TAMPA, Fla. -- Tampa Bay Buccaneers backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and tight end Cameron Brate made history Sunday when they became the first Harvard players to connect on a touchdown pass in the NFL. The ball is still sitting in Fitzpatrick’s locker, but it will soon be headed up to Boston.
“We’re sending the ball to our college coach [Tim Murphy], so he’s going to love that,” said Brate, who, along with Fitzpatrick, are two of six Harvard alums playing in the NFL this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Fitzpatrick stepped into the game in the second quarter, replacing injured starter Jameis Winston. Fitzpatrick and Brate hooked up for a 10-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter against the Arizona Cardinals to make it 31-12.
Murphy, who has coached at the school for 24 years and served as Brate's position coach for four years, missed the play live. His phone started blowing up immediately with text messages from former players and alumni. He got one from Fitzpatrick's father, Mike, and then Fitzpatrick after the game.
“He just said, ‘Coach, you might have heard, ‘We finally got a Harvard-to-Harvard, so I’m send you the ball,'" Murphy said. "It was typical Fitz. Just the epitome of class.”
“It will show up in Dillon Field House at Harvard in our football facility on the Charles River at some point," Murphy said of the football. "We’ll get a little artwork on it and we’ll find the appropriate place for it.”
The play -- or really the desire to make history together -- had actually been in the works for a while.
“Fitz actually told me during the Bears game, when he came in at the end, ‘Hey, Cam, we have to get a Harvard-to-Harvard pass,’” Brate said. “They actually did call a pass, but he didn’t throw it to me. So once he got in the game on Sunday, I knew he was going to give me at least one ball. He had to.”
No one told them that it had never been done.
“I assumed it because I’m the only Harvard quarterback that’s ever completed a pass in the NFL, that it was probably the first Harvard-to-Harvard touchdown,” Fitzpatrick said. “I was happy. I was happy that it happened.”
Of the six active Harvard alums, Brate and Fitzpatrick are the only two on the same NFL team. The others are San Francisco 49ers fullback Kyle Juszczyk, Indianapolis Colts center Adam Redmond, Minnesota Vikings guard Nick Easton and Seattle Seahawks long snapper Tyler Ott. According to Pro Football Reference, there have been 38 players from Harvard in NFL history.
Fitzpatrick played for the Crimson from 2001 to 2004 and graduated with a degree in economics. So did Brate, who was on the Crimson junior varsity team as a freshman and played varsity from 2011 to 2013.
Fitzpatrick ranks second on Harvard’s career list for touchdowns, pass completions, passing yards and completion percentage, second to Neil Rose. Brate’s 18 touchdown catches are fourth in Crimson history.
“They weren’t highly-recruited kids," Murphy said. "They didn’t have the big egos. They were incredibly self-motivated, incredibly humble and were blessed with amazing work ethic. So they sort of maxed out their ability to play at the highest level. There’s a lot of kids that you see who have talent but don’t ever do that.”
"The reason that Fitz and Cam have been able to climb to the highest level as professional athletes is they’re so unbelievably competitive, but also because they’ve always been such classy, humble kids and great teammates," Murphy said.
“People always say, ‘Wow, you’ve done a great job with those kids.’ And I immediately tell them the truth and that is, ‘Those guys make you great coaches," Murphy said. "Their combination of really high level of ability with incredible intangibles and humility and class – that’s why you get into coaching, to work with kids like that.”
Brate's humility often morphs into self-deprecation, drawing laughs from his and Fitzpatrick's Buccaneer teammates.
“Harvard is proud of Ryan,” said Brate, who maintained a 3.5 grade-point average while at the school. “He’s like a model Harvard student, whereas I skated in somehow. I was able to take the easy classes and get by. Ryan, he was the model. He’s on another level than I am.”
Brate said the hardest class he took at Harvard was a class called Econometrics, a mix of economics and statistics.
“That was probably the worst experience. It just made you feel really bad about yourself,” Brate said. “I did pass, luckily. I think I took that one ‘pass-fail’ knowing that I probably wasn’t going to get the best grade in it. ... It was a very humbling experience.”
Fitzpatrick said his hardest class was also an economics class.
"The talent level in the class around me was probably a little bit better than mine," said Fitzpatrick, who believes he got a B or a B-minus in the course.
As for the two coming up with their own special Harvard-to-Harvard mini-playbook, Fitzpatrick said that’s up to Brate. It also will depend on if Fitzpatrick plays this week. Winston is day-to-day with a sprained AC joint in the shoulder of his right (throwing) arm.
“I think the offense probably changed a little bit from when I was there to when he was there,” Fitzpatrick said. “He’ll probably have to title some of the plays he had because that was like 12 offenses ago for me.”
There’s also a secret handshake in the works, but Fitzpatrick has yet to teach his younger teammate how to solve the Rubik's Cube.
“Cam doesn’t have the patience for it,” Fitzpatrick said.
Brate argued, “He’s actually never approached me. What I think on this one -- conspiracy -- is that Ryan knows that I’m a pretty smart guy. He’s scared that if he teaches me, I’ll be better than him. He doesn’t want another guy in the locker room who is smarter than him.”