Columbia University

1976 Lions
(Authentic Reproduction)



After the retirement of long-time coach Aldo “Buff” Donelli at the conclusion of the 1967 season and the six year reign of Frank Navarro that resulted in a .315 winning percentage, Columbia University’s football fortunes were turned over to one of the program’s legendary captains and leaders. Bill Campbell, the Lions captain from the Ivy League co-championship team of ’61, was more than happy to vacate his assistant coach position at Boston College in an attempt to build a true winning program at his alma mater [ see HELMET HUT NEWS/REFLECTIONS  Nov. 2014 ]. Arriving back on campus in ’74, he knew that inheriting a 1-7-1 team and a frosh squad that had managed but one victory in 1973 made for an uphill battle but Columbia was the usual doormat in both the pre-season predictions and end of season Ivy League standings. If nothing else, the belief and hope of fans and the administration was that the team would emulate the toughness and passion that Campbell demonstrated as a player and team leader.

The Ivies to this point in time were still producing a number of professional players of note and while future stars like Gary Fencik, Dan Jiggetts, and Reggie Williams were starring in league games, none of them were enrolled at Columbia and the Lions had no one of the same caliber. Campbell’s 1-8 inaugural campaign wasn’t significantly different from previous Old Blue efforts, but the freshman team improved as did the squad’s overall attitude. There was notable improvement in ’75, primarily through the efforts of league leading rusher  Doug Jackson, the All Ivy League performer and the circuit’s Player Of The Year. As was hoped for, the improvement came less from the 2-7 record, than the enhancement of competitive spirit which at least led to harder play and a move from the Ivy League cellar.

With two of his own recruiting classes in place on the varsity, 1976 was projected as the breakthrough season by the staff. Despite the graduation of Jackson, who later returned to the campus as an assistant coach and offensive coordinator, the core of the offensive line returned with Steve Elliott, John Garland, Tom Masso, and Kevin Kirchman, believed to be capable of opening holes for anyone. Good linebackers and defensive back and Co-Captain Ed Backus were expected to lead a young and relatively inexperienced defense. Unfortunately, the record for ’76 remained an on-track and as-usual 3-6. Trying to beef up the running attack, leading rusher Paul McCormick could muster but 444 yards and two touchdowns. Quarterback Kevin Burns’ passing statistics which showed only thirty completions and 374 yards, with leading receiver Artie Pulsinelli catching twelve of those thirty completions, very much sums up the team’s inconsistent attack and offensive woes.

Campbell, one-hundred percent dedicated in every way to the Lions and the Columbia University mission, hung in through the 1979 season, posting an aggregate record of 12-41-1. As disappointing as this result was both to Campbell and his enthusiastic followers who felt that it would take the leadership of a former Lions player and successful graduate to turn things around, it was better than the three head coaches that succeeded him. Of course, a quick look at Campbell’s track record as a business entrepreneur would indicate that it certainly wasn’t a lack of leadership qualities that prevented the Lions from winning. He left Columbia and over time, applied the same focused work ethic that had made him a 170 pound All Ivy guard and linebacker to his work in Silicon Valley. Looking at his track record as Corporate Director of Apple, CEO of GO Corporation and Intuit, Chairman of The Board of Quicken, and as the Chairman of Columbia’s Board of Trustees, it is easy to see how he earned hundreds of millions in personal income. He cared for his players with many achieving incredible success in business and professional fields and with many of those stating that it was Coach Campbell’s personal interest in them that allowed for their eventual success. He has donated millions to Columbia and in tandem with the New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, has provided the Lions with a truly outstanding athletic training complex. Yet, the Lions have yet to turn the corner, and have continued to be one of the poorer teams in NCAA Football.