The Gigantic poster was taped to the door of Cornell's locker room early in the week as a reminder of the challenge ahead: Saturday's Ivy League championship game against Penn. At the top of the poster and boldly circled in red were head shots of the Quakers' main offensive threats—quarterback Malcolm Glover and tailback Bryan Keys. Underneath were some harsh words.
This is an article from the Nov. 28, 1988 issue
DEAR CENSUS BUREAU: PLEASE ADD THESE PLAYERS TO THE LIST OF DECEASED PLAYERS OF THE WEEK. SIGNED, THE BIG RED DEFENSE. At the bottom of the poster was this motivational footnote: SPILL YOUR GUTS AND THEY WILL LOSE THEIRS!
If that wasn't enough to get Cornell rough and ready for Penn, then the 10-foot banner tacked to the wall outside the locker room surely would. It read: COLD-BLOODED GENTLEMEN.
Welcome to Ivy League football. When the title is at stake, these guys are anything but blue-blazer-and-gray-flannel-trousers scholars. Led by its swarming, hard-hitting defense, the Big Red crushed the Quakers 19-6 at Schoellkopf Field in Ithaca, N.Y. The victory gave Cornell, which finished 7-2-1 overall and 6-1 in the Ivy League, the championship—or, to be precise, a share of it, with Penn—for the first time since 1971, when the Big Red was led by a senior tailback named Ed Marinaro. (Penn arrived in Ithaca with a 9-0 record, which made it the only undefeated team in Division I-AA. The Quakers have now won or shared the Ivy title six times in the past seven seasons.)
Over the years, Penn and Cornell have had a heated rivalry, but rarely, if ever, had it become as unseemly as it did two seasons ago, when Quaker defenders stood over fallen Big Red offensive players after each tackle and barked like mad dogs. That sort of rabid behavior wasn't absent from this year's knockdown-drag-out game, in which nine personal fouls were assessed—five against Penn and four against Cornell.
"Their guys were grabbing us in the pile, spitting in our faces whenever they could and mouthing off," said Big Red quarterback Aaron Sumida after the game. Added Cornell's Len Tokish, an outside linebacker, "Some of Penn's hits were cheap. They taunted us like crazy—pointing fingers and using words I can't repeat."
Big Red coach Maxie Baughan had spent the week preparing Cornell for exactly this kind of game. He had his scout units imitate the Quakers, cursing and shoving the offensive and defensive starters from one end of the practice field to the other. "We knew we weren't preparing for the Little Sisters of the Poor," said outside linebacker Mike McGrann. "Penn is a team of intimidators."
The score at the half was 3-3, and on the Quakers' first offensive series of the third quarter, it looked as if the Big Red defense went overboard in imitating Penn. Back-to-back personal fouls—for roughing the passer and a late hit—for 29 penalty yards helped set up a 37-yard go-ahead field goal by the Quakers' Rich Friedenberg. "We wanted to show if anybody did the intimidating, it was going to be us," Tokish said later. "The idea backfired."
But the Cornell defense soon regained its poise. Two series later, Penn drove 46 yards on five plays, all the way to the Big Red five. Cornell then stopped the Quakers on downs, with strong safety Brent Felitto nailing Keys at the six-inch line on fourth down.
That goal-line stand seemed to inspire the Big Red offense. On Cornell's next possession, fullback Scott Malaga, who would finish the day with 125 yards on 29 carries, ground out seven yards on two off-tackle plays. Then, on a third-down quarterback keeper that came up short of the first down, Sumida was hit by a Penn linebacker after the whistle, giving Cornell a first down at its 25.
Five plays later, Sumida found wide receiver Sam Brickley along the right sideline with a floating 38-yard pass into the frigid 15-mph wind; two plays after that, halfback Steve Lutz scored on a 15-yard run around right end. Kicker Andy Bednar missed the extra point, but the Big Red was riding high, 9-6, with 14:12 remaining in the game.
The Quakers committed two more personal fouls—unsportsmanlike conduct and a late hit—on Cornell's next offensive series, and Malaga dived over from the Penn one for the touchdown that put Cornell ahead 16-6. A 27-yard field goal by Bednar sealed the win.
Even then, tackle Dan Bauer, the Quakers' defensive captain, found a reason to gloat. "Bauer told me during the fourth quarter, 'You may be the winner but we're the champions too,' " said Big Red right guard Doug Langan, taking a puff on a victory cigar. "I told him, 'You're right, but we're about to win something we haven't had in 17 years. We've got it right in our hip pocket. Let us enjoy the moment, will you?' "
Though league rules don't include a tie-breaking provision, Cornell would seem to have earned bragging rights by soundly beating the conference's other top team. Still, the defeat shouldn't seriously diminish what Penn accomplished in 1988. Last year, the Quakers were plagued by injuries and a lack of discipline and finished with a dismal 4-6 record. Five straight Ivy titles had taken their toll. "An atmosphere had developed that was similar to the greenhouse effect," says Penn coach Ed Zubrow. "We figured that somehow we'd win every game, go 10-0 on into eternity. I couldn't sense it coming; all of a sudden everything overheated. I'd seen Yale and Dartmouth bottom out after long title-winning streaks, and I was determined we'd stumble, not fall."
So were the Quakers' soon-to-be seniors, who last winter demanded that the underclassmen join them in lifting weights at least three times a week and sign up for a conditioning class in the spring that met Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 6:30 a.m. "I had to go to bed by 10 o'clock to make the workouts," Keys said. Early to bed paid off: Keys led the Ivies this season with a school-record 1,165 yards rushing. Meanwhile, the Penn defense finished the year ranked second in the league, behind Cornell's D. On Saturday, the Quakers' defenders stormed onto the field carrying a 15-pound sledgehammer with a red and blue handle—the Big Stick—which is awarded each week to the defensive player who makes the hardest hit.
It's not mere coincidence that these teams ended up sharing the Ivy title. Baughan tries to pattern his program after Penn's. As the Quakers began to do in the early 1980s, he recruits nationally. Sumida, for instance, hails from Kealakekua, Hawaii, and Lutz is from Arlington Heights, Ill. Cornell had its own off-season workouts, consisting of weight training and aerobics classes. "Imagine 120 fat guys jumping around to Madonna," said McGrann. And at the end of each season, the three best defensive players are presented with authentic Gurkha warrior knives.
But Cornell's program has its unique aspects too. On the one day of spring practice allowed by the Ivy League, Baughan eschews drills and puts on a barbecue for his players, complete with a country and western band. On Homecoming Weekend, he invites fathers to attend the pregame meal with their sons. Every Wednesday is Milkshake Day; the offensive unit that performs best is rewarded with shakes. Thursday is Chatter Day; during warmups, the players let loose and do impersonations. Last Thursday, backup quarterback Chris Cochrane did a masterly impression of Baughan, mimicking his drawl and hands-on-hips strut. "They all had a good laugh on me," said Baughan.
That couldn't compare to the laughs they had after last Saturday's game. In the locker room, Big Red players sprayed each other with soda. And Baughan, the ex-Philadelphia Eagle and L.A. Ram All-Pro who was regarded as one of the meanest linebackers ever to play in the NFL, smiled through his tears.
"It was pandemonium—the Super Bowl and World Series all wrapped in one," Malaga said. "I screamed for 15 minutes straight. We're winners, and that's the greatest feeling in the world."