|Bankers, lawyers & NFLers|
By Stacey Pressman
Special to Page 2
When I was a kid, my dad owned a maroon '75 Corvette with a T-top, tan leather bucket seats and a V8 engine. On weekends, he'd take me for drives out in the Connecticut country and introduce me to Corvette culture. Every time we'd pass another 'Vette, the drivers would give each other a wave -- not a full-out, prom-queen palm, just a quick lift of the hand along with a slight head tilt.
It was endearing. My dad was part of a club.
Nowadays, ESPN personality Chris Berman and I are a little like two Corvettes passing in the hallway. When we see each other, we break into the routine. We nod; he smiles and says, "Ahh, the Columbia Football Lions."
Then comes the one-upmanship.
"Did you see Sean Morey recover the fumble against Atlanta?" he'll say. Or, "You watch, the Patriots are going to activate Chas Gessner."
Berman oozes Brown pride. He's probably having some trouble coming to grips with the fact that J.J. Stokes replaced Brown alum Gessner on New England's active roster recently.
This week, I had nothing to come back at him with during our little repartee. My lone Columbia representative in the NFL -- the Chargers' Marcellus "Wildstyle" Wiley, my usual go-to guy in these exchanges -- received a 15-yard taunting penalty last Sunday against Denver. That wasn't going to impress Berman.
I could always go the Olsen twins route. After all, Ashley Olsen is dating Columbia's sophomore quarterback, Matt Kaplan. But far be it from me to sink that low.
This is college football's rivalry weekend, which means Brown and Columbia will meet for the 69th time. At stake? Fourth and fifth place in the Ivy League. Penn has already clinched the championship. Even "The Game" -- the 120th meeting between Harvard and Yale in the Yale Bowl on Saturday -- is only a quest for second place this year.
Yeah, yeah, I know. It's Ivy League football. Who cares?
But it's worth keeping in mind, as you watch Michigan's John Navarre throw to Braylon Edwards and Ohio State's Craig Krenzel throw to Michael Jenkins on Saturday, that Harvard played a pivotal role in the adoption of the forward pass 100 years ago. And that Princeton played the first intercollegiate football game (against Rutgers on Nov. 6, 1869). And that Walter Camp of Yale invented many of the rules and strategies of the modern game. And that three Ivy League players (Yale's Larry Kelley and Clint Frank in 1936 and '37, and Princeton's Dick Kazmaier in 1951) have won the Heisman Trophy, and that the trophy itself is named after an Ivy League coach.
The Ivy's eight schools -- Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Penn, Princeton and Yale -- have helped shape what American football is today. Only in recent decades has the league struggled to maintain its athletic legitimacy against the nation's bigger schools, due partly to an Ivy League rule that prohibits the awarding of athletic scholarships.
But I'm here to tell you: It's getting better.
Thirteen Ivy players are currently on active NFL rosters. (It was 14 until the Patriots demoted Gessner to the practice squad.) That's a dramatic increase from the five Ivy Leaguers in the NFL in 1996. In fact, this season marks the first time in 75 years (since 1928) that all eight Ivy League schools are represented in the NFL at the same time.
Many of these guys aren't just filling roster spots. Miami quarterback Jay Fiedler has a 29-13 record as a starter. Matt Birk, the Vikings' center, is a two-time Pro Bowler. Jason Garrett has three Super Bowl rings. Wiley, one of the highest-paid defensive ends in the league, was a second-round draft pick who made the Pro Bowl his first season in San Diego. The 49ers' Eric Johnson had 76 receptions in his first two years.
As Mark Ross, a scout for the Eagles (and a Princeton grad), says "With the decrease in scholarships at Division I schools, the big programs can't hoard all of the players. Good players are now being spread around more to all divisions and schools. The Ivy League is just another conference that benefits."
It isn't as if the Ivy League-educated players need your sympathy, but they do sometimes struggle to find their place with a team off the field.
They all occasionally battle the perception that an Ivy League education means bad football, cardigan sweaters and the ability to quote Aristotle. They're a bit like Louis, Gilbert, and Arnold forming the Tri-Lams and fighting the Alpha Betas.
As Giants' O-lineman Jeff Hatch (Penn) puts it, "This (being an NFL player) is the only job in America where having an Ivy League degree can actually hurt you."
The Giants are the first team to carry three Ivy League players (Hatch, quarterback Jason Garrett and running back Jim Finn) since the 1980 Cincinnati Bengals' roster included Dick Jauron, Pat McInally and Reggie Williams. It's hard sometimes for these guys to earn respect.
"In practice, the guys always tell me that what I played in college wasn't real football," says Finn, a Penn grad. "I just tell them it's the exact same game they played in their conferences -- except that our schemes are a bit more complicated."
A few weeks ago, Hatch dragged rookie lineman and Ivy League harasser Dave Diehl across the Hudson River to Wien Stadium to see undefeated Penn play Columbia.
"He was impressed," said Hatch. "Who wouldn't be? Penn is going 10-0."
Wiley, the only Ivy Leaguer on the Chargers, says he constantly wards off remarks from teammates who tell him he's got no skills because he played his college ball against America's future lawyers, accountants and dentists, who all weighed 180 pounds.
"I hear it practically every damn day," he says. "Guys tell me that I played college football against a bunch of nerds. Don't they know it gets old after a while?"
Should you feel sorry for these guys? Yes, I know. That's a little like feeling bad for Howard Stern because he has to wake up every morning at 3 o'clock to make millions of dollars and hang out with naked women.
And that 3 a.m. part really sucks.
Stacey Pressman is a freelance producer at ESPN and a contributing writer to Page 2 and "The Jump" at ESPN the Magazine. She can be reached at StaceyPressman@aol.com.