggests that ultimate success is nearly impossible. It might not be this year, or next year, or the year after that. But I’m hopeful for this new season, and you should be too. “Hope is a good thing,” Andy writes to Red in “The Shawshank Redemption,” “maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”
Peter Andrews is a senior in Columbia College majoring in history. He is a member of Spectator’s editorial board and head manager emeritus of the Columbia University Marching Band. For Pete’s Sake runs biweekly.