Fifty years later, only the weather seemed familiar. On Oct. 25,
1997, the wind blew cold off the Hudson River, occasionally
sweeping patches of fog and tiny drops of rain across Columbia's
Baker Field, just as it had done on Oct. 25, 1947. As they
carefully negotiated the rain-slicked artificial turf, the 22
men assembling at midfield remarked that they liked it this way.
Their fondest memories are of the site wrapped in a soft gray
shroud like the one hovering above them. Dressed in wing tips
and trench coats, these men, ranging in age from late 60s to
mid-70s, were being honored at halftime of the Columbia-Yale
game for what they had done as young men wearing cleats and
shoulder pads. Five decades earlier, to the day, Columbia pulled
off one of this century's most memorable gridiron upsets by
beating Army 21-20 and snapping the Cadets' four-year unbeaten
streak at 32 games.
"We had no chance of beating them," said Leon Van Bellingham,
who played halfback for the Lions in that game. "Supposedly."
There was good reason for Army to look past Columbia. West Point
was that era's equivalent of Nebraska, blowing out opponents
before that was deemed a requirement by Top 20 poll voters. When
Army's star players graduated--as Glenn Davis and Doc Blanchard
did in the spring of 1947--the team didn't so much rebuild as
reload. In its first four games that fall, Army outscored its
opponents by a combined 93-0. During the four-year streak West
Point had left teams from the Ivy League looking withered on the
vine. In games against Cornell, Penn, Brown and Columbia, West
Point had won by an average score of 52-9. Army was the class
bully, and Columbia was supposed to be just another nerd it
Early in the season Columbia had been mediocre at best. The
Lions split their first four games, despite having two of the
best offensive players in the country in junior quarterback Gene
Rossides and halfback Lou Kusserow. Rossides was closing in on
Sid Luckman's school passing records, and Kusserow would be
among the tops in the nation in touchdowns scored in 1948, with
18. But in the weeks before the '47 Army game, the Lions'
offense struggled. Columbia lost to Yale 17-7 and was blown out
by Penn 34-14.
December 15, 1997
No doubt No. 6-ranked Army was focusing on its scheduled
showdown with second-ranked Notre Dame two weeks down the road.
Meanwhile the Lions were still bitter about their 48-14 loss to
Army the year before. Twenty-nine of the 39 players on the 1946
Columbia team had been enlisted men in World War II. Losing that
badly to West Point, a team made up of future officers not
unlike the ones from whom the Lions had just finished taking
orders, was as humiliating as boot camp. "With the Army team
being potential officers, our veterans had some incentives,"
says Rossides, who would go on to become assistant secretary of
the treasury under President Richard Nixon from 1969 to '73.
"I think this game also meant more to [coach] Lou Little," says
tackle Hank O'Shaughnessy. "He had been an infantry captain in
World War I, and he wanted to prove something to West Point."
Little was a man of military habits. He wore pince-nez, crisp
white shirts and ties with slim knots, and he kept his hair cut
short. He was a hard-nosed disciplinarian whose scream was loud
enough to peel paint. He didn't skimp on criticism, either,
doling out verbal abuse equally to 24-year-old war veterans and
18-year-olds fresh from the farm. The players didn't like
Little, "but we respected him," says Rossides, "and feared him
The one player Little had a soft spot for was O'Shaughnessy,
possibly because he was the one player Little couldn't
intimidate. O'Shaughnessy first enrolled at Columbia in 1941. He
went out for wrestling and lost only one match, but at the
beginning of his sophomore year, he enlisted and was shipped off
to basic training. As a member of Patton's Third Army, he landed
at Normandy in September 1944. O'Shaughnessy was a platoon
sergeant at the Battle of the Bulge and earned a Purple Heart, a
Bronze Star and a Silver Star. He was wounded in battle twice,
once severely from shrapnel in a knee and his left hip. He still
proudly wears the Combat Infantryman's Badge on the lapel of his
sport jacket. "That was the trendy one to get back then," says
the 74-year-old O'Shaughnessy, who is 6'4" and whose hands still
seem strong enough for one-on-one combat.
O'Shaughnessy had returned to Columbia to finish his sophomore
year in 1946 and wore a brace on the knee that was injured.
Little named him team captain for the Army game. That was
because if there was anyone who wanted to beat West Point more
than Little, it was the 24-year-old tackle. "After the 1946 game
at West Point," says O'Shaughnessy, "I went to a barbecue at the
home of friends of my in-laws', near the Army campus. There was
a man there named Lieutenant Colonel A. Ray White, and he rubbed
my nose in the loss the entire dinner. Just another jab from an
officer. The next year, I remembered that. All the veterans
played up that theme."
The Cadets showed up for the '47 game in force, as if they had
invaded Manhattan by marching down the shore of the Hudson
River. Many of the 35,000 fans in Baker Field's wooden bleachers
that day wore military uniforms.
In the game's first half Columbia was sloppy and soft. On Army's
first possession, after returning a Columbia punt to the Lions'
45, the Cadets marched down the field with ease and scored, a
drive highlighted by a 24-yard run up the middle by Elwyn (Rip)
Rowan that helped set up the fourth-down quarterback-sneak
touchdown by Arnold Galiffa. Five series later Army scored
again, on a one-yard plunge by Rowan that followed a 29-yard run
by Bill Gustafson.
With 5:52 left in the first half, Columbia was still down 14-0.
As the Lions had walked off the field after Army's second
touchdown, the Army fans added to the humiliation, waving white
handkerchiefs in the Lions' direction, calling for their
But with barely three minutes left in the half, Columbia
answered back. Rossides hit end Bill Swiacki on passes of 14 and
32 yards, and Kusserow ran five yards around right end to cut
Army's lead in half.
On the second play of the next series, Galiffa fumbled the ball,
and Columbia recovered on West Point's four-yard line. "This
series of plays won the game for us," says 83-year-old John
Bateman, who was the line coach for Columbia that day and the
head coach at Rutgers from 1960 to '72. "Kusserow ran the ball
down to the one, but the officials called it back because they
said they weren't ready. We didn't score on the next two plays,
and then [Ventan] Yablonski missed a field goal. In the next
series Army's Rowan ran 83 yards for another touchdown. Instead
of being tied at halftime, we were down 20-7. But when our
players went into the locker room, they felt they could move the
ball on Army. More important, they had been playing well enough
to convince themselves they could win."
At halftime Little didn't say a word to his players. He didn't
draw a play on the chalkboard or make any adjustments. He just
let the Lions talk and scream and work themselves into a frenzy.
It was the only time in four years that Rossides remembers
Little's not making a speech at halftime.
The Lions held West Point to a stalemate in the third quarter.
Then, on Columbia's first series in the fourth, the Lions began
their comeback. Rossides hit halfback Billy Olson--who had been
rejected by West Point--for 16 yards. They connected again on
the next play for another first down. Two plays later Rossides
found Swiacki for a diving 28-yard touchdown catch as an Army
defender hung on the end's back.
After the next Army drive bogged down, Columbia took over on
downs at its own 33. Rossides ran 22 yards on a bootleg, and
then, two plays later, he and Swiacki hooked up for the game's
most memorable moment. Scrambling toward the sideline, Rossides
spotted Swiacki roaming free on the opposite side of the field.
Rossides threw in hopes Swiacki would catch up to the pass.
Swiacki dived for the ball, and just as it was about to hit the
ground at the three-yard line, he scooped it up as if he were
cradling a newborn baby.
Two plays later Kusserow walked into the end zone untouched.
With Yablonski's extra point, Columbia was ahead 21-20 with 6:38
to play. Although there was plenty of time left, the Cadets
didn't know how to come back.
"I remember the attitude Army had when they knew they were
losing to this Ivy League team in light-blue uniforms," says Van
Bellingham. "It would be hard to articulate without using a lot
of curse words."
"They were swearing and calling us bastards and s.o.b.'s,
everything under the sun," says Yablonski. "They were beaten
emotionally. With six minutes to go, our enthusiasm was so high
and theirs was so low, we could have scored again if we wanted
to." As the game wound down, the Columbia fans waved white
handkerchiefs at the West Point side of the field, where many of
the Cadets had tears streaming down their faces.
O'Shaughnessy was awarded the game ball, which he donated to the
school. After the game he headed to Columbia Presbyterian
Hospital, where two days earlier his wife had given birth to
their first child, a girl. Waiting on the subway platform,
O'Shaughnessy noticed a familiar figure in the back of the
crowd. As the man drew closer, O'Shaughnessy recognized Lieut.
Col. A. Ray White. This was too good to be true, O'Shaughnessy
thought. Before White could slink away, O'Shaughnessy grabbed
him and asked, "How do you like Columbia now?" White stared
blankly at his shoes, still too stunned to speak.