He was a unanimous All-American selection.
He made obsolete Cornell’s passing records.
He willed the Red to an Ivy League Championship game.
Now, all that’s left in senior Ricky Rahne’s laundry-list of goals is to become the first quarterback to lead Cornell to an outright Ivy League title.
A tumultuous campaign last year, punctuated by miraculous comebacks and heroic last-minute stands, ended in utter disappointment as Penn caused the Cardiac Kids’ final heart attack. Despite passing for almost 300 yards per game (many of which came in the fourth quarter) and ranking third in the league in both passing yards and total offense, Rahne’s season-long greatness in 2000 was rendered all but futile as the Quakers hoisted the trophy to the dismay of the Schoellkopf faithful.
The year prior, an unfortunate early season collapse at Dartmouth came back to haunt the Red, relegating it to a third place finish behind co-champions Yale and Brown. A win in Hanover would have guaranteed Cornell a share of the league crown. In the midst of the championship drive, however, first-year starter Rahne surpassed all expectations, silencing his skeptics as his name climbed to the top of nearly every list in the Cornell record books.
He shattered Steve Joyce ’96’s former season passing mark by 507 yards.
He had more completions (225) than any previous signal caller.
Twenty-five of those completions made their way to the end zone — another first.
He authored nine 200-yard plus games.
And he didn’t stop before etching his name in the annals of Ivy League greatness with a 443 yard effort against Brown, ranking him seventh all-time in league history for yards in a game.
To say his sophomore season surprised spectators is a gross understatement, but Rahne, already a veteran player in his own right, had inklings of his potential.
The story starts almost 15 years ago in the Denver suburb of Morrison, Co. A seven-year old Rahne, full of boundless energy, enlisted in every youth athletic league available.
“I just played all the sports when I was little,” Rahne recalled. “Football was the first one. It was a seven- and eight-year old team. It was the first year you could play.”
He initially positioned himself as a linebacker and took pleasure in the unadulterated thrill of delivering blows to the opposition.
“When you’re little, it’s fun. You can take hits and run into each other and it doesn’t matter.”
His ardor for the game swelled, but ultimately, it was fateful league realignment that brought his passion to new heights.
At the age of 10, Rahne’s town was divided in two, a rift that carried over to his football team. But a dilemma beset his new team — all the quarterbacks lived in the neighboring town — except for one.
“I always played defense, but then our town split in two, and I got on one team where I was the only one who could throw. So out of necessity they put me as the quarterback,” he explained.
The new role enthralled him. The 21-year old still gets animated when he talks about his passion for the quarterback position.
“I always [got] to touch the ball,” he said.
“In baseball I couldn’t be a pitcher because I threw like a quarterback. It didn’t work the same way and if you [did] that the ball kinda [sliced] inside. I played third-base and [you’d] get two hits and it [was] boring. Basketball — I used to be short. I felt it wasn’t [my] thing.
“Football was always natural. It was the easiest one,” an excited Rahne reflected.
“I still remember going home and studying my playbook with my mom.”
It didn’t take long before Rahne’s talent was noticed by the local high school coach.
“My coach in high school always had his quarterbacks lined up,” he offered.
And come his junior year, Rahne was slotted to start in that coveted role at Bear Creek High School. After a mediocre first year, he dazzled audiences as a senior. His numbers were mind-boggling.
3,114 passing yards — the most in all of Colorado — for 33 touchdowns.
He steered his team to a 13-1 record, with the sole defeat coming in the state championship. Rahne remembers the successes:
“My senior year in high school, we lost the state championship game, but we were ranked about 23rd in the nation.”
But more than the statistics, Rahne recollects the camaraderie on the team:
“[That year] was great because it was all my buddies. Twenty-three of [the players on the team] were seniors and 21 of them were starters. We just had a lot of fun that year. It was just a really enjoyable thing, and I think it’s one of the things we have this year, that type of same senior bond. These guys have really stuck around and care about each other.”
Although Rahne’s numbers didn’t entice many scouts to offer promising scholarships, they did attract interest from some of the finest institutions in the nation.
Cornell, Brown and Penn, among others, actively pursued Rahne. After much deliberation, his choice was narrowed down to Cornell and Brown.
“I picked Cornell because Brown had an All-Ivy League quarterback who was only going to be a junior. I knew that we had a senior quarterback here and that I might have a chance to play. It basically came down to playing time,” he explained.
Remarkably, only two of the 23 seniors on Rahne’s runner-up state champions, including himself, went on to play football in college.
While the Cornell football program doesn’t hold the prestige of a Michigan — the school Rahne used to root for — it was no less intimidating for a wide-eyed freshman, even if he was a high school star. In his first practices on East Hill, Rahne questioned his prowess on the gridiron, ogling at the upperclassmen.
“You’re not really homesick but for some reason everything is new,” he said.
“You go from being one of the best players on your team to being one of the worst and for some reason you can’t throw the football anymore — I remember I could not throw a spiral anymore. I was terrible the first couple of practices. I remember thinking I was going to quit after the first couple of practices. But then I just stuck with it. “
Then starting quarterback Mike Hood ’98 and the coaching staff helped assimilate Rahne to the team, the program and the university. As he rode the proverbial pine, the rookie kept his eye on Hood, preparing himself for the possibility of starting sophomore year.
“I just tried to watch what Mike Hood did and just see how he handled himself. He was a really tough guy. He took a lot of punishment that year because our line was young,” he said.
Contrary to popular belief, Rahne was not guaranteed the starting job in 1999. He and classmate Jay Posner engaged in a preseason duel for the right to steer the Cornell offense. In the end, Rahne staked his claim as the team’s starting signal-caller.
His first test came on September 18th at Princeton, a team the Red had not beaten since 1983. And though Rahne will modestly say that he did not perform up to his potential that day, the numbers speak otherwise. Cornell routed the Tigers, 20-3. Rahne passed for 307 yards, completing 19 of 33 attempts and igniting his record-setting season.
To prove the Princeton game was no fluke, his follow-up performance in the Red’s home opener against Fordham tied the school record for most touchdown passes in a game (four).
the end, even Rahne surpassed his own expectations during his sophomore season:
“I didn’t know how good of a year it would be. I just had such great receivers. No one really expected coaches to let me throw that much. I’m glad they did.
“I didn’t think I was necessarily going to put up those numbers, but I thought I could go out there and play.”
But Rahne’s sophomore year wasn’t all about his statistical accomplishments. After all, the memory that best stands out in his mind was enabling the seniors to win their last game in carnelian and white:
“[My] best moment was beating Penn sophomore year because the seniors got to go out winners. I got to see them sing their last song — their last Cornell Victorious,” he described.
The team, in turn, awarded him the Pop Warner Most Valuable Player award which he shared with stand-out wide-receiver Joe Splendorio ’01.
With the luxuries of stardom going into his junior year, Rahne also had to shoulder the accompanying pressures of heightened expectations.
The preseason rankings listed Cornell and Yale as co-favorites to win the Ivy League title. And the squad set its goal accordingly, even if it caused a rush on the local Mylanta supply.
With a penchant for digging itself into holes early on in games, the team became increasingly reliant on its savior — Rahne. Down 28-0 at halftime at Harvard, Cornell miraculously bounced back to win 29-28. And Rahne had no small part in the effort, throwing for 391 yards and four touchdowns — one of them being a game-winning 48-yard pass on a fourth down-and-5.
Then at Columbia, with the Red losing 27-21, he drove 65 yards in 3:26 en route to beating the Lions, 35-31.
“Obviously you have all those fourth quarter comebacks [last year]. Those are highlights,” Rahne recounts, his demeanor suddenly becoming more serious.
“But one thing that is definitely going to stick out in my mind is losing to Penn. Everyone remembers how it feels watching them carry the trophy off our field. It was motivation. That’s just something that is going to stay in our minds.”
Faced with one chance left, Rahne knows his career at Cornell will be incomplete without that elusive piece of hardware.
“Without a doubt the goal is an Ivy League championship. I wouldn’t care if we had to throw the ball five times or five hundred times. That would be great. That would be all I could ask for,” he proclaimed. “I would just like to be part of a team that brings home an Ivy League championship. I think that would be the biggest impact my classmates and I could make.”
Archived article by Gary Schueller