By Dr. Ken 


Some will read the title of this month’s column and think it harsh or judgmental so my first comment will be that I both like and respect Columbia University, in New York City’s borough of Manhattan. It is one of the finest academic institutions in the nation with specific courses of study that surpass the more nationally revered Harvard or Yale. The Columbia and Barnard College faculties are among the best in their specialties and the architecture of the campus, both old and new make the school extraordinarily attractive despite its big city setting. I attended the October 4th game at the Robert K. Kraft Field at Lawrence A. Wien Stadium. Seating 17,000 spectators, it is compact, modern, and beautiful. Even in the pouring rain, watching one of the young men that has been a long time trainee of mine play nose guard for the Princeton Tigers was a pleasure in the facility. As usual, their Columbia, or light blue uniforms have remained among the most attractive in the nation.

I touched upon Columbia’s positive aspects in the
Helmet News/Reflections article I wrote in August of 2007 [ ].

As a teenaged ironworker and into my twenties, I often accompanied my father to the campus to measure and install numerous iron work related projects as he had “an in” that allowed us to do everything from fabricating and installing the window guards on the university president’s home, to the iconic oversized wrought iron gates that surround the perimeter of the campus, to the structural steel skeleton of the Butler Library. I was always comfortable on the Columbia campus and fully understood how difficult it was to attain admission due to the stringent, Ivy League academic requirements. Our office has and continues to work with numerous high school and collegiate athletes. My wife and I are often consulted by the athletes, their families, and their coaches when it is time to make college related decisions and we take that privilege of advising and adding our opinion very seriously. In all cases, even when dealing with athletes who have the potential to develop into world class or professional athletes, our advice has always been to “get the best education.”  We have had athletes with full scholarship offers to Division 1 schools like Penn State, Syracuse, Boston College, and Purdue, all fine academic institutions, pass on these for an opportunity to obtain grant money and attain a degree from Princeton, Harvard, Columbia, and Yale. In every case, the value of an Ivy League degree outweighed the thrill and excitement of playing football on the larger collegiate stages.


Columbia’s upset of Army in 1947 was one of the biggest of the century


Columbia football of course, has not maintained the high standards they had decades ago, many decades ago. Let’s allow reality to set in; one has to go back so many years to claim Columbia greatness, it seems like an exercise in ancient history but greatness did in fact permeate the football program. Yes, it was the leather helmet days when Lou Little became the head coach in 1930, a University Of Pennsylvania product who had previously coached at Georgetown. Little proved to be a master psychologist, taking a sport that was no more than an accompaniment to any other form of fall entertainment in Manhattan, to one of a very special experience. After his first outing that resulted in a 5-4 mark, he posted a 29-4-2 record in the following four seasons and his upset of Stanford in the 1934 Rose Bowl (yes, Columbia in the Rose Bowl!) ranked as one of the greatest feats in collegiate football history. Despite falling to mediocrity, there were high points, with quarterback Sid Luckman’s play that resulted in a 1938 upset of Army and garnered the attention of the Chicago Bears George Halas. Luckman would of course go on to become the first of the true NFL T-Formation quarterbacks, forever changing the game of football. In ’47, with Little still at the helm, another upset of Army, one that broke a thirty-two game Black Knight unbeaten streak, became known as “The Little Miracle Of Baker Field.” There was no doubt that in his twenty-nine years as head coach, Little had served Columbia loyally and well with a reputation as a fine coach and exceptional man but his record finished at a modest 110-116-10 and he had but eleven winning seasons. Yet, the rest of the faculty proclaimed him as a great teacher and Dean Herbert Hawkes referred to him as Columbia’s best teacher. He was totally dedicated to insuring that his players attained degrees and the academic achievement of his teams was always among the best on campus.


 In 1957, Aldo “Buff” Donelli took the reins, and while his run through the ’67 season resulted in a 30-67-2 record in a reorganized Ivy League format that focused upon academics and round-robin play among all league members, his 1961 squad stood out for both tying for the Ivy title and producing some of the most successful individuals in Columbia’s fine history. On a national scale, the names of the members of the team that took them to the Co-Championship of the Ivy League do not resonate with the heralded Ernie Davis, Bob Ferguson, Roman Gabriel, Pat Trammel, James Saxton, Merlin Olsen, or Bobby Bell who all starred at larger programs in that same season. Their level of achievement on and off the field however, marks them with great distinction, truly a class to be reckoned with. Coach Donelli knew he had talent but may not have been aware of the level of intensity that permeated this specific group. Much of that stemmed from the leadership of All Ivy guard and linebacker Bill Campbell, Finishing at 3-4 in 1960, little more was expected for ’61, even with talented quarterback Tom Vasell at the helm. The strength of the line appeared to be with 6’3”, 230 pound Bob Asack, an All Ivy League tackle or Lee “Bugle” Black, a 6’4” center but it was Captain Campbell, at perhaps 170 pounds who was the lynchpin for the entire team. Joining Vasell in the backfield was Russ Warren who was a proven workhorse, sophomore All Butts, Tom Haggerty, and fullback Tom O’Connor, a tough group not only by Ivy standards, but by any standard.



They lost to Princeton early in the season but defeated highly favored Yale to finish in a tie with Harvard at 6-1, which earned their share of the championship. This has proven to be the Lions’ high water mark, despite the later presence of three-time All Ivy quarterback Archie Roberts, who was drafted by the Jets in 1965, signed with the Browns and appeared only in the pre-season games, attending medical school the remainder of the year, until finally appearing in one game with the Dolphins in ’67. Roberts was a multi-sport athlete, excelling in baseball also, and was a full time two-way gridiron performer, rotating to defensive back after each offensive series and eventually became one of the nation’s best known heart surgeons. The 1961 shared championship has proven to be the Lions’ high water mark, despite the later presence of Marty Domres, a 1968 Honorable Mention All American quarterback, whose best team finished at 2-7. He set numerous single season and career passing records for the Lions and was a number one draft choice of the San Diego Chargers, best known for replacing the legendary Johnny Unitas after being traded to the Baltimore Colts. Like most Columbia graduates, he has been successful in his post-NFL career as a financial consultant to Deutsche Bank. The list of course goes on for Columbia football players, less for football immortality than for business and professional success.


The helmet worn by the 1961 Columbia squad, complete with painted center stripe


The group that represented the 1961 Lions however, remains a cut above, with many remaining in the New York Metropolitan area, serving as leaders in business and industry. Halfback Russ Warren continued his football career by playing three seasons in the Atlantic Coast Football League while pursuing his medical studies and became one of the most highly respected orthopedic surgeons in the nation, eventually overseeing the medical staff of the New York Giants where he remains to this day. Tom Haggerty too, another of one of the Lions best all-time backfields, pursued a few additional football seasons with Providence in the ACFL before rising to tremendous success in business. Al Butts spent decades as an innovator in the hotel management field. Captain Billy Campbell continued to set the pace for the class and team he led. Named to the All Ivy League team, with Warren, Haggerty, Asack, Black, and Tony Day, Campbell took his degree in economics, enhanced it with a Master’s Degree in Education from Columbia’s Teachers College, and became a football coach, serving as an assistant at Boston College for six seasons. Hoping to revive the Lions fortunes, Campbell was named head coach of Columbia in 1974 but resigned after the ’79 season.


All Ivy League linemen Captain Bill Campbell, Lee Black, and Bob Asack

He entered the business world and rose through the ranks before becoming a Vice President at Apple. An icon in the computer related businesses, Campbell has been CEO and/or Chairman of GO Corporation, Claris, Intuit, and Apple and was one of Steve Jobs most trusted advisors. He has spent many years giving back to Homestead, Pennsylvania, his home town where he starred as a two-way football player who left to pursue an education in “the big city.” He has also given back a great deal to his college alma mater. He and Robert Kraft have been responsible for providing Columbia with one of the best equipped and most beautiful athletic facilities for a university of its size. He was named Chairman of Columbia’s Board Of Trustees in 2005 and put his heart into reviving the fortunes of the athletic programs and continuing the university’s outstanding academic reputation.


In 1966, the wide, painted Columbia blue stripe remained and the navy blue lion was added to both sides of the white shell


The talent that remained after that marvelous ’61 season carried the squad to a 5-4 and 4-4-1 record but following the 1963 season, Columbia slid backwards to what had become their more typical performances, reeling off five consecutive two-win seasons. Of course, one cannot discuss Columbia football without making mention of what was at the time, college football’s longest losing streak. Between 1983 and into the ’88 season, the Lions dropped forty-four consecutive contests, surpassing Northwestern’s thirty-four game skid. It took Prairie View A&M’s eighty game streak on the losing side of the ledger to best the Lions. Other than the 8-2 1996 season, the last half of the 1990’s left the Lions as the perennial doormats of the Ivy League, and three winning seasons in the past fifty years will put an exclamation point on the statement.


 Forget the laudatory comments from ESPN’s Chris Berman about “the powder blue uniforms” of the Chargers, the Columbia blues always look great

Yet, the team comes to play, as it did this past Saturday as I sat in a literal downpour watching yet another futile effort against Princeton. If nothing else, the Lions of Columbia continue the tradition of attractive uniforms, with the light, Columbia blue jerseys augmenting a white and Columbia blue helmet. Most fans are hoping that at some point in the near future, the team’s success can match the high standards of the facilities they train and play in, and those very nice uniforms.