October 29, 2008

How The Football Team Should Get Its Mojo Back

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Picture this: down 24-19, the football team’s quarterback Nathan Ford lofts the ball in a near-perfect arc. The final seconds of the game clock are ticking away. Senior wideout Jesse Baker, in the corner of the end zone, reaches over the cornerback’s shoulder to snag the ball (You could almost see him saying “thank you very much” upon pick-pocketing his defender). Silence replaced the buzz of 13,000 rowdy Lehigh students and alumni. Suddenly, there was a flash of Red as the Cornell players took off and swarmed Baker. Game over.
That is how you write a top-10 play. That was how you cap off an excellent comeback drive in the last victory of a string of tight-margin victories for this team. Reportedly, Baker even looked Ford in the eye before the play and said simply, “See you in the endzone.”
Well, it’s been an interesting few weeks for the Cornell football team since that photo finish of a game at Lehigh. And while you might have hoped that the momentum riding off those earl-season nail bitters, you knew in the back of your mind that this is, after all, the same school that has massed a .500 record over the past four seasons, never picking up more than three wins at a time.
So, this 3-3 record shouldn’t sting as much as it does. This is familiar territory after all, right ?
“This hurts … it’s a tough feeling,” head coach Jim Knowles ’87 said dejectedly after the last home loss to Colgate two weeks ago.
And you could tell — after the pride he exuded upon beating Lehigh — that he meant it.
Of course, the argument can be made that such a morale-killer was as expected as glimpsing snow in Ithaca before January, given the statistical history of this team. But how could either event go down easy if the weeks before were all hot?
Just like they say about the weather in Central New York from one moment to the next, “You never know.” That’s why I think it’s important for this team to look back on what propelled it to its strongest start of the season since 1999. Was it the early injection of leadership? (This was the first time ever that captains were chosen before the summer). Was it men’s basketball coach Steve Donahue imparting some words of wisdom to the squad during the preseason? Could it have really been the frustration of Knowles removing the “C’s” from the team’s helmets?
Whatever ignited the fire under this veteran team during the opening weeks of the season needs to be brought back.
But whether it takes another tradition-breaking action from Knowles, encouragement from 33 hungry seniors, or something more, remains to be seen. After all, the most important matchups of the season — the four remaining Ivy games — are still ahead. And Baker, the end zone for you and your 32 classmates is in sight…