When Ike Remained Neutral

It’s now largely forgotten by all but octogenarians, but in the annals of gridiron history few upsets have been as shocking as the one that took place on Columbia’s Baker Field on a glorious October afternoon in 1947.

Taking on an Army team that had gone four years and 32 games without tasting defeat, Lou Little’s Lions parlayed a stifling second half defense, the passing of Gene Rossides and Lou Kusserow, and several spectacular catches by end Bill Swiacki into a thrilling 21-20 comeback win that left the stunned Cadets shaking their heads in disbelief along with the entire football nation.

It started out as little more than yet another easy Army win against an overmatched Ivy League opponent, before a capacity crowd of 35,000 that included soon-to-be Columbia president Dwight D. Eisenhower, displaying his neutrality by waving a Columbia pennant with one hand and an Army gonfalon with the other. By the end of the first half, the Black Knights were a mere extra point shy of a full two touchdown lead, and went into the locker room with a solid 20-7 lead, having moved the ball up and down the field at will.

But when the teams came back after Lou Little’s midgame sermon, the Lions’ defense tightened up, and when the fourth quarter opened, Bill Swiacki took over. First grabbing a touchdown pass with a catch that the newspapers would compare to Al Gionfriddo’s robbery of Joe Dimaggio in the recently completed World Series, the Columbia end then climaxed his day in the waning minutes with a spectacular diving grab on the Army three yard line, one that set up the tying touchdown by Kusserow. After the deciding extra point was booted by Ventan Yablonski, the Lions held off one last Army drive and finished the game by playing keepaway deep within the Cadets’ territory.

Comparisons were being made after the game to the Lions’ equally stunning upset of Stanford in the 1934 Rose Bowl, but this game was before the home folks, in what is still considered to be the greatest football game ever played in Morningside Heights. Eisenhower himself said it was the best game he had ever seen in his life.

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