September 18, 2002

Sprint Football

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“The spirit, the will to win, and the will to excel are the things that endure. These qualities are so much more important than the events that occur.”

Vince Lombardi’s timeless words could hang in the many trophy cases that feature the success and history of the Cornell sprint football team and its alumni. They are a group filled with legacies and success stories. An organization fostered by former head coach Bob Cullen and current head coach Terry Cullen. A family that lives on through an active alumni association that financially supports the program each year.

With a storied past, the team hosted its 26th annual Alumni Weekend this weekend, which may help to explain the hordes of men and their families wandering around campus. Knowing little about the team, and curious to understand what I have been missing for my three years on the Hill, I headed over to practice to speak with Cullen.

Apprehensive about speaking with a head football coach, I was reassured by another Cornell athlete that Cullen is one of the most approachable and kind-hearted men on the Cornell campus. He did not disappoint.

What I learned from this man goes far beyond the parameters of a football field, and the intensity of a Red practice. Instead he showed me how quickly a long friendship can form through a sport unknown to many on this large campus.

Not boasting the biggest stature on campus, or the loudest, senior captains Adam Romeiser III, Mike Rutenberg, Jay Sackett and Charlie Tam explain that the team abides by the mantra of Together, Teamwork and Intensity. It is this belief that they will follow while in college and carry on with them into the real world.

Jay W. Carter ’71, President of the sprint football Alumni Association explains that the team fosters a family tradition. He cites the philosophy of the elder Cullen, and currently the work of Cullen’s son, with instilling the notion of staying committed.

Loyalty is something these players have come to learn and respect, and it can be seen by the amazing attendance at the team’s Alumni Weekend.

While other sports have hosted successful alumni events, nothing is quite like that of the sprint football team’s weekend which welcomed back over 100 former players for a weekend of festivities, fundraising and networking. More remarkable than the number who came back — the oldest members graduated in the early ’50s — were the number of individuals that suited up and played, nearly 80.

It is not only the team’s loyalty — Cullen says he receives around twelve e-mails a day from former players — but also the success these members have found.

Cullen likes to joke about one alumni game in which a player was hurt and the referee asked if there was a doctor present. Four alumni jumped out of the huddle, threw off their helmets and ran over, much to the surprise of the official.

It is due to this career success that alumni are able to help support the program both by networking and through financial donations.

With budget cuts looming, Cornell threatened to cut the sprint football team back in 1992. It is only because of alumni support that the program can continue.

Unlike its opponents including Ivy League foes Penn and Princeton, Cornell is completely self-funded, which can lead to a bill of over $160,000 a year. Through support and donations, the team is able to pay for travel arrangements, hotel accommodations, new uniforms, and all of the other aspects that go into supporting a varsity team.

Currently the sprint football family is looking to endow the sport — making it exempt from being dissolved by the university in the future. Currently, the program is about three quarters of the way to its goal. A goal which Cullen hopes will be met in the next five years.

In a school that loves the heroics of its big time athletes, it is disappointing that so few individuals understand and support the sprint football team. As described by one individual, these players are the real athletes. I believe in playing for the love of the game, not for the rewards you may reap because of it. These players don’t play for the glory or the recognition. These students go out every week and play because they love football, and love the opportunity to participate.

For all of you fans out there, I know you are looking for something to do on Friday nights before the hockey season starts, and here is good substitute. Check out the sprint football team’s first home game next Friday — the 20th — at 7:30 at Schoellkopf Field. You will see real sportsmanship at work.

Archived article by Kristen Haunss