Corny or not, the ritual seems to inspire the players. By Friday evening there is spirited talk of whupping Brown, of buying champagne for the victory celebration. "What about some cigars?" senior fullback John Chirico asks the guys in the Sigma Chi tube room.
McElreavy seems to know that victory probably lies somewhere further down the road. "I knew it was bad, but I didn't know it was that bad," he says, recalling his assessment last spring of the talent on the team. As the media have hammered away at him this season, he has tried to keep his sense of humor.
"I know this will be painful," a network-TV reporter said to him before an interview.
"Who knows," replied the coach. "Maybe some great running back in Tallahassee will see this and say, 'That's where I want to go! Columbia!' "
But in the locker room at Baker Field before Saturday's game against Brown. McElreavy's smile withers.
"I'm tired of all this b——," he hisses to the silent team. "They're all here! Let's get them off our backs!" On the bulletin board he has pinned a
New York Times
article that suggests Columbia quit playing Ivy League teams.
Out on the field, under a clear blue sky, the game is lost shortly after it begins. On the fourth play from scrimmage, quarterback Mark Donovan of Brown scrambles for 48 yards, and the Bruins score moments after that. At the end of the first quarter Brown leads 21-0. At the half it's 28-0, and spectators are saying that it looks a little like a college team playing a high school team. "It's like people stopping to look at a car accident," says the band's halftime-show organizer, Frederic Schwarz. "Kind of rubberneck football."
As play resumes, distraught cheerleader Mano bellows sadly, "We are overly generous!"
The Lions' play brings to mind beatnik writer Jack Kerouac, a former Columbia gridder who quit the team back in 1942 and wrote: "This is a bunch of weak-kneed punks, tall and disjointed and sorta decadent."
Actually, "tall" would be stretching it with the current crop. The players try, but they simply don't have it. The game ends at 45-7, although the scoreboard operator, having a little fun, has it Columbia 46, Brown 45.