Sunday, September 20, 2015

Photo of the Day: Kraft’s Tomb, Columbia’s ‘Coaches’ Graveyard’

“There’s no need to be politically correct; it’s been a coaches’ graveyard.”— Al Bagnoli, the new football coach at Columbia University, on his 10 predecessors dating back to 1956, all with career losing records, quoted in Zach Schonbrun, “Building From the Bottom at Columbia,” The New York Times, September 17, 2015

In the late 1970s, with drooping attendance and substandard teams, Shea Stadium became nicknamed “Grant’s Tomb,” a sarcastic reference to the New York Mets’ reviled chairman of the board, M. Donald Grant.

By necessity, Columbia University football fans like myself are far more resigned than the devotees of the Amazins’, who at least could look fondly back, even when Grant traded away Tom Seaver, to a pennant in 1973 and even a World Series four years before that. 

In contrast, our last winning season was 1996, and the team has not won a game dating back to 2012. The latter abysmal streak—along with accusations of abusing players and ignoring safety concerns—led to the firing of coach Pete Mangurian.

When I took this photo last year, for instance, in the team’s first game, against Fordham, Columbia lost 49-7 at Kraft Field. Even the final score doesn’t indicate how lopsided the contest was. Disconsolate fans would have been fully justified back then in calling their home field “Kraft’s Tomb,” with a nod both to Mets history and to the very rich alum with more luck owning the New England Patriots than in spurring his alma mater on to comparable greatness with a sizable donation.

Despite a stellar record at the University of Pennsylvania as the second-winningest coach in Ivy League history, then, Al Bagnoli faces exceedingly low expectations from depressed Lions fans. To his credit, he seems to maintain a brutal sense of realism about the obstacles he faces.

The score in this season’s opener on Saturday—a 44-24 loss, against to Fordham—is bound to cheer a number of fans who will rightly see this as a foothold in a long climb out of the stygian depths of last year. In short, anything, at this point, will be an improvement.

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