At the University of Notre Dame these days, fans are wearing green t-shirts emblazoned with the words, “Return to Glory;” that reference, of course, being to the glory days of 1988 when the Irish last contended for a national title. And this year, at least if the first four games are any demonstration of some resurrection (and, at a 4-0 record, they probably are), the Irish are bound to return to the glory immortalized in the glorious film “Rudy.” With a new coach, and then a new ex-coach, and then another new coach, and having expelled some starters for suspicion of behavior unbecoming even an Irishman, the Irish are fighting for some sort of recognition. This year, and for perhaps the first time in years, Notre Dame’s football program deserves the recognition it is receiving. Wins over rivals Maryland, Purdue, then-number 14 Michigan and Michigan State have earned the Irish the 10th spot in the national poll. Such is college football.
And such is the story of the Cal Bears. Last year, with eager anticipation over a highly touted quarterback, the Golden Bears stumbled to a 1-10 record. Most fans eagerly watched “SportsCenter” hoping that even one of the worst records in Div. I ball might garner Berkeley some attention. Alas, no. Their anticipated record for this year’s season was comparable to last year’s debacle. Kyle Boller, though, led the team over New Mexico State and Michigan State, and people were chatting about a possible resurgence of Cal Football. Such talk ended when the Air Force Academy Falcons upset the Bears 23-21 Saturday. Such is college football.
Thus spoke the fortunate and unfortunate tapestries of the Fates.
I was lucky enough in January of 2000 to have the opportunity to witness one of college football’s great institutions â€“ the Rose Bowl. The seats were awesome, and, in the words of a great American hero, I urge you, “if you have the means, to pick one up.” Entering the greatest sports arena since the Roman Coliseum, I was surrounded by the aura of football â€“ testosterone and loyalty, the chemical makeup of the young male’s blood. Brass that would rival the greatest musical performances of 18th century Europe graced the air, purple and gold saturated my cornea, and the smell of anticipated victory teased my nose. It was all so cool.
Playing on the video screen prior to kickoff was a list of past Rose Bowl Games’ results. And something struck me â€“ my father’s death-grip as he grabbed my right shoulder. Apparently, the fact that in 1934 (note: prior to the BCS) the Columbia Lions had defeated the Stanford Cardinal in the Rose Bowl shocked him more than I might have grasped at the time. For him, at that time, the idea that Columbia not only won a game, but perhaps, had even managed a winning season, and even more insulting, had played upon these hallowed grounds, either made him gleeful or apoplectic. I believe it was more likely pure shock. At the time, I did not comprehend
A few years later, at a party, I heard one of the greatest stories about Columbia football ever. A former Lion receiver was playing in a game against Harvard. His future wife, was listening to the radio somewhere across Manhattan and randomly heard that Columbia was significantly leading Harvard with a quarter left to play. Hurriedly, she ordered the cab to the tip of Manhattan that she might witness the end of Columbia’s rather impressive losing streak. Upon her arrival a half-hour later, however, Columbia had of course lost the game and continued to add to their losing streak that would one day end at 44 games. This tarnished my view of the potential success of Columbia’s football program, and hindered my ability to understand their competitiveness today.
This past weekend, while spending the weekend at a friend’s house, and discussing my friend’s father’s alma mater, I recalled that he still subscribed to the hope that Columbia might one day “Return to Glory” (a glory, in my opinion, that might never come to an Ivy League team, especially in the world where such institution’s intellectuals comment that Williams, which has a stricter athletic recruitment policy than any of the Ivies, notes that Williams is “a Nike camp with enrichment classes”). I rashly blurted out all the evidence contrary to such a proposition. As demonstrated by my host’s obvious embarrassment upon my mentioning that Columbia might not have the greatest of football legacies, though, Columbia’s historical record is similar to the grave family secret. It was known, but not discussed. One does not air one’s dirty laundry.
Adding to the awkwardness of the surrounding the situation, the Lions surprised the world and beat Fordham 13-11 in a thriler.
And the Huskies won the Rose Bowl. Such is college football.