SI Vault
William Peters
November 29, 1954
In his 25th year with the Lions, Lou has just ended one of his worst seasons. But he isn't worrying much?the admiring Columbia alumni probably will apologize to him
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November 29, 1954

Columbia Gets A Lot With A Little

In his 25th year with the Lions, Lou has just ended one of his worst seasons. But he isn't worrying much?the admiring Columbia alumni probably will apologize to him

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Part of the reason for the lack of pressure on Little is the fact that he is regarded at Columbia as a teacher rather than just a coach. That fits in fine with the Ivy League attitude toward intercollegiate athletics, which Little thinks is sensible.

"An athlete at Columbia has to be a student first," Lou says approvingly. "If he wants to go out for football or some other sport, he may, but only if he meets all the scholastic requirements. There are no 'snap' courses and no athletic scholarships."

For all the academic talk, though, the desire to win is probably as strong in Little as in any man alive. He disagrees violently with the practitioners of sport who believe in teaching athletes to lose gracefully and thinks a man who doesn't mind losing is a fool. "I want my boys to hate losing," he says, "hate it enough to force themselves to work harder to win." And Columbia players do.

In 1930, his first year at Columbia, Little's team was swamped by Dartmouth by a score of 52-0. Little spent no time sympathizing with his players after that drubbing. He told them they now had one great objective. "For the next 12 months," he said, "you are going to be thinking about next year's Dartmouth game. Don't ever forget it." The next year, with virtually the same line-ups competing, Columbia beat Dartmouth 19-6.

The high spot of Lou Little's career at Columbia came on New Year's Day, 1934, four years after he had left Georgetown University to take over what was then considered an impossible team. Columbia's doleful record had been Outstanding chiefly for the insignificance of the teams that had trampled it. Even Percy Haughton, the Harvard immortal, had encountered great difficulties at Columbia. In Little's first year, with only a few really good players, Columbia won five and lost four. But for the next three years the Lions lost only one game a year and Columbia men were in heaven.

At the end of the 1933 season, for reasons that forever will remain a mystery, Columbia was selected to play in the Rose Bowl against Stanford. The Lions had lost once?to undefeated Princeton?but the rest of their opponents were considered fairly soft touches. The press yelled murder and accused Stanford of purposely choosing the weakest team it could legitimately make mincemeat of.

What happened to Stanford and the piteous protestations of sportswriters is one of football's famous stories. Little talked and lived football for weeks and his terrific competitive zeal enveloped the team. The players were in a trance and the core of their lives was one play?now legendary?called KF-79. The team went over it again and again for days?until Al Barabas, a sophomore from New Jersey, the key man, had perfected a fake.

Columbia's chance came at the end of the first half after Tony Matal caught a pass that put the Lions on Stanford's 17-yard line. KF-79 was unveiled, Barabas dashed across to score, and the hopped-up defenses, creaking and crumbling at times, managed to hang on through the second half to preserve Columbia's great 7-0 upset win.

People who know Lou Little well claim that Rose Bowl victory demonstrated some pretty basic things about him: his fantastic drive to win, his attention to detail and his striving for perfection. Sid Luckman, who with Paul Governali, Gene Rossides and Mitchell Price made up the four finest passers Little ever coached at Columbia, used to turn up regularly at Columbia's Baker Field when the Chicago Bears came east for a game. "Nobody's watching the little details anymore," he complained to Lou. "Would you mind watching me throw a few?"


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