Success, on and off the field


Juliet Marcur, in today’s NY Times, asks why athletes decide to play at programs like Columbia football and why programs like Columbia football continue to strive for success considering their losing record:

The Lions are 0-9 going into Saturday’s season finale against Brown. They have been outscored by 354-66. Four times, they have allowed more than 50 points. Twice, they have failed to score any. But that is nothing new. Over the years, Columbia — at least during football season — has been known for its crummy teams, including the ones that compiled a 44-game losing streak in the 1980s, once an N.C.A.A. record. In the past 50 years, the Lions have had only three winning seasons. In the past 100 years, only 23.


Seems to me it’s a question of how you define success. Winning the The National Championship? The Ivy League Title? Having a winning season? A win, at all, just one this season? Putting some points on the board or an impressive drive or a goal-line stand? Digging deeper we delve into the realm of character building; can we count that as a success? Marcur quotes Bill Campbell, the chairman of the university’s board of trustees, as saying “There’s not one good thing about losing,” he said. “There are no lessons to be learned.” That doesn’t sound like the Bill Campbell I know. I don’t know anyone who thinks winning is “the only thing”. Not even Vince Lombardi, to whom that mis-used quote is credited, believed that.

Those who choose to play football at Columbia aren’t losers; they’re smart cookies, trading a chance at more wins at a lesser school for an Ivy League education and, as Marcur points out, an introduction to a powerful business network. Most of them, I’m guessing, had already figured out that playing sports has a lot of rewards in and of itself but they are looking at the bigger picture. “Success in life is supposed to be the whole point, right?”, said Marcellus Wiley, one of CU’s more successful football players.

Perseverance, loyalty to teammates, commitment, discipline…

“I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection. ‘Tis the business of little minds to shrink, but he whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves his conduct, will pursue his principles unto death.” Thomas Paine



  • Haven Pell

    I am involved in a microsport. Though played around the world, there are so few of us that we feel strongly about each other much the way those who save eagles or whales might like others who share their interest. A much younger person appeared at our club the other day after learning the game in England. She is looking for a job and I have been helping her to establish some contacts. There is something about the shared experience that makes me want to help. Probably the same as a point being made about Columbia football. “It’s not whether you win or lose, but how you take the meeting.” (Sorry, I could not help myself.) Networking seems an entirely reasonable byproduct of involvement in a sport though it might not be reason enough to take the game up in the first place. Reactions?

    • Temple

      After months of thinking about (every now and then) , I have come with 48 sports. My personal criteria is ‘sweat’. Which leads me to backgammon.
      Playing in a tight match for money or in a tournament can produce copious amounts of sweat ( stress related)