In which CML recapitulates this weekend’s football game, and shares the lesson of promising mediocrity.

Early this Saturday morning, the Columbia football team arrived in scenic Providence, Rhode Island for their final game of the season. They were greeted by a jolly bear reminiscent of the old Smoky ad campaigns, a large cadre of stoners bedecked in outdoorsy brown-and-red uniforms that called themselves the Brown Band, and a small, slightly dilapidated stadium that exuded a bucolic and woodsy charm. In short, it felt like summer camp.

Two hours later, the beginning of the contest was consummated, the parents drove off, and the Lions found themselves in terra incognita, with hardly a friend or familiar soul around (besides a few hundred fans).

Homesickness. The natural response to the Lions’ loneliness was for them to withdraw further into themselves, and withdraw they did. While the offense participated in camp activities unenthusiastically, cobbling together an uninspired string of three-and-outs, the defense didn’t show up at all, instead languishing inside the cabin as Brown marched to two quick and uncontested touchdowns.

Testing The Waters. Camp counselor Norries Wilson’s job was to ensure that all the guests at Camp Brown were having a good time, and, down 14-0 after the first quarter, the Lions were certainly not. Ingressing into the cabin where Columbia wallowed in its own downward spiral of misery, Norries demanded that the team cease pining for the unattainable past and instead focus on improving its current situation – that is, connecting with other campers. The offense responded by limping into another punt, but the defense quickly forced a huge fumble, returning the ball across one quarter of the campgrounds for Columbia’s first touchdown. Though the extra point was missed, the offense was nevertheless reinvigorated, marching up the field to manufacture another three points. Midway through the second quarter, the Lions had cut the deficit to five.

The Social Setback. But all was still far from well at Camp Brown. Columbia found itself with an opportunity to take the lead, with first down on the Brunonian four-yard line. But a false start drove the Lions back five yards, the offense couldn’t ram it through the hole, and the field goal attempt was booted. Brown took a five-point lead into the break. After both teams returned from mess hall, the Lions notched another field goal, but the Bears – impeccable in their third- and fourth-down conversions – scored another touchdown with 13:37 left to put the score at 21-12. The Lions clawed back to within two after an epic drive, but with only 10 minutes left and the ball in enemy territory, chances of victory still seemed razor-thin.

The Awkward, Yet Cathartic Hookup. Using the skills of emotional toughness and perserverance engendered by their stay at Camp Brown, the Lions’ defense dug in for the last time. Brown converted a fourth down, but just as quickly found itself facing fourth-and-long in marginal field goal range. The attempt sailed wildly away, and Columbia’s offense took over, meandering fastidiously towards the goal line. Brown’s defense couldn’t prevent red-zone penetration, and with three seconds remaining in the season, kicker Jon Rocholl redeemed his previous inaccuracies by nailing the short field goal, that which seemed so impossible thirteen minutes ago was achieved, and the game ended in a sunny, idyllic catharsis, 22-21.

Saying Goodbye. The Lions concluded the season with a two-game Ivy win streak – their first in forever – and a pleasantly non-losing 5-5 record, albeit with a lackluster 2-5 Ivy component. The game and the season itself started painfully and awkwardly, but watching the parents – err, athletic buses – pull out of Providence, with the campers – err, players – in tow, it seemed that the team had matured and attained a promising mediocrity. It was a feat impressive enough to leave everyone wanting more. Are the Lions coming back next year? Hell yes they are!