Fitzpatrick the NFL’s latest Ivy League star
When NFL scouts spread out across the country scouring for talent, they don’t exactly descend on Ivy League campuses. After all, the eight Northeastern private universities aren’t known for their sporting prowess, especially considering that they don’t even offer athletic scholarships.
But once in a while, the Ivy League yields a gem for professional football. Its latest offering is former Harvard quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick(notes), who has spearheaded a Buffalo renaissance that has the Bills atop of the difficult AFC East after four weeks. He’s led a pair of stirring comebacks against Oakland and New England, not bad for the sixth overall choice (from the bottom) in the 2005 draft who has bounced around three teams in his seven-year pro career.
|Slideshow: Top 10 Ivy Leaguers in the NFL|
To be sure, in its infancy, the NFL did look to the Ivy League to stock its rosters. Columbia quarterback Sid Luckman was a highly-prized prospect when George Halas selected him second overall in the 1939 draft. He helped revolutionize the passing offense, becoming the first player in NFL history to pass for over 400 yards a game. He would go on to be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
A few Ivy League Hall of Famers and All-Pros succeeded Luckman, who retired in 1950. Chuck Bednarik, a linebacker from Penn, played his entire career in Philadelphia before he too was inducted in Canton. A trio of Super Bowl winners – Calvin Hill with the Cowboys, Gary Fencik with the Bears and George Starke with the Redskins – would take the baton after that. Hill, of course, is the father of NBA All-Star Grant Hill.
A pair of specialists also made Ivy League proud. Nick Lowery spent the bulk of his career kicking for the Kansas City Chiefs. Pat McInally, an All-American wide receiver at Harvard, had a 10-year career as a punter for the Cincinnati Bengals after getting the perfect score on the Wonderlic intelligence test before the draft – to this day still the only NFL draftee to do so.
Over time, the Ivy League pipeline dried up as pro football became more popular and college football transformed into the beast that it is today. Eschewing the excesses of high-profile Division I-A (FBS) programs, the Ivy League chose to compete at the lower I-AA (FCS) level when the division split in 1978. After that, it’s no longer a destination for top-flight prep prospects who are smart enough to be admitted to these institutions.
Nevertheless, more than a handful of players from the Ancient Eight still managed to have long and prosperous careers in pro football. From past and present, these are our top Ivy Leaguers in NFL history: