September 16, 2003

Cornell Football — Just Believe It, Baby

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It’s college football season. That means roaring crowds, blaring marching bands, colorful mascots, and tailgating. It’s hail mary passes, last-second field-goal kicks, and students tearing down the goal posts. While you may have been watching all the action from your couch the past few weeks, this Saturday will be your first chance to see it live.

That’s right, Cornell football opens its season this Saturday.

Now you may be thinking, ‘Ivy League football? I’ll pass,’ but let me tell you, you don’t know what you’re missing. I got my first taste of C.U. football at the “Schoellkopf Sellout” of 2000 and have been hooked ever since.

Quick, how many national football titles has Cornell won? If you said zero, you’re wrong. If you said one, you’re also wrong. In fact, the Red has won four national titles, in 1915, 1921, 1922, and 1939. It may have won a fifth title in 1940, if not for a controversial play against Dartmouth.

Ranked No. 1 for most of the season, the 6-0 Red came into this penultimate game looking to blow by 3-4 Dartmouth. In a tightly-fought game, the Green (known as the Indians back then) went up 3-0 on an early fourth quarter field goal. The Red came back with a stellar drive, reaching the Dartmouth six-yard line with little under a minute left in the game. Three running plays later, Cornell was a foot from victory, but got called for a delay of game penalty.

When the fourth-down pass fell incomplete, Dartmouth thought it had pulled off an amazing upset. However, the head referee lost count of downs, and gave the Red the ball and another fourth down. Capitalizing on its fifth down, Cornell scored on a pass into the endzone, and “won” the game 7-3.

After reviewing the game film, the referee admitted to accidentally giving Cornell a fifth down. However, since the game was already recorded in the record books, the result could not be overturned. In a demonstration of true sportsmanship, Cornell head coach Carl Snavely and University president Edmund Ezra Day sent a message to their Dartmouth counterparts, conceding the game to the Green.

Here’s another quiz, how many times has a Cornellian been featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated? The answer: five. Legendary Cornell goalie Ken Dryden ’69 made three cover appearances as a member of the Montreal Canadians in the 70’s. In June 1962, the Cornell varsity crew graced the cover, and finally, the November 1, 1971 cover featured running back Ed Marinaro ’72.

Marinaro led the nation in rushing in 1970 and 1971, and was also first in the country in 1971 for all-purpose yardage and scoring, with 1932 all-purpose yards and 24 touchdowns. The Red cruised to an 8-1 record in ’71, capturing its first Ivy title, and Marinaro was taken 50th overall in the 1972 NFL draft by the Minnesota Vikings. After a six-year career in the NFL, he appeared in the TV drama Hill Street Blues from 1981-1986.

Flash forward to the “Schoellkopf Sellout.” The Red faced Yale for Homecoming, with governor George Pataki (a Yale alumnus) attending the game. With Cornell down 23-17 and facing fourth down deep in Yale territory, Ricky Rahne ’02 connected on a pass to Joe Splendorio ’01 for the first down. Rahne hit Splendorio again soon after that to put the Red up by one.

With no timeouts and under a minute to play, the Elis drove down the field to the Cornell 17. With two seconds left in the game, the Yale field goal unit trotted onto the field to put up the game-winning 32-yard kick. As the ball went up, I put my head down in disbelief, only to look up and see the kick miss wide left. The crowd roared in celebration, the freshmen rushed the field, the band played Davy, it was an incredible scene.

This would be the first of three one-point victories by the “Cardiac Kids.” At Harvard, the Red rallied from a 28-0 halftime deficit to win 29-28 when Splendorio blocked the game-winning field goal in the closing seconds. Princeton’s kicking game failed too in the end, as its kicker slipped and missed a point-after attempt with 11 seconds left in the game.

Rahne left Cornell with virtually every school passing record, while last season, Keith Ferguson ’02 passed Splendorio to become the program’s all-time leader in receiving yards. He also holds the school reception record.

For you youngins, this Saturday is “Freshmen on the Field,” when all the first-years storm the field after the game. If you miss your chance, you’ll have to wait three years for “Seniors on the Field,” at the season’s last home game.

So roll out of bed on Saturday and head over to the Crescent for the 1 p.m. kickoff. Drive your car over and tailgate with alumni. Most importantly, cheer till you’re hoarse. The team has been training for months, and they’re ready to take the field. I hope you’ll join me in supporting them.

Archived article by Jonathan Auerbach