SI Vault
The Lions Go Out Like Lambs
Rick Telander
December 01, 1986
Ivy be-Leaguered Columbia wound up its third straight winless season, but then the school values sheepskin more than pigskin
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December 01, 1986

The Lions Go Out Like Lambs

Ivy be-Leaguered Columbia wound up its third straight winless season, but then the school values sheepskin more than pigskin

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Can we make something clear to all you potential Columbia football recruits? Fellows, you don't have to take the subway to practice. O.K.? There are team buses for that. The buses leave a couple of times each afternoon from Amsterdam Avenue and 116th Street, close to the campus's east gate, and travel the 102 blocks uptown to Baker Field, through Harlem and all the rest of the funky big-city stuff. And the buses will bring you back at night. Safe and sound.

"You've got to make sure people know that," says assistant sports information director Ron Lieberman. "Schools recruit against us by telling kids they'll have to ride the subway to and from practice if they go to Columbia."

You don't have to; but you can. Which is what a bunch of the Columbia players are doing now, riding back to campus on the IRT after the last practice of the year. Ironically, they're riding the No. 1 train.

The mood of the players is unsettled, pensive yet eager. If they lose to Brown tomorrow, they are worse than dirt. The defeat will mark Columbia's 31st straight loss, by far the longest current losing streak in Division I football; the closest rival is Tennessee Tech, which has lost 14 in a row. The Columbia Lions are also dangerously close to the alltime major-college futility mark of 34 consecutive losses set by Northwestern from 1979 to 1982. Another defeat will also mean that the Columbia seniors—all 11 of the battered souls who remain from a freshman squad of 50—will become the first players in Division I history to go their entire varsity careers without winning a game. (It should be noted that in the Ivy League freshmen are not allowed to compete at the varsity level.)

But if Columbia does beat Brown, well, as senior wide receiver John Pennywell says, "It will make everything, everything, worthwhile." Brown is 4-4-1, and according to senior free safety Larry Alletto, "They don't have great team speed, and we match up well with teams like that." Hope, like subway graffiti, springs eternal.

Junior quarterback Mike Morse, who will be making his first start tomorrow, is revved up. A transfer from Navy, Morse once steered a destroyer across the English Channel from France to England, and at one point during the voyage, he let the wheel get away from him so badly that sleeping crew members were flung from their bunks like teacups. At 6'4" and 200 pounds, Morse is bigger than most of the Columbia players, and he is still developing as an athlete, which is probably the kindest thing that can be said about any of the Lions. Like the others, though, Morse is a good man, and when there is commotion at a subway stop—a girl screaming, police dashing onto the platform—he steps off the train to see if he can help. He steps back in and, after a time, the train moves on.

"What happened?" a player asks.

"Somebody tried to mug a girl," Morse says. "I asked her if she was O.K., but she didn't speak English."

"A mugging?" asks the team's leading tackier, senior cornerback Joe Policastro.

Morse nods.

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