I say Hail Columbia, and I mean the college and its football team.
The team has now broken records for straight losses. They knew they were headed for this distinction when they decided to play the 35th game -- which, of course, they lost.
Robert H. Bork has decided to play a losing hand, by insisting that the full Senate vote on his dead nomination. He gets kudos for courage. The Columbia Lions, as they are perhaps inaccurately called, hear nothing but catcalls. It is not fair.
I think Columbia deserves much credit for teaching the nation a lesson in values. Columbia produces more than its share of lawyers, teachers, doctors, journalists and others who make a contribution to society. In a most timely manner, while the rest of the country, particularly members of the male persuasion, is groaning and cursing about Sunday-without-football, we have a venerable institution declaring that football is not everything. If the Ivy League had a quiz show, Columbians would probably knock the socks off the rest of the crowd.
And it is well to remember that schools who say that football is what counts most, like Southern Methodist University, which went out and bought itself a team, often bring great disrepute on themselves. Football is now outlawed at SMU.
I am told that football in Texas is a religion, and that levity on the matter is not tolerated. According to Molly Ivins, a Texan without reverence, Lone Star Staters are filling the violence gap in their lives by going out and shooting doves. On a recent PBS commentary, she expressed fear that if the NFL strike goes on, the enraged bereaved could turn their guns on the wingless human species.
When I saw the Columbia-Princeton score last Saturday -- I follow losers compulsively in all fields -- I thought of Vince Lombardi's aphorism: "Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing." I cheered Columbia's dissent.
What I have against football, beyond the fact that I don't understand it, is that although it's supposed to be a game, it's no fun. The coaches, who seem to call each other up a lot like Secret Service agents, look like pallbearers. The audience has all the gaiety and good nature of ancient Romans watching gladiators.
Periodically, men dash out onto the field with stretchers and doctors huddle over the prostrate form of some unlucky fellow who turns out more often than not to have a broken ankle or a hopelessly scrambled knee.
Having spent some time on crutches and in a cast, I have trouble relating to people who recklessly ask for orthopedic mishap. You can easily kill yourself on crutches, say I, who fell over backwards the first time I tried to stand up on them. I think even a tight end, whatever that is, whimpers at the sight of his first flight of stairs.
Columbia has kept its eye on the ball in the larger sense. Any decent school will provide recreation for its students, a chance to get outside in the fresh air, run around a little, and bump into contemporaries.
You would not jeer at the Lions, if you keep in mind that Columbia College is situated in the middle of the world's biggest, toughest city, and that the football field is a 30-minute subway ride from the campus. Anyone riding the New York subway is pretty well played out by the time he gets to his destination.
I am indebted to my colleague Howard Kurtz for a vivid update on life on the New York subway. To the usual pummelling, packing and hostility, a new plague has been added: beggars who push through the crush asking for spare change, and wandering musicians.
An offensive lineman who has fended off mendicants, minstrels and passengers whose normal anger has been escalated by withdrawal of their weekly football fix, could arrive at practice with all the offensiveness drained out of him.
Maybe the NFL strikers could do themselves good with their angry public by offering to tutor the Lions in gridiron. The pickets have not won the sympathy sometimes offered to people who go off the job -- it's hard to cry for someone who comes to the line in a Ferrari. If, for instance, Lawrence Taylor, the New York Giants million-dollar linebacker, were to coach the Lions in Opposition-Mangling 101, he might make friends among the fans. Usually, great hulking, flunking gorillas are subjected to the instructions of some nerd who knows how to spell. It would be a nice twist to have the jock as the teacher.
I don't think Columbia should give up football. By playing it poorly, they've made an important point. Columbia's glory is its required courses on the achievements of Western civilization. Football is not one of them.