September 25, 2008

Football Earns Back 'C' in Stages

Print More

Football head coach Jim Knowles doesn’t seem to be one for the big, dramatic gesture, but he certainly hasn’t minded being coy with his team about the timetable of the return of the “C” to Cornell’s football helmets. He refused to even play his hand after the squad’s 21-20 win over Bucknell last Saturday.
“It was sort of up in the air after the game,” said senior co-captain Graham Rihn, a linebacker. “We weren’t really sure. We were thinking, “Oh, did we get the ‘C’s back? Did we not?”
After off days Sunday and Monday, players showed up to practice on Tuesday with a wordless answer waiting — kind of.
“We showed up on Tuesday, and all the seniors had the Cs back,” Rihn said.
“We’re giving it back in stages,” Knowles said, smiling.
[img_assist|nid=32085|title=Letter of the law|desc=Though the seniors and juniors have gotten the “C”s back on their helmets, the goal is to have the team fully outfitted by Homecoming.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
Achievable stages, though. The juniors got their Cs back after Tuesday’s practice.
“If all goes right, we’ll have it by the game [on Saturday],” Knowles said.
While the “saga” of the missing C has probably been played up somewhat by the media, its return indicates the end of a mindset transformation that Knowles has been trying to enforce since his squad limped away from its last game of the 2007 season — a 45-9 drubbing by Penn.
“[The removal of the C] was kind of more of a spring thing,” said senior co-captain Tommy Bleymaier, a wide receiver. “They took it off in the spring. In the fall, they haven’t really talked about it that much. We ran out with [one helmet with the C] at the Bucknell game [but didn’t wear it during the game]. … I don’t think we really [specifically] earned the C at Bucknell.”
But the squad did put on a performance that displayed all of the things Knowles has said the C stands for — playing as a team, reacting to failure, being physical, controlling the line.
“I wanted to see how we played [before giving back the C],” Knowles said. “Last year, we handled Bucknell pretty easily, then we had a sub-par season. This game told me a lot more about our team in terms of their ability to handle adversity and stick with it for four quarters as a team.”
What Knowles learned spanned from the reaction to senior co-captain Nathan Ford’s interception on the first drive, to the feeling on the bench throughout, to the nuts and bolts of the final box score.
Ford’s interception, just minutes into the game, left Bucknell with the ball on the Cornell five-yard line. The Bison punched it in on the next play.
“For the first time that I’ve been on the Cornell side line, we were completely confident,” Bleymaier said. “We’ve had bad things happen before, and sometimes we didn’t react right. But last week, we just reacted like a great team would.”
Easy to say now, but the Red was unfazed. It marched down the field for a touchdown one possession later, while the defense held fast until the end of the second quarter.
In fact, Cornell seemed to bounce back every time its back was up against the wall. After the first two Bison touchdowns, the Red responded with a touchdown on either its first or second possession.
“To me, the C is about cohesiveness, camaraderie, commitment,” Knowles said. “And then there’s also the contact part of it.”
And Cornell had that, too. Perhaps the most impressive stat was the underwhelming 46 yards the Bison picked up on the ground. Bucknell, which runs the option offense (which relies heavily on the run), hadn’t registered a number that low since 2000.
The other side of the line did its part as well. Junior running back Randy Barbour bowling-balled his way through the holes for 114 yards, while senior tailback Luke Siwula darted around defenders for 61 yards. Ford tossed two picks but avoided the tipped balls at the line that led to some interceptions last year.
“We established the run, stopped the run,” Knowles said proudly. “We were strong up front in our passing game. Our quarterback threw for 80 percent [21-for-26].”
Bouncing back, controlling the line — it all added up to an odd sight yesterday afternoon on Schoellkopf Field. Some helmets sported battle-tested white Cs with a new white racing stripe down the middle. Other one-tone red helmets remained social outcasts. Barring serious catastrophe, though, there will be a standardized design when Ivy-favorite Yale rolls into town for the Homecoming game on Saturday.
“It was really important [to have the C back by Homecoming],” Knowles said. “To have the C, it represents Cornell and who we play for. It’s a pride thing for us.”