This week is Bowl Week.
Well, at least it is for Cornell, which after completing the greatest comeback in program history last Saturday at Columbia, will have a chance to top off the greatest turnaround in Ivy League history when it plays host to Penn in Saturday’s season finale.
“A bowl game is a reward,” said head coach Jim Knowles ’87. “The thing that has driven us this year is send the seniors out as winners. They’re guaranteed to win at home, and they’re guarenteed to win in the Ivy League. We’re the second team [in Ivy League history] to have done it, to go from zero to a winning record, so this is gravy. We’re looking at it as something as fun and exciting. Haven’t gotten a sponsor yet. Maybe Stone Travel or Swarthout Tours, or someone like that.”
For a program that has already made history in so many ways this season, Saturday’s matchup against Penn will be the culmination of what has been a rapid renaissance on the Schoellkopf turf. With last weeks’ 32-26 victory at Columbia, the Red became just the second team in the 49-year history of Ivy League football to post a winning record the year after going 0-7 in conference. The other was Yale in 1959.
“Especially coming off three wins in a row, that’s a huge momentum and confidence booster,” said senior co-captain Brad Kitlowski, who will be one of 24 Cornell players honored in the pre-game Senior Day festivities. “We’re just coming out every day and working really hard. That’s how we’re approaching this week.”
That Saturday’s game is against Penn — a team that pounded the Red, 59-7, in last year’s final game — makes it even more special for senior co-captain David Archer.
“I think we’re looking at it and we’re just saying this is a chance to play a team that I’ve never beaten, a team that humiliated us, a team that we owe a lot to,” the offensive lineman said.
“It’s a chance to celebrate playing together one final time. I think people are buying into it just like everything he says people buy into. I think it’s a great idea.”
For Knowles, the chance to end the season with a .500 overall record and in second place in the league is vindication for a program that had reached a nadir one year ago.
“It’s the last week, senior week, we’re starting to install our own traditions. It’s been very upbeat and fun to come out here,” he said.
The process began early in the season, then continued as the Red won its last three games — the first three-game winning streak the team has had since the “Cardiac Kids” days of Pete Mangurian’s 2000 team. Last week’s 25-point fourth quarter may have best represented the culmination of the program’s rebirth.
“It was surreal for me,” Knowles said. “You don’t know when something like that’s going to happen, and all of the sudden you can sense the wave. You make one play, and then two, and then everything’s going your way. It wasn’t those nine minutes, I realized, it’s those eight months, every day. It’s the motivational e-mails, the placemats, and getting guys to enjoy football again.
“If you can’t believe after that, you’re going to have trouble believing at all.”
While there will be some hardware awarded at the conclusion of Saturday’s game — which is the 10th annual Trustee’s Cup between the long-time rivals — the game represents a much larger opportunity in Knowles’ mind. It’s one last chance for the team’s seniors to go out on top after helping turn around a downtrodden program.
“I want their last game to be a win. I like the rivalry, I want us to catch up and be competitive in that rivalry,” Knowles said. “But no matter what happens, they’re winners already.”
Archived article by Owen Bochner
Sun Sports Editor