LOUISVILLE, KY — They say that the limestone, left over from a shallow sea that once covered this area, makes the grass calcium-rich. This, they’ll tell you, is why Kentucky has bred most of the finest racehorses to ever roam the face of this earth. It’s simply scientific — a chemistry equation.
And yet, the greatest horse to ever race on the dirt at Churchill Downs — the only horse to ever get successively faster in each of the five quarter mile splits of the Kentucky Derby — wasn’t reared on the famed bluegrass of this state. His name was Secretariat. He was Virginian. Go figure.
In truth, that’s the beauty of sport. You can take every aspect of any game and break it down into a million pieces. You can study the physics, the environment, the combatant’s skills. In the end, none of it matters. The game is decided not by a computer or complicated equation, but on the field. Only the score determines the victor, no matter how inexplicable that result may be.
I’ve witnessed a couple dozen inexplicable events at this school, both as a fan and as a reporter. We all know the game stories. Tales of a Joe Splendorio ’01 blocked field goal, an Andrew McNiven ’01 game-winner in the playoffs. You can go online and read accounts of all these moments.
What we never read about are the real stories. A sporting event is not simply a pair of rivals lined up against one another. It’s the smell of Schoellkopf and the sun beating down on your face on a lazy September Saturday. It’s the hard wood benches and the glorious rafters of Lynah Rink. It’s sharing a Trillium burger with some friends in the stands while watching a baseball doubleheader. These are moments that define Cornell sports.
My memory is littered with these moments, these memories. Only a small handful exist, however, that I can recount as though they happened yesterday.
This is one of my favorites …
It was a warm October day my sophomore year. My friend Brian Herman (a man who deserves the credit for more than a handful of both my Cornell sports moments and column ideas) and I were taking in one last football game against Harvard before we were to catch a bus back to his home in New Jersey for Fall Break. Cornell had started the season an improbable 3-0, and the whole campus was abuzz with talk of football.
This day appeared to belong to Harvard, however. The Crimson had gone up 23-10 with half a quarter to play, and Brian and I, sensing defeat, (these weren’t the cardiac kids just yet, even if they had scored 26 unanswered to beat Brown the week before) realized that the time for our departure to Jersey was soon arriving. For our last few minutes we decided to wander over to the Crimson side of the stadium. Back then I always enjoyed an opportunity to taunt the opposing fans, so Brian and I gathered up our huge “Hey Harvard, how do you play football with sticks up your asses?” sign and headed for the west stands.
We took the opportunity to scream at a couple of Bostonians and a handful of Crimson cheerleaders (we even contemplated taking that huge “H” flag and running until we were caught and beaten to a bloody pulp) all the while watching the time so we didn’t miss the last bus out of town.
With a couple of minutes left (and I partially dowsed with a drink someone had thrown at me) we really needed to go, but Ricky Rahne mounted a drive. This was it, we thought. Either Cornell scored here, or we were headed to the bus.
On fourth down from about the 15, Rahne threw a beautiful pass towards the endzone — which fell incomplete. We thanked the Harvard fans for their hospitality and took off%2t