The end came, oddly enough, against the team many predicted to win the Ivy League championship.
The Columbia football team, owner of a 44-game losing streak, beat Princeton, 16-13, Saturday in New York. Shouts rose to the sky. Goalposts came crashing to the earth.
The long Ivy League nightmare was over.
Columbia was not the only dog to have its day. Irony prevailed, too.
Princeton, you may recall, was the team that beat Columbia last year, 38-8, giving the Lions a collegiate-record 35-straight losses.
Princeton, too, was the team that carted off Columbia's great hopes, quarterback Jason Garrett and running back Judd Garrett, after the 1985 season.
The Garretts are sons of ex-Columbia Coach Jim Garrett, the brash gridiron master who vowed to wean Columbia of its losing ways. After falling to Harvard, 49-17, in the 1985 season opener, Garrett called his players "a bunch of drug-addicted losers."
Papa Garrett was the real loser. His team went 0-10 that year and he was dismissed. He took his anger and his sons away.
Jason and Judd Garrett, now Princeton's great hopes, were on the field Saturday. Improbable losers.
Larry McElreavy, the most patient man in football, took over as Columbia coach in 1986 and proceeded to lose 23 straight games.
Waiting for Columbia to win was like waiting for Godot.
Victory will come.
How soon is soon?
On the sidelines Saturday, McElreavy had a feeling. How soon? Now.
"You have a feeling as the game is going," McElreavy said yesterday. "In the third quarter, I had a feeling we were going to win. But because of the past, I was reserved about thinking we were going to do it."
Last year, Columbia had led late in two games--against Dartmouth and Brown--but had lost both times. Only when Princeton's 47-yd. field goal attempt fell short as time expired did the celebration start.
Shouts rose to the sky. Goalposts crashed to the earth.
"All the pent-up frustration let loose," McElreavy said.
Some sagacious planner must have forseen the triumph: Saturday was Columbia's homecoming.
After 44-straight losses, you would think that Columbia would have been glad to win anyway it could, against anyone. Jokers suggested Columbia schedule Wellesley or a decent--but not too decent--high school team.
After 44-straight losses, even a victory over Wellesley would have been sweet. Right?
"I didn't want to beat a lesser opponent," McElreavy said. "We wanted to beat a good football team. And Princeton is a good football team. Princeton is still capable of winning the Ivy League championship."
Columbia's losing streak reached such awesome proportions that opposing teams began to fear it. Who would be the first team to fall to the losing Lions? Who would be the coach to bear the stigma: I lost to Columbia?
"Everyone is just deathly afraid of that [Columbia] game," said Harvard Coach Joe Restic, whose squad has opened its season against Columbia for 13 consecutive years. "It carries over into the summer. It spoils your summer."
Columbia losing on Saturdays became as regular as Superman triumphing in the name of truth, justice and the American way. Columbia lost again. All's right with the world.
Well, the world is still turning, but it has been shaken.
Columbia now is faced with the difficult task of outdoing itself. As the most publicized losing team in history, Columbia is at risk of losing its notoriety. What can the Lions do for an encore? Lose 45 straight games?
How about win the Ivy League championship?