Columbia Lions football

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The Columbia Lions football program is the intercollegiate American football team for Columbia University. The team competes in the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) and are members of the Ivy League. The Columbia football team is the third oldest college football program in the United States: Columbia played Rutgers University in the fourth college football game, on November 12, 1870, in New Jersey. It was the first interstate football game. The first three college football games were played between Princeton and Rutgers in 1869 and 1870. Columbia plays its home games at the 17,000-seat Robert K. Kraft Field at Lawrence A. Wien Stadium in Inwood, Manhattan, the northernmost neighborhood on Manhattan island.

Columbia Lions football
2024 Columbia Lions football team
First season1870; 154 years ago
Athletic directorPeter Pilling
Head coachJon Poppe
1st season, 0–0 (–)
StadiumRobert K. Kraft Field at Lawrence A. Wien Stadium
(capacity: 17,000)
Field surfaceFieldTurf
LocationNew York, New York
NCAA divisionDivision I FCS
ConferenceIvy League
All-time record373–633–43 (.376)
Bowl record1–0 (1.000)
Claimed national titles2 (1875, 1933)
Conference titles1 (1961)
RivalriesCornell (rivalry)
Fordham (rivalry)
Current uniform
ColorsColumbia blue and white[1]
Fight songRoar, Lion, Roar
MascotRoar-ee the Lion



Early years (1870–1899)

Columbia team of 1887

Some time in early November 1870 – while November 12 is most cited, others claim November 5 or 11th – Columbia's intercollegiate football journey began with a short trip to New Brunswick, New Jersey, to play Rutgers. Columbia lost 3–6 in the first college football game between schools from different states. The school struggled for most of the 19th century. It was not until after the turn of the century that the team would enjoy sustained success.

20th century


The program was much more successful in the first half of the 20th century, and was at times a national power. The 1915 squad went undefeated and untied. The 1933 Lions won the Rose Bowl, beating Stanford, 7–0. Lou Little, who coached the team from 1930 to 1956, was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1960.

The Streak


Between 1983 and 1988, the team did not have a win in 47 games and lost 44 games in a row, which was the record for the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision until Prairie View A&M broke the record en route to 80 consecutive losses from 1989 to 1998. In the fifth game of the 1983 season, they won 21–18 over Yale. After that game, they did not win a game again for almost five years. The streak began with a tie with Bucknell in the following game, and ending the season with a loss to Holy Cross, a tie with Dartmouth, and losses to Cornell and Brown. The losing streak was so bad, that at one point, when the team came out on the field, the school's band would play the theme to The Mickey Mouse Club rather than their fight song. One notable loss during the streak was in a 1985 game vs. Harvard, where the Lions led 17–0 with 5 minutes left in the 3rd quarter, only to see the Crimson score 7 touchdowns in the remaining time to lose 49–17. After their 35th loss, they set the record for the longest Division I losing streak in history (beating Northwestern's 34 game losing streak from 1979 to 1982).

After this game, Larry McElreavy, the coach at the time told reporters, "I'm realistic; there's not a lot of talent here." ESPN rated the 1983–1988 Lions teams at 4th in its list of the top 10 worst college football teams of all time.[2] The streak was broken on October 8, 1988, with a 16–13 victory over archrival Princeton after a missed field goal attempt by the Tigers late in the game. Matthew Fox most notably played on the '88 team. That was the Lions' first victory at Wien Stadium, which was already four years old, having been opened during the streak.[3][4]



National championships


The 1875 team was retroactively declared co-national champion by Parke H. Davis, along with Harvard and Princeton.[5] The school claims a national championship in both 1875 and 1933.[6]

Year Selector Coach Record Bowl Result
1875 Parke H. Davis No coach 4–1–1
1933 Self-claimed Lou Little 8–1 Rose Bowl W 7–0

Conference championships


The Lions have just one Ivy League conference title, which they won in 1961, sharing it with Harvard.[7]

Year Conference Coach Overall record Conference record
1961 Ivy League Aldo Donelli 6–3 6–1

Bowl games


Columbia has made one bowl appearance, garnering a record of 1–0.

Season Coach Bowl Opponent Result
1933 Lou Little Rose Bowl Stanford W 7–0




Columbia vs Cornell at Wien Stadium, November 17, 2018

The Columbia Lions and the Cornell Big Red, the only two Ivy League teams in New York State, have met 103 times since 1889. They dedicated the Empire State Bowl in 2010. Cornell leads the series 65-37-3. Beginning in 2018, the teams will meet on the final weekend of the Ivy League season.



The Columbia Lions and the Fordham Rams, the two biggest Division I programs in New York City (Wagner also has a D-I football team) had met 24 times between 1890 and 2015. They dedicated the Liberty Cup after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Columbia discontinued the series in 2015. The series was tied 12–12.



The Columbia Lions and the Georgetown Hoyas have met 9 times. The cup was established in 2015 and is named after Lou Little, who coached at both schools. Columbia is 6-3 against Georgetown and 4-3 since the inception of the Lou Little Cup.

Notable players and coaches


Pro Football Hall of Famer Sid Luckman played his college ball at Columbia, graduating in 1938. Luckman is also in the College Football Hall of Fame. Other Lions to have success in the NFL include offensive lineman George Starke, the Washington Redskins' "Head Hog," during the 1970s and 1980s, quarterback John Witkowski in the 1980s, and defensive lineman Marcellus Wiley in the 1990s. One famous Lion that had limited success on the field but more success in life was writer Jack Kerouac left school and went on the road after one injury-marred season as running back at Columbia. Another Lions back who became legendary for his accomplishments off the gridiron was baseball great Lou Gehrig, who was a two-sport star at Columbia.

Pro Football Hall of Fame members

Name Years Ref.
Sid Luckman 1935–1938 [8]

College Football Hall of Fame members

Name Years Ref.
Paul Governali 1940–1942 1986
Percy Haughton 1923–1924 Coach 1951
Walter Koppisch 1922–1924 1981
Lou Little 1930–1956 Coach 1960
Sid Luckman 1936–1938 1960
Cliff Montgomery 1932–1934 1963
Bill Morley 1899–1901 1971
Frank "Buck" O'Neill 1920–1922 Coach 1951
George Sanford 1899–1901 Coach 1971
Bill Swiacki 1946–1947 1976
Harold Weekes 1899–1902 1954

Notable players


Players notable in other fields


Several former players have made successful careers off the football field. Players below became notable in other fields once their football career at Columbia ended. Included are notability outside of football and their position on the team, if known.


  1. ^ "Brand Guide". Retrieved April 30, 2024.
  2. ^ " - Page2 - Worst college football teams of all time". ESPN.
  3. ^ "Losing streak - WikiCU, the Columbia University wiki encyclopedia".
  4. ^ Yannis, Alex (9 October 1988). "COLLEGE FOOTBALL; Columbia Wins! That's Right, Wins!". The New York Times.
  5. ^ 2018 NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision Records (PDF). Indianapolis: National Collegiate Athletic Association. August 2018. p. 110. Retrieved January 23, 2019.
  6. ^ "Columbia Football 2018 Record Book" (PDF). Columbia University Athletics. p. 208. Retrieved January 23, 2019. Columbia has claimed two mythical national championships: in 1875 and 1933. The 1875 team went 4-1-1 and was named national champions, while the 1933 squad defeated Stanford and was referred to as a national champ.
  7. ^ "The only 'Columbia': Remembering the Ivy League Champions from 1961 - Columbia Daily Spectator".
  8. ^ "Sid Luckman | Pro Football Hall of Fame Official Site".