In an alternate universe, I spent Saturday’s football game against the University of Pennsylvania sitting on the home side of Franklin Field, wastefully hurling toast onto the field in the third quarter and rooting for Billy Ragone to shred the Columbia defense.
In the fall of 2009, when I was applying to college, I eventually narrowed my choices to one front-runner: Penn. In retrospect, I’m not sure why I was so convinced that I should go there. It struck me as a perfectly nice campus with nice dorms and nice people.
But I think the thing that really appealed to me was just the fact that it was in Philadelphia,only about 45 minutes from my house—far enough away that I wouldn’t be home every other weekend but close enough that I’d still be in my comfort zone.
Anyhow, the rest is history. A mostly unexpected light blue envelope arrived from New York about an hour before I heard from Philadelphia. The Penn admissions office made a decision for which I will forever thank them, putting me on their waitlist. Within two weeks I was at Days on Campus, confident that Columbia was one of the best places in the world and glad to have been forced outside the familiar.
At basically no point in this process did I give one bit of thought to the relative strengths of the two schools’ football teams. I quickly learned about the uniquely dismal history of the Columbia football team—a 44-game losing streak, no Ivy title in 50 years, and a propensity for losing games in spectacularly painful ways. And I got sucked into this team, regardless of the fact that, more often than not, being a Lions fan is an exercise in perpetual pain.
On returning to Philadelphia on Saturday, I thought about what it would be like to be a Penn fan. The stadium is littered with banners and pennants of Ivy titles gone by. The field itself was once the home of my Philadelphia Eagles, the site of their last world championship—just one year before Columbia’s. Can you tell that I’m a masochist? The Quakers even came out wearing alternate red uniforms. What kind of FCS team, let alone Ivy team, has alternate uniforms? (Let it be known that I fully endorse a new black and light blue kit for the Lions next year.)
Columbia put together their best game of the year, playing intense defense, balancing run and pass, and putting Sean Brackett in position to make completions. Yet even as the game started to slip away from Penn at the start of the fourth quarter, I didn’t get the sense that Penn’s fans were worried. Oh, there might have been some concern. But when you’ve beaten a school for 15 straight years, I guess you just have faith that your team will win it in the end.
And that’s why I wouldn’t want to be a Penn fan—why I’d much rather be a part of the insane group of people who believe in the Lions. There’s no fun in expecting to win. Rooting for Penn is like rooting for the Yankees—I gather that’s a thing around these parts. But I don’t see the appeal of rooting for a team that you’re convinced is going to destroy everyone. How can your expectations be met if your expectations are sky-high? Even rooting for the Phillies, absolutely dominant from 2008 to 2011, became a little less thrilling when everyone expected them to win. The letdown this year, when they were merely average, actually felt like the worst season I’ve ever seen—from a team that I watched go 65-97 in 2000.
If anything, Columbia is much more of a Philly team then Penn. That’s why I feel so at home here. That’s why, when the last incredible drive yesterday came up just five yards short—a remarkable play by Brackett and Hamilton Garner as time expired, ending with a bunch of red-shirted players jubilantly sprinting onto the field—it felt so familiar to me. It’s a painful kind of fandom, the kind that makes you wonder why you’d get up before 7 a.m. on a Saturday just to get your heart ripped violently out of your chest.
But I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Columbia hasn’t won on Homecoming since the year 2000. That streak can’t last forever, and—if they can put together the kind of game they played this weekend—it might not last past this year. So I hope to see every person affiliated with this school up at Baker on Saturday. We’re on the slow, slow path to the promised land, and it’s going to be like no other experience in college football.
Peter Andrews is a junior in Columbia College majoring in history. He is an associate copy editor for Spectator. For Pete's Sake runs alternate Mondays.