He was the last player taken in the 1999 NFL Draft, but that didn't deter Jim Finn, who has been clearing a big path for Tiki Barber as the Giants' starting fullback.
Jim Finn is a Penn alum and a veteran NFL football player, but it took a future major league baseball player to convince him to attend Penn.
While at Penn Finn practically rewrote the football record book, breaking six records and appearing among the leaders in nine other categories. He's currently in the midst of one of the longest NFL careers of any Penn player.
Finn came to Penn from Bergen Catholic High School in New Jersey, following a teammate whom he describes as "one of my closest friends." The friend convinced Finn that Penn would be a strong athletic experience for him. "I respected his athletic ability, so I figured if he went to Penn, I could go too," Finn says.
This player? Current major league baseball player Mark DeRosa, who just signed a three-year contract as the Chicago Cubs new starting second baseman after a career year with the Texas Rangers. At nine seasons, he's had one of the longest MLB careers of any Penn alum. DeRosa played both baseball and football at Penn, and his name is also scattered across the Penn football record book as a quarterback.
Penn has played football since 1876, baseball since 1875, and thousands of players have gone through each program. Of these, 53 have gone on to play major league baseball, and 52 to professional football; Finn and DeRosa are among the elite of this tiny group. That they have been close friends since childhood defies probability.
But then Finn has had long practice defying probability. He credits wrestling as a young child with giving him the toughness to succeed. Facing an opponent, alone, as a six-year-old, "taught me the most about handling pressure and fear, focusing on what the goal is, and succeeding," recalls Finn. He learned these lessons well, becoming both an all-state football player and wrestler, and winning a state wrestling championship.
Scholarship offers to Division I-A football programs didn't come with these honors, though, and DeRosa got him thinking about Penn. "I had aspirations to go to the NFL," says Finn, and by going to Penn "understood it would take some luck to get [there]. But I could get an education from Wharton. How could I pass up an opportunity to get an education from the top business school in the world?"
Finn roomed with DeRosa at Penn, "and about eight other guys at 40th and Spruce, next to Billy Bob's," says Finn. "When we lived together [DeRosa and I] joked we would play pro sports, me at fullback in the NFL." Finn now does play fullback in the NFL, a position he never played at Penn. Talk about the power of positive thinking.
Finn made first-team All-Ivy his junior and senior seasons, and helped the team win the Ivy title in 1998. "It was more special as a senior, that we accomplished the goal," recalls Finn. Taken with the last pick of the 1999 NFL draft, "I knew I was fighting the odds," says Finn. "I was coming into a new position (fullback), though I played pretty well," but was cut. "My back was against the wall. I contemplated what I needed to do to make it happen."
He moved to Florida and did "nothing but train for football for seven months. I had a great camp, and beat the guy before me," remembers Finn. After three seasons with the Indianapolis Colts he moved to the Giants, where he continues today. "I love the hell out of him. I think he's the most underrated fullback out there, he's smart, he's reliable," Giants running backs coach Jerald Ingram told the Pennsylvania Gazette in 2005. Maybe a little too smart. "When I make a mistake or get tricked they say 'you should know better, you're an Ivy Leaguer,'" says Finn.
How long will he play? Finn and his wife, actor Rosa Blasi of the television series Strong Medicine, just had a baby, so he's thinking of life after football. "Some friends and I just started a sports publishing company," says Finn, "Football's not gentle on the body."
One thing is certain. If he's not totally committed to playing, he's done. "If you have any doubt it will show, and you will be replaced."
— Stephen Eschenbach