He’s certainly no loser

Football at Columbia

By Marc Katz

I’m not sure I’ve ever met anyone who played football at Columbia. I might have, but if you played football at Columbia and years later wanted to talk about it, you weren’t talking about it much.

I could bore you with the details, but let’s just say every 20-25 years has resulted in a winning record at Columbia. Even my son, who spent four years at Columbia’s New York campus, never made it to what used to be called Baker Field—far from the school’s campus—to see a game.

And he loves sports.

So, I was shocked recently when I did not know about a familiar gentleman’s excitement over Columbia’s sparkling 8-2 record this season, cornering the Lions in second place in the Ivy League.

The gentleman is more than just a gentleman. He’s Bob Hackett, District 10 (parts of Clark, Greene, and Madison Counties) State Senator from London, Ohio.

Hackett knew of Columbia’s recent success because he followed the Lions, a team he played for from 1968-70.

After all, he came from a football—and academically oriented—family, including his late veterinarian father, Bill Hackett, who was an All-America guard at Ohio State in 1944. Hackett became friends with his first coach at OSU, Paul Brown, which would become important later, when he helped Brown secure the NFL’s Cincinnati franchise.

Bill Hackett was undersized (at under 200 pounds) by today’s standards, but he sent four sons to play football in college—William to Ohio State, Kevin to Dartmouth, and Jim to Michigan.

You may remember Jim as UM’s interim athletics director, who hired Jim Harbaugh as coach and is also president and CEO of Ford.

Bob Hackett has had a long and distinguished career as a businessman as well, especially in financial services, but when he went to Columbia, he was looking for two things: a place where he could obtain a good education, and a place where the football team wouldn’t mind a 200-pound-plus lineman.

“I was All-Ohio, but I wasn’t going to play at the big schools,” Hackett said, even though, he pointed out, Thomas Backhus was a starting guard at 5-11, 212 pounds on OSU’s powerful teams at the time.

“A lot of good schools you’d play backup 2-3 years. I wanted to play. I put a real premium on playing. I put a premium on quality of school.”

He looked at some mid-American schools, Northwestern, and then the Ivy League, where he fell in love with Columbia, despite its historically poor football history.

Oh, sure, Columbia beat Stanford 7-0 in the 1934 Rose Bowl, and Sid Luckman played there. And two of Hackett’s teammates were first-round NFL draft pick Marty Domres and George Starke, who later was an acclaimed member of the Washington Redskins “Hogs.”

Baker Field—later remodeled into Robert Kraft (yeah, the Patriots’ Kraft) Field at Lawrence Wien Stadium—is in a beautiful setting, but 100 blocks north of campus, about a five-mile trip by bus (if you didn’t have a late class) or subway.

Despite his good academics, Hackett contends he would not have been admitted to Columbia without the football component. He won the team’s Class of 1913 Football Cup for best scholastic average as a senior, and he points out several of his team’s losing games resulted in close scores, despite records of 2-7, 1-8 and 3-6. The year after he graduated, Columbia went 6-3, with the next winning record posted in 1996.

Even losing teams put in the time.

“It was a commitment,” Hackett said of the daily trips to practice at Baker Field, and more. “If we were home, on Friday nights we’d stay in a hotel in New Jersey, and we had training table in the evening. We ate together as a team. You really committed a lot of time. It’s a huge commitment, if you’re not playing. You want to play. Playing is exciting.”

It wasn’t so exciting playing on a bad knee, under-diagnosed at the time, a diagnosis that led to several surgeries and two knee replacements. Columbia players are not immune to injury.

Following his 1971 graduation, Hackett returned home to help his father with some business ventures, then went out on his own and started to give back to the community by serving on a hospital board, then becoming a county commissioner, and here he is, a State Senator with a background in Columbia football.

He seems surprised, but not about the football part.

“I was a business guy, not really interested in politics,” said Hackett. “I had good areas of expertise in health care, insurance, and business. I was in the right place at the right time.”

He also buys season tickets to Bengals’ and Ohio State games. He has tickets to the Reds, but he doesn’t attend as many games as he once did, using his tickets for clients instead.

As for Columbia, “every Sunday I’ll go online looking for the scores,” Hackett said, “and I go back every five years for a reunion.

“I love Columbia. We love going back.

“I think my generation came out and said, ‘Let’s make the world better if we can,’ but I think you have to change from within—evolution, not revolution.”

And, if you can win some football games, that’s good, too.

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Columbus-born Marc Katz had a 44-year newspaper career, 41 of those years covering sports, 40 of them at the Dayton Daily News. He now blogs at KatzCopsNSports.com. Reach Dayton City Paper sports writer Marc Katz at MarcKatz@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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