On Oct. 5, 1940, Cornell kicked off the football season at Schoellkopf Field with the first of six straight season wins. The 34-0 victory was followed the next Saturday by a 45-0 shutout over Army West Point, earning Cornell the top spot in the Week One AP Poll. 1940 was the last year in which a Cornell football team claimed the No. 1 national rank at any point in the season.
The 1940 season, 14 years before the creation of the Ivy League, featured eight games and a 6-2 record for the Red. Cornell would hang on to the top spot in the polls until Week Five, when it slid to No. 2 and Minnesota took over at the top. Cornell would continue to fall until it ended the season at No. 15, while Minnesota clung onto the top rank until the end of the season. With no NCAA football national championship game in place in 1940, Minnesota’s No. 1 rank made it that year’s champion.
The season opener on Oct. 5 was Cornell’s sixth straight win over its Route 13 rival. 80 years later, the series stands at 49-49-3.
“Andy Kerr’s Colgate team came down to Ithaca again this year ‘merely for the ride’ as the aerial blitzkrieg of the Cornell gridders walloped the Red Raiders on Schoellkopf Field Saturday afternoon by a score of 34-0,” wrote The Sun’s Bob MacFarland in that Monday’s paper.
Colgate’s current football stadium is named Andy Kerr Stadium in honor of that coach who took his team to Ithaca “merely for the ride” back in 1940. Kerr accumulated 95 wins over 18 seasons in Hamilton, but was 3-7 against Cornell during his tenure at Colgate.
A year into World War II, warlike language pervades even the articles about the Colgate matchup, such as MacFarland’s referring to Cornell’s offense as an “aerial blitzkrieg.” Headlines about the war — which the U.S. was still over a year away from entering — are side by side with Cornell sports updates.
By halftime, Cornell was already up 21-0, with all three touchdowns coming in the second quarter — and the last one with only two seconds remaining on the clock. The Red came out to score seven and six more in the third and fourth quarters, respectively. By game’s end, the Red completed 11 of 16 passes for “239 yards gained via the aerial route,” as MacFarland put it.
Notable Cornellians on the 1940 team included College Football Hall of Famer tackle Nick Drahos ’41, who was a consensus All-American in 1939 and 1940. Drahos was voted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1981. Also taking the field that day was halfback Hal McCullough ’41, who also threw javelin with Cornell track and field and played nine games in the NFL.
Head coach Carl Snavely is also in the College Football Hall of Fame. Snavely coached the Red for eight years and over his career earned a 180-96-16 record with four different teams. In 1939, Snavely led the Red to an undefeated 8-0 season.
Cornell’s first loss of the 1940 season would come in the infamous Fifth Down Game that November. Cornell originally won the contest 7-3 but forfeited to Dartmouth after it was discovered that the referees had committed an error by granting Cornell an extra down in the fourth quarter off of which the Red scored its only touchdown. That tilt would be followed by a season-ending loss to Penn in Philadelphia, leaving Cornell to finish the season with a 6-2 record.