It is a long long long long long long long bus ride from Hanover back to Morningside Heights—at least four and a half hours, if you’re not counting stops, traffic, or stray sheep blocking the road. I assume it feels even longer when the ride is conducted in dead silence. After another horrific pounding suffered this Saturday against Dartmouth, the ride back must have felt like several lifetimes for the football team.
Silence was a recurring theme of the weekend. Hanover is, especially when compared to the hustle and bustle of New York, silent and cold as the grave, the rare sight of stars above making the quiet even more deafening. The green crowd at Memorial Field on Saturday was so small and subdued that it made the average Columbia crowd look like an Eagles game at the old Veterans Stadium. And the Columbia sideline, where 70 men in blue and white lined up to play and coach a football game, was reduced to a beaten-down, hopeless group, punctuated only by the errant expletives and outbursts of frustration that one would expect when suffering your sixth straight loss of the season.
After a somewhat encouraging effort against Penn last weekend for Homecoming, the biggest shock to me was the complete lack of energy that Columbia started with on Saturday. In a game that was going to be won in the trenches, Dartmouth came out and bulldozed the Light Blue lines. On offense, Dartmouth ran for 325 yards, picking up nearly five yards every time the offense rushed the ball and completely dominating the line of scrimmage. The Dartmouth defense swarmed Columbia’s strong running attack and kept quarterback Kelly Hilinski on the run and on his back for the duration of the game. 56-0 is, I’m sorry to say, a bit of a generous scoreline for Columbia.
I had a chance to watch the men’s basketball team practice as a part of Media Day last Thursday. Before practice, the veterans talked about how the new class of first-years had made training the most intense it has been in their careers. That’s what I saw in about an hour of practice—16 guys giving full effort every drill. Every second that the ball was in play, the gym was filled with sound as every player communicated at each other—barking out plays, assignments, warnings, signals. The gym fell silent only when Kyle Smith put his hands up and started teaching specific nuances.
The point of this story is not to impugn the football team’s effort. But the difference between a team with hope—with everything to play for—and a team that has bottomed out can be heard in the cacophony of voices that filled Levien Gymnasium versus the dead silence on the sideline that echoed around Memorial Field.
This is the second time in two years that the team has taken a long trip only to wish it had stayed in Manhattan—last year, it was a 69-0 flattening by a very good Harvard team. This loss is worse, though. I was willing to accept last year’s loss as a consequence of growing pains under head coach Pete Mangurian, as a fluke against a very good team that was sandwiched between two good wins against Yale and Cornell. But there’s not much evidence that Dartmouth is some sort of world-beater. Nor is there any evidence that the Lions played much below their usual standard of play this season. Saturday was an unmitigated disaster, but the fact that it surprised so few people is what made it so much worse.
There are four games left in this wretched season. And I’m going to be at every one, cheering for our guys and hoping that they pull out four wins, no matter whether that’s a reasonable goal or not. But deep down, I feel the looming, terrifying specter of an 0-10 season in this, my senior year, with silence falling over Baker Field as the leaves fall from the trees, snow starts to fall, and the long nights of winter begin.
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.