Sometime in early November 1870 - while November 12th is most cited, others claim November 5 or 11th - Columbia's intercollegiate football journey began with a short trip to New Brunswick, NJ to play Rutgers. Perhaps befitting the team that would one day own the NCAA Division 1 record for futility, they lost 3-6 in the first college football game between schools from different states.
Between 1983 and 1988, the team failed to win for 44 games in a row, which is still the record for the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision. In the fifth game of the 1983 season, they won 21-18 over Yale. After that game, they did not win a game again for five years. The streak began with a tie game to Bucknell the following game, ending the season with a tie to Holy Cross and a loss to Dartmouth. One notable loss during the streak was in a 1985 game vs. Harvard, where the Lions led 17-0 with 5 minutes left in the 3rd quarter, only to see the Crimson score 7 touchdowns in the remaining time to lose 49-17. After their 35th loss, they set the record for the longest Division I losing streak in history (beating Northwestern's 34 game losing streak from 1979-1982).After this game, Larry McElreavy, the current coach at the time told reporters, "I'm realistic; there's not a lot of talent here." ESPN rated the 1983-1988 Lions teams at 4th in its list of the top 10 worst college football teams of all time. The streak was broken on October 8, 1988, with a 16-13 victory over archrival Princeton after a missed field goal attempt by the Tigers late in the game. Matthew Fox most notably played on the '88 team. That was the Lions' first victory at Wien Stadium (which was already four years old, having been opened during the streak).