You can’t win ’em all, but at Columbia University, sometimes you can’t win any of ’em. In the mid-1980s, the Columbia football team went through a historic 44-game stretch without a victory and, now, another generation of Columbia brainiacs has charted out a 20-game losing streak.
(On the other hand, Columbia has a very, very, very good journalism school. I know this because I would’ve needed a court order to get into it.)
What’s utterly baffling about Columbia’s football futility is that the Lions are not getting beat up annually by the Alabamas and Ohio States of the semi-professional, non-student-athlete world. Rather, Columbia is in Division I-AA and plays almost all its games against fellow, brawnily challenged Ivy League schools.
So it’s a level playing field: All of them are eggheads, none of them are on athletic scholarships, most of them will have better jobs than you or me by the end of business next Friday.
Columbia football has been bad since Ulysses S. Grant was in the White House. In November 1870, the Lions lost their first game to Rutgers, 6-3.
(In Columbia’s defense, if ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” had been around 144 years ago, that result probably is reversed by forfeit — I guarantee you Rutgers was committing some type of pre-NCAA sins from Day 1.)
All you need to know about Columbia football is this:
The last good Columbia quarterback was Sid Luckman, who left town in 1939; coincidentally, Luckman is the last good Chicago Bears quarterback as well.
Post-Luckman, Columbia occasionally has risen to the occasion, but we’re talking three winning seasons in the last half-century or so.
Which brings us more recently to Nov. 10, 2012, when Columbia beat Cornell, 34-17.
(Who doesn’t beat Cornell? It’s got a wonderful hotel administration program but wouldn’t know a good linebacker if he fell onto a room-service tray.)
The following week, Columbia lost its season finale to Brown, 22-6. And then the Lions kept losing.
Here are the scores of all of Columbia’s games in 2013 and 2014:
52-7, 37-14, 53-7, 24-10, 21-7, 56-0, 53-12, 34-0, 24-9, 48-7, 49-7, 42-7, 38-6, 61-28, 31-7, 27-7, 25-7, 45-0, 30-27.
(Note: The smaller number each time indicates Columbia’s point total for that game.)
For those of you without calculators, those numbers add up to Columbia being outscored last season by 402-73 and this season by 348-96.
In the third game this season, Columbia actually led Princeton in the second quarter, 6-3 — due to the fact that most of the Tigers’ offense was finishing mid-term papers on the biology of hydrothermal vents — then Princeton scored 35 points in a row for a 38-6 win.
And this past Saturday, Columbia recovered from 21-0 down to take a 27-23 lead against Cornell — these Cornell kids are real gridiron doofuses, no? — but the Big Red rallied to win, 30-27.
Columbia alumni are used to the disappointment. My “World Series of Poker” producer at ESPN, Dan Gati — Class of 1999 — took his son Eli to the Monmouth game last season but left at halftime to spare his then-6-year-old boy any permanent psychological damage.
(I guess another Columbia alum, President Obama, could bypass Congress and take executive action in an attempt to turn around the football program, but he probably doesn’t want to risk impeachment over an unfixable problem.)
With the Lions constantly struggling to score, there has been talk around campus about eliminating the quarterback position and replacing it with a Bunsen burner, particularly for late-season, cold-weather games.
Columbia has one final chance in 2014 to end the 20-game skid — Saturday against Brown. But Brown’s school motto is, “Nos Autem Mali Sumus, Qui Malus Columbia,” which, translated loosely to English, means, “We’re Bad, But We’re Not Columbia-Bad.”
P.S. Sure, Columbia is awful, but remember this — once in a while, real student-athletes are better students than athletes. Nothing wrong with that.
Q. On this, the 20th anniversary of your non-Pulitzer Prize-winning tome, “Hold On, Honey, I’ll Take You to the Hospital at Halftime,” as your erstwhile attorney I wanted you to be aware of the sales of the book in the last nine months (per a statement received today from Grove Press). The sales were rather slim; in fact, the only activity was a return of one copy, which added $0.83 to the $2,519.35 Grove lost on publication of the book. Take solace in that F. Scott Fitzgerald was not a successful seller until he died. (Philip R. Hochberg; Washington, D.C.)
A. Shirley, send this ambulance chaser’s $1.25 to Grove Press.
Q. If Derrick Rose is so concerned about his health for post-NBA meetings, shouldn’t he and his sore bones walk — rather than run — to the bank with his huge paycheck? (David Howe; Indianapolis)
A. Trust me, you don’t want to go into a meeting all sore — last time I did that, I agreed to work for Sports Illustrated.
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