Those Losin' Lions

Silly Putty

NEW YORK--You will see the numbers everywhere in the next month. In the Boston Globe, in the New York Times, on the radio, and even on network television. Everywhere.

The Columbia Lions have now lost 32 consecutive games. They have not won in their last 35 outings. Not since October, 1983 against Yale has Columbia tasted the thrill of victory.

Since then, it's only been the agony of defeat, over and over and over Thirty-two times over.

Now, the losing streak, or The Streak as the Columbia campus has come to refer to the four-year skid, is about to reach record proportions. If the Lions keep on losing, and lose at Princeton on October 10, Columbia will have lost 35 consecutive games.

No major college (Division I-A or I-AA) team has ever lost that many games in a row. Northwestern holds the old record of 34, but that was a poor team in a strong conference (the Big Ten).

Columbia is a poor team in (let's face it) a poor conference. The Lions, if they proceed to break the record, might truely earn the title The Worst Team Ever.

"It figures that the Columbia quarterback would have a name like Matt Less," people are saying, "What's their next quarterback going to be called, Much Less?"

Columbia is the butt of jokes from Hanover to Philly, from Long Island to Staten Island. Worse still, Columbia is located in the media metropolis of New York City. Dozens of reporters now come to the Lions every game--to watch them lose. Again.

The worst thing may be that Columbia's losing streak, while certainly the worst period in the school's history, is not the only bleak spot. The history of Columbia football is filled with bleak spots.

Columbia has not won more than a single game in a season since 1978. Columbia hasn't had a winning season since 1971. In fact, in the past 25 years, the Lions have won more than they lost in only two seasons.

Things have been so bad that Robert Naso, who coached the Lions from 1980 to 1984, left New York with a career mark of 4-43-2. That's a .102 winning percentage. Of course, that's one hundred and two points better than the winning percentage of his successor, Jim Garrett. Garrett ended his tumultuous career at 0-10.

And it's not just that they've lost, but how they've lost. Last year's losses included such whoppers as 34-0, 42-7, 47-0, 54-8, 41-0, and 45-7.

There are no moral victories, past glories, or close contest. There are only jokes.

"Boy, the job of Columbia coach must sure look bad on your resume" people are joking. "I think all of the former coaches are either selling life insurance or they're dead."

Considering all the attention, considering all the people who are asking them what it feels like to be losers of historic proportions, the Columbia squad is holding up remarkably well.

"I don't talk about it, and I don't think the players talk about it," Columbia Coach Larry McElreavy says of The Streak. "I think the attitude here--and it's good--is that we are building a winning program here. If we break the [record], or if we don't break the [record], it doesn't really matter as long as we start winning."

"Being a senior, it's especially tough," says Lion defensive tackle Matt Sodl, who was in high school when Columbia last won. "But it's not like here we go again, because we've worked so damn hard in this offseason--we've got to get this b.s. over with."

"Everyone is pulling for us to break the record or laughing at us, but we've got to stick together. We're all we've got right now," adds wide receiver Terry Brown.

"No wonder the Columbia assistant coaches looked so unhappy after the Harvard game," people are chuckling. "They are the only ones in the country who didn't have Harvard in their office pools."

Things are looking up, however. Last year's Columbia freshman team posted a respectable 3-3 mark, and the program scored a big success over the summer when SMU refugee John Robinson--a big defensive lineman--donned the blue and white.

"Columbia is a much improved team this year," Harvard Coach Joe Restic said after his team summarily dismissed the Lions, 35-0, here on Saturday. "They are going to beat some teams this year, no question."

"I definitely think we've made a lot of progress from last year," Sodl adds.

Columbia is turning around, and sometime, maybe this year, maybe next, the Lions will win a game. Until then, though, they will have to live with the jokes.

"Hey, what's that blank blackboard doing in the Columbia lockerroom," people are asking. "That's no blank blackboard," others reply. "That's a diagram of the Columbia offensive plan."

Near the end of the second quarter Saturday, an announcement came over the Baker Field public address system. "We direct your attention to the new scoreboard at the end of the field, donated by alumnus Thomas Macioce."

A Bronx cheer arose from the Columbia crowd as it did direct its collective attention to the scoreboard--and was once again reminded of the sizeable deficit the Lions (once again) faced.

Coming within sight of the actual Bronx--and in the most modern stadium in the Ivy League, but one which has never seen a home victory--the cheer seemed all too appropriate.