Turn Back the Clock: Columbia football goes streaking


Having lost its past eight games, Penn football is in the midst of quite a losing streak. However, when it comes to stretches of ineptitude, the Quakers have nothing on their next opponent.

On Saturday, the Red and Blue will take on a Lions squad mired in a 15-game losing skid. For the occasion, let’s turn back the clocks to the end of the greatest — or worst — college football losing streak of all time.

When the two programs met on Oct. 1, 1988, they were in very different places.

Still a couple years away from picking up coach Al Bagnoli, Penn had won its first two games of the young season, and it was looking to compete for an Ivy title.

Columbia, meanwhile, had lost its past 43 games. Yes, its past 43 games.

To say that the Lions were underdogs going into the game would be a massive understatement. However, when they made the trek to Franklin Field that Saturday afternoon, they were not content to roll over.

Despite the Lions’ early energy, the Quakers took control of the game from the start. After a Columbia fumble deep in Red and Blue territory, then-senior running back Bryan Keys put Penn on top, 7-0.

Penn continued its opportunistic play throughout the first half, taking a 21-7 lead into halftime.

But despite the scoreboard, Columbia was dominating in almost every aspect of the game, and with over 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Lions were poised to get within one possession of the Quakers.

However, Penn linebacker Bill Caughell changed that, laying a vicious hit on Columbia running back Solomon Johnson and forcing a fumble only two yards away from the end zone. Penn recovered and regained control of the game.

“When we fumbled, I was talking upstairs,” Columbia coach Larry McElreavy said. “I didn’t say anything bad, because I didn’t want to get struck by lightning.”

With 8:35 remaining and the Quakers up, 24-10, the game was Penn’s to lose. An incredible 77-yard punt from Penn’s Dave Amodio erased almost all doubt of the outcome. The punt more than doubled up his season average at the time of the kick and completely demoralized the Lions.

“Oh man, it was the killer,” Johnson said.

Penn improved its record to 3-0 on the year, but the Red and Blue recognized that they were fortunate to do so.

“I’m just glad the game’s over,” Penn coach Ed Zubrow said.

Unsurprisingly, the Lions felt that they had let a golden opportunity to end their already infamous streak pass them by.

“Those turnovers cost us the game,” McElreavy said. “The difference is [Penn] knows how to win.”

However, the streak would end soon enough, as Columbia defeated Princeton, 16-13, the very next week. To this day, the 44-game losing streak remains an FCS record.

Meanwhile, the Quakers would go on to share the Ivy title that year, coming only a loss on their last game away from winning it outright.

This year, neither program looks poised to reach the level of success — or ineptitude — that it reached in 1988. However, one thing is certain: one losing streak will, once again, live on.

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