It’s Homecoming week, which means that—for those of you who are new here—it’s time to learn a depressing fact. Columbia has not won its Homecoming football game since 2000.
Let that sink in for a second: 12 straight seasons, 12 straight defeats in the biggest game of the year.
Two coaches—Bob Shoop and Norries Wilson—who went their entire careers here without pulling off a victory at Homecoming.
One hundred twenty thousand fans who have come to Baker Field excited and left disappointed.
Turning a program around requires both small steps and big steps. The small steps are hard for us fans to see. Better recruiting, new playbooks, changes in the way a team practices or trains—these are the small steps. Some of the smaller steps are more visible but don’t leave a huge impression. Last year’s win against Cornell springs to mind as the best game of the Mangurian era so far, but I’m not sure anyone who wasn’t in the stands remembers it.
It’s the big games that shape legacies, that turn players and coaches into legends and shape the way a community views its team. There’s a reason they call it the Super Bowl. In the NFL, big victories in prime time loom large in the public’s memory because more eyeballs are on the game. Just this year, Chip Kelly’s Eagles made a big statement on Monday Night Football against the Redskins, their hyper-paced offense completely changing the way prognosticators viewed a team that finished 4-12 the year before.
In the Ivy League, for a team like Columbia, the only game that comes close to that sort of importance is Homecoming. The crowd size doubles—for many students, it’s their only experience with the football team each year. With it should come an increase in the home-field advantage, the team motivated and supported as they take the field. And yet for 12 straight years the Light Blue has been unable to seize their one big chance to change the minds of so many skeptics.
Not that the last two years weren’t close. In 2011, the game against Penn went right down to the wire, with only a string of boneheaded decisions by the coaching staff preventing the Lions from a last-minute victory over heavily favored Penn. (I will never, ever forget the false start, false start, delay-of-game sequence that turned second-and-three from the four into third-and-18 from the 19.) Last year, a late touchdown by the Lions was for naught as Dartmouth responded with one of their own and snatched away the victory.
This week, after three games with barely any glimmers of hope, the team took a couple of the small steps I mentioned earlier. The Lions played Lehigh—nationally ranked at 14 in the FCS—very close, falling 24-10. The defense forced several turnovers and generally looked like it wanted to be there. The offensive line kept the quarterback tandem upright and created space for noted beast Marcorus Garrett, who picked up another 150 yards. It wasn’t perfect—it might not have even been good—but it was a step forward.
The only way to make these steps stick, though, is to throw the monkey off our back this weekend. Coming out and whooping Penn—heck, I’d settle for simply winning by one—would be the single biggest victory for Columbia football since 2000. Now that’s something to play for.
Peter Andrews is a Columbia College senior majoring in history. He is a member of Spectator’s editorial board and head manager of the Columbia University Marching Band. For Pete’s Sake runs biweekly.