This is my fourth semester as a sports columnist, and I feel sometimes that Columbia’s marquee sports keep forcing me to tell the same story over and over again. There’s some glimmer of hope, some results that look promising or some player who might make it all better. And what inevitably follows is heartbreak—the perfect picture you painted in your mind slowly turning to ashes.
We’ve seen it in dramatic fashion with Columbia football, more times than I want to list. And this weekend was no different for men’s basketball, which entered its first difficult stretch of Ivy play after ripping off a six-game winning streak and promptly fell to Yale and Brown on the road. In the final five minutes in Providence, the Lion offense collapsed. The last thing I personally remember is how the Light Blue—trailing by three and with 54 seconds left—was so ineffective that, after 20 seconds, Maodo Lo chose to put up a contested 23-foot three-pointer rather than take his chances in the final 15 seconds.
And so it goes.
This was never supposed to be the Lions’ year, and losing a pair of games doesn’t diminish the promise I see in this squad. They’re a group with no seniors in an Ivy League with a (potentially) dominant Harvard bunch and a generally rising quality of play. But that didn’t stop me from wanting, more than anything, for this to be the Lions’ year.
Because even if there are no seniors on the team, I’m a senior, and this is my last shot.
I’ve only ever referenced the Columbia University Marching Band obliquely in these columns, preferring to stick to the facts of the game, but I can’t leave them out of this story any longer. I joined band my first week of school here, purely because I thought the uniforms looked snazzy and I thought I might miss playing my trombone.
In four years, I served two terms as the band’s head manager, attended 38 football games and countless basketball games, and listened along when the band said “Hello!” to me through the background of WKCR’s broadcasts when I was in London. I’ve spent more time with this bunch of lovable loons than makes any rational sense.
Saturday was the last road trip for the band’s senior class, as we only travel once in the spring semester to support the men’s basketball team. But a part of me has known all season that there is one scenario in which I’d make another trip. If a team qualifies for March Madness, the NCAA is kind enough to fly the band out with the team—and the only way Columbia can qualify for March Madness is by winning the league. I’ve hoped beyond any realistic hope that this might happen.
That’s the dream that died on Saturday. There isn’t a realistic chance that Columbia is going to win the Ivy League—they would essentially need to win 12 straight games, two of which are against Harvard—and so I’m not going to March Madness. I’m not getting on that bus with the band again.
And that hurts.
But even if we had won this weekend, I don’t think that would have changed what I’ll remember about Saturday. What I will remember is the absurdity of Stew Leonard’s, a grocery store in Connecticut that entertained us with its ridiculous animatronics. I’ll remember trying to explain the players on our basketball team to a new trombone player: “That one is Grant Mullins, and everyone thinks he’s dreamy.” I’ll remember how happy I was to stop at the Brown-Cornell hockey game in order to taunt the Big Red and see my sister, a sophomore in the Brown Band, do an ice show for the first time. And I’ll remember some utterly ludicrous conversations on a dimly lit bus inching back toward the city at 2 a.m.
This is the third straight February I’ve written a column about what sports mean to me. Each time, I think I get closer and closer to what I want to say.
I’m always going to be optimistic about the teams I love, because in the end it’s not really about the players on the team or even the team itself. It’s about the people I love—family, bandies, Speccies, even Roar-ee—and the team is just a background against which I fell in love with them.
One day, Columbia is going to win, and it’s going to be amazing. For now, though, I’m happy with what our teams have given me. Win or lose.
Peter Andrews is a Columbia College senior majoring in history. He is a member of Spectator’s editorial board, head manager emeritus of the Columbia University Marching Band, and a sports broadcaster for WKCR. For Pete’s Sake runs biweekly.