It may not have a catchy motto like “Subway Series,” but for the past 11 years, the Fordham vs. Columbia Liberty Cup game has been an anomaly in a city where college sports takes a back seat to the majors.
Like the Giants vs. Jets or Yankees vs. Mets, when it comes to Rams vs. Lions, you can only root for one team—even if you graduated from both schools.
“To be honest, I've got to stay true to my undergrad,” said Derrick Mayo, Columbia College ‘02, GBA ‘10.
Mayo played point guard for the Lions basketball, but he made it to Fordham football games often. He noted that even though both teams hail from New York, Fordham holds an extra home team advantage when it comes to attendance, because the teams’ football stadium is actually on the Rose Hill campus. Columbia’s Lions have to trek a hundred blocks to get to their athletic fields in Inwood. Though he admitted that when he was an undergraduate, he preferred Fordham's tailgating.
Fordham Trustee John Zizzo at practice. Photo by Joe DiBari
Recently appointed Fordham Trustee John Zizzo, FCRH '69, also a graduate of Columbia Law, said he too suffers little conflict of allegiance; he's solidly in the Fordham camp. Zizzo was the captain of the storied 1968 Rams that went on and bested 100 club teams to capture the National Football Club Championship title—a title that was largely responsible for Fordham going varsity in 1970.
Zizzo said that by 1968, fans yearned for the old time glory of the Lombardi years. Having gone from just playing one game in 1964 to winning national champs in 1968, the team came as something of a shock. With this month's historic wins against Villanova and Temple, the old time magic seems to be back.
In the 1960s, Fordham had a reputation of being a scrappy commuter school with mostly working class Italian and Irish students from the city. The fan-base came as much from the neighborhood as it did from the school, Zizzo said. He recalled only one African-American player, the late Granville Leo Stevens, Jr., PHA '70, who would later go on to study at Columbia Law as well.
"Leo would've really been proud to see what the school looks like now," he said.
Zizzo added that as a club team, the Rams weren't able to play against Ivy League Columbia. The real rivalry was between Fordham and the now-defunct Manhattan College football team.
"We wanted desperately to play Columbia, but they would've been embarrassed to get beaten by a club team," he said with a laugh.
Off the field, Zizzo said that Columbia's Ivy League mystique made for a nerve-wracking transition to Columbia Law. He later discovered that his years of Jesuit study (he also attended Brooklyn Prep) more than prepared him for Columbia's intellectual rigor.
"I thought that Columbia would be out of my league," he said. "But just like the football was not out of our league, Columbia's law school was not out of our league."
Michelle Kennedy, FCRH '03, a 2008 graduate of the Columbia School of Continuing Education, agreed that sports are a great leveler. She recalled competing against Columbia’s swim team while at Fordham, being awestruck by the campus, and spotting Columbia's Cristina Teuscher, who had already won Olympic gold. Kennedy won Fordham’s Claire & Jack Hobbs Award for top student athlete and recently she was named to Fordham's Athletic Hall of Fame.
"When you hit the water you're both the same," said Kennedy. "There really isn't a difference between Ivy or non-Ivy; we're all expected to work hard and study hard."
Kennedy, who was at the first "unofficial" Liberty Cup game back in 2001, said that any notions of Fordham-Columbia rivalry are misplaced—given the origins of the Liberty Cup. The original cup commemorated a game between Fordham and Columbia that was delayed due to the 9/11 attacks. The teams later played on Thanksgiving Day before a crowd of 7,000 fans.
"There was no us against you," said Kennedy.
Having worked in development for Columbia Athletics, Kennedy says she is not taking sides.
"I know both sides of these programs very intimately, so I have a lot of maroon and a lot of blue and white colors," she said. "These kids work so hard its tough to choose!"
Still, Kennedy speaks of a shared tradition that extends well beyond the playing field, something repeated by Mayo, who said he and his colleagues place bets on the Fordham/Columbia game at his office. The losers buy lunch or drinks.
Even though Zizzo is a solid Ram, he said that, among his family, loyalties remain divided. His daughter went to Columbia Graduate School of Nursing, and the two plan to enjoy a friendly rivalry at the big game.
"My daughter is a Columbia football fan,” he said. “And we've had a little dichotomy—with her always coming home depressed and me coming home happy," he said.
SEPT. 21 UPDATE: Zizzo went home happy again: Rams beat Columbia 52 to 7 to retain Liberty Cup.
Founded in 1841, Fordham is the Jesuit University of New York, offering exceptional education distinguished by the Jesuit tradition to more than 15,100 students in its four undergraduate colleges and its six graduate and professional schools. It has residential campuses in the Bronx and Manhattan, a campus in West Harrison, N.Y., the Louis Calder Center Biological Field Station in Armonk, N.Y., and the London Centre at Heythrop College, University of London, in the United Kingdom. 8/13