Ivy in the NFL
The Ivy League's connection to the origins of the NFL include the likes of Fritz Pollard and Bert Bell, but the Ivy ties in the last 50 years alone are very deep and broad.
"Ivy League football players just don't make very good professionals," pronounced an October 22, 1965 Harvard Crimson article. This enduring perception couldn't be further from the truth. Two hundred four Ivy Leaguers all-time have played in the NFL, from the League's inception to the present day, 112 from the time of the league's formal inception in 1956.
Ivy Leaguers permeate every aspect of professional football, from coaching to announcing to the front office. Yale's Dick Jauron is the current head coach of the Buffalo Bills. The Bengals' managing partner is Dartmouth's Mike Brown, who, according to fellow alum Reggie Williams, gave him the number 57 in honor of his class year. Brown's counterpart with the Chicago Bears, Michael McCaskey, played football at Yale. Harvard's John Dockery, who played in Super Bowl III, reported from the sidelines during the most recent Super Bowl. When Yale beat Harvard in its most recent matchup Yale's Bob Wallace, the St. Louis Rams general manager, made Rams players Isaiah Kacyvenski and Ryan Fitzpatrick - both Harvard alums - wear Yale hats and ties.
Kacyvenski doesn't see the Ivy influence ending anytime soon. "The level of [Ivy] competition is higher than people give credit for," he explains, "and more players respect that they need a good college education." He may have a point. There were 15 Ivy players on NFL active rosters in 2006, while only four played in the NFL in 1956, the year of the league's inception.
1956 At the time of the Ivy League's inception four Ivy players are in the NFL, two from Penn - Eddie Bell and Hall of Famer Chuck Bednarik - and Frank Wydo of Cornell. All are with the Philadelphia Eagles. Brown's Don Colo also plays for the Cleveland Browns.
1960 Dartmouth's Jake Crouthamel plays for the Boston Patriots for one season. Crouthamel would go on to coach Dartmouth from 1971-77, winning three straight titles from 1971-73, and would go on to become athletic director at Syracuse.
1961 After winning a silver medal in the long jump in the 1960 Rome Olympics, Cornell's Bo Roberson would start a six-year AFL career before going on to Stanford Law School and earning a doctorate at the age of 58.
1964 Gary Wood, arguably Cornell's greatest quarterback, begins a six-year NFL career with the New York Giants.
1964 Cornell's Pete Gogolak joins the AFL's Buffalo Bills. In 1966 he moved to the New York Giants, and was the first prominent player to jump from the American Football League to the NFL, a transaction that helped hasten the merger between the leagues. He is the Giants' all-time leading scorer, with 646 points and also holds the franchise records for most points after touchdowns attempted (277) and made (268), most PATs in a game (eight vs. Philadelphia on Nov. 26, 1972), most consecutive PATs (133) and most field goals attempted (219) and made (126). With his brother Charlie, who played for Princeton then moved to the Washington Redskins in 1966, the Gogolak brothers pioneered the distinctive soccer-style kicking method that is exclusively used in the NFL today
1967 Chuck Mercein of Yale plays for the Green Bay Packers in their win in the first Super Bowl. Mercein rushes once for no yardage.
1969 John Dockery of Harvard plays defensive back for the Joe Namath-led New York Jets in Super Bowl III.
1970 Monday Night Football comes to Franklin Field as the Eagles face the Giants. Headed by a pair of Columbia Lions, Roone Arledge and former hoops standout Chet Forte, the series assumes iconic status. Howard Cosell leaves the Franklin Field game at halftime, citing flu-like symptoms.
1971 Cornell's Ed Marinaro loses the Heisman Trophy to Auburn's Pat Sullivan despite winning three out of five voting regions. Marinaro would go on to a seven year NFL career and play in Super Bowl VII before going on to a successful acting career.
1974 The New York Giants play their regular season games at the Yale Bowl while Yankee Stadium is being renovated, the last NFL team to make its home in an Ivy football venue. The Philadelphia Eagles played at Penn's Franklin Field from 1958-70, and the New England (at the time, Boston) Patriots played at Harvard Stadium in 1970.
1978 Tim Mazzetti kicks five field goals in a Monday Night Football game, causing Howard Cosell to detail his bartending job as a Penn undergraduate. Five years later, playing for Boston, Mazzetti scores the first points (on a 30-yard field goal) in the history of the USFL.
1981 Calvin Hill concludes a 12 year career, the longest of 26 Yale NFLers dating back to 1921. Hill, who played in "The Game" the famous 1968 Harvard-Yale matchup, was a four-time Pro Bowl selection who played in the Dallas Cowboys 24-3 Super Bowl V win over Miami. Chris Hetherington, with 11 years of service is still active with the San Francisco 49ers.
1981 A special convention of the NCAA creates the I-AA football division, and all Ivy schools begin 1-AA play the following season. At the time there are 15 Ivy Leaguers in the NFL: five players - Gary Fencik (2), Calvin Hill (4), Steve Jordan (6), Nick Lowery (3), Pat McInally (1) - will earn 16 pro bowl appearances between them in their respective careers.
1982 Steve Jordan of Brown is drafted in the seventh round by the Minnesota Vikings. Jordan would go to six Pro Bowls with the Vikings, more than each of the six modern era tight ends who are enshrined in the NFL Hall of Fame. His 13 year career is the longest of the 45 Brown NFL players.
1983 The first Ivy-vs-Ivy matchup in Super Bowl history. The Washington Redskins, with George Starke of Columbia and Bob Holly of Princeton, beat the Miami Dolphins with Rich Diana of Yale. Starke and Holly would repeat in the Super Bowl the next year against the Los Angeles Raiders and Yale's Kenny Hill, but lose.
1985 Harvard's Pat McInally, an All-Pro punter and wide receiver for the Cincinnati Bengals, retires with the longest career, 10 seasons, of 26 Harvard NFL players dating back to 1920. McInally, who is the only player to get a perfect score on the Wonderlic mental abilities test administered to all NFL players, would in 1986 develop the line of "Starting Lineup" sports figurines.
1987 CBS teams James Brown with former NFL lineman Dan Jiggetts, the first time a network has two African-Americans in a booth together announcing an NFL game. Jiggetts - who played football at Harvard - had been a student statistician for Brown's Crimson basketball team 15 years before.
1989 Reggie Williams retires. A first team All-American from Dartmouth, Williams would lead the Cincinnati Bengals to their only Super Bowl appearances in 1981 and 1989. At 14 seasons, he is tied with Penn's Chuck Bednarik for the longest career of a non-kicker of the 283 Ivy NFLers. Williams, who served as a Cincinnati City Councilman while playing his last NFL season, helped found Disney's Wide World of Sports and is currently a Disney executive.
1991 Ten years after the Ivy League's move to 1-AA there are only five Ivy players in the NFL - Steve Jordan, Jeff Kemp, Nick Lowery, Tom McHale, and Brent Novoselsky, Of these only McHale and Novoselsky played their college football exclusively during the 1-AA era.
1991 Buffalo head coach Marv Levy, who earned a graduate degree in history from Harvard, leads the Bills to the first of four consecutive Super Bowl appearances, an NFL record. Levy is currently the Bills' general manager.
1994 Robert Kraft, who played sprint football at Columbia, buys the New England Patriots. Under his leadership the Patriots have become one of the NFL's most successful franchises, winning 3 Super Bowl championships and 4 AFC championships.
1996 Nick Lowery retires after eighteen seasons. This Dartmouth kicker holds the record for longest career of any Ivy NFLer, and set the NFL's career field goal percentage at 76.1% in 1984, and was only the second player in NFL history to score 1700 points (after George Blanda).
1997 Columbia's Marcellus Wiley is taken in the second round of the NFL draft. Wiley, who would go on to a Pro Bowl career and is still an active NFL player, revived NFL interest in Ivy players. In the 10 years prior to Wiley only three Ivy Leaguers were drafted by NFL teams and only one, Penn's Joe Valerio in 1991, was taken in the first seven rounds [today's NFL draft consists of seven rounds]. Since Wiley's selection, 16 Ivy Leaguers have been drafted.
1998 The Chicago Bears hire Yale's Dick Jauron as their head coach. Jauron would lead the Bears to their first division title in 12 years in 2001 with a 13-3 record, and win Coach of the Year honors.
1999 The last player taken in the 1999 NFL Draft, Penn's Jim Finn, would go on to a career with the New York Giants as a fullback clearing a big path for Tiki Barber. He is still an active player.
2002 Columbia's Enrique Javier Loya, a first generation Mexican-American born in El Paso, Texas who became an All-Ivy football player before graduating in 1991, becomes a minority owner of the Houston Texans. Loya is president and chief executive officer of Houston-based CHOICE! Energy.
2006 At Super Bowl XL Harvard's Isaiah Kacyvenski, of the Seattle Seahawks, and Brown's Sean Morey, of the Pittsburgh Steelers, met as special teams captain for the beginning of the game coin flip - the first time this has ever happened.
2006 On December 9 the Denver Broncos activate Columbia's Steve Cargile, who becomes the newest Ivy NFL player. This brings the number of active roster Ivy NFL players to fifteen - matching the pre-Division 1-AA season high.
2006 For the first time ever three former Harvard players appeared in an NFL game. In a late-season matchup between the Rams and the Minnesota Vikings Kacyvenski, All-Pro Vikings center Matt Birk, and Rams reserve quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick all played.
2007 Lloyd Lee, a Dartmouth All-American, captain, and four-year letterwinner who played in the NFL from 1998-99 with the San Diego Chargers, goes to Super Bowl XLI with the Chicago Bears as the first Asian-American coach in NFL history.
— Stephen Eschenbach