Tuesday, July 25, 2023

The All-Ivy League Team of the NFL

by Jeffrey J. Miller 

There is a commonly held notion that in order to attend an Ivy League college, one must possess an exceptionally high level of intelligence.    While this perception is generally true, Ivy League schools (eight private Northeastern research universities including Brown University, Columbia University, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Harvard University, University of Pennsylvania, Princeton University and Yale University) were also at one time a fertile breeding ground for athletic talent, and football was no exception.  Even a cursory glance at pre-NFL and early-NFL rosters reveals an abundance of Ivy Leaguers. 

However, the Ivy League's place was in the athletic mill was slowly supplanted by major conferences that have sprung up over the past century.  Though the League might no longer be considered to be on the same level as, say, the SEC or the Big 10, it has still produced its share of top-notch gridders over the years.  As of 2022, there were 12 former Ivy Leaguers active in the NFL.   

Today we present an all-time team made up of Ivy League alumni.  For our purposes, we are going to use the advent of the Modern T Formation (approximately 1940) as the starting point for this team.  We have included 11 players on offense using a standard QB, HB, FB, 2-WR set on offense, and a traditional 4-3 configuration for the defense.  We have also included a kicker and a punter, rounding out the team to 24 former Ivies.   


Quarterback – Sid Luckman (Columbia).  Luckman is considered the first successful T-formation quarterback.  Chicago Bears head man George Halas convinced the Pittsburgh Pirates to draft Luckman second overall and then trade him to the Bears, believing he had the skill set to run the modern T offense Halas and Clark Shaughnessy were formulating.  It was a stroke of brilliance on Halas’ part, as Luckman would go on to win four NFL Championships with the Bears, earn six All-Pro selections (five of which were first team), win a league MVP Award (1943) and eventually be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Halfback – Calvin Hill (Yale).  Hill was the Cowboys first-round draft choice (24th overall) in the 1969 college draft.  He was an immediate sensation, earning Offensive Rookie-of-the-Year honors.  He earned four All-Pro selections (two first-team), played in four Pro Bowls and registered two 1,000-yard rushing seasons (in 14-game schedules).  He played a key role in the Cowboys’ first-ever Super Bowl Championship (after the 1971 season).  Surprisingly, Hill is not even in the PFRA’s Hall of Very Good!  (What?)    

Washington Redskins: Calvin Hill - Interviewed by Irv Cross - 1977 - YouTube

Fullback – Kyle Juszczyk (Harvard).  Juszczyk was selected by the Baltimore Ravens in the fourth round of the 2013 college draft.  He is one of the few pure fullbacks extant in the NFL, but he plays the position as well as just about anyone, earning seven Pro Bowl trips in his ten-year pro career.  Juszczyk could possibly add to his resume as he is still going strong as a member of the San Francisco 49ers.  

#100 Kyle Juszczyk (FB, 49ers) | Top 100 Players in 2022 - YouTube

Wide Receiver – Bo Roberson (Cornell).  Roberson enjoyed a solid six-year career in the pros despite going undrafted coming out of college in 1961.  While at Cornell, Roberson excelled in basketball, football, and track and field.  He represented the USA at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, winning a silver medal in the long jump, missing out on the gold by a mere centimeter.  His pro career was entirely played in the AFL with the San Diego Chargers, Oakland Raiders, Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins.  He led the league in all-purpose yards in 1964 (1,615) and earned a championship ring with the Bills in 1965. 

Tight End – Steve Jordan (Brown).  A seventh-round pick for the Minnesota Vikings in 1982, Jordan enjoyed a highly successful 13-year career spent entirely with the Purple Gang.  He was voted to six straight Pro Bowls (1986-91).  During Jordan's tenure, Vikings won three NFC Central division titles, and made the NFL playoffs six times.

Right Tackle – George Starke (Columbia).  Starke was the Redskins 11th-round pick in 1971 and went on to become one of the franchise’s most respected performers.  In 1981, Redskins head coach Joe Gibbs put together a group of talented young lineman famously dubbed “The Hogs.”  As the group’s oldest member, Starke was a natural leader and earned the designation as the line’s "Head Hog."  Starke appeared in three Super Bowls during his 12 years with the ‘skins, including winning Super Bowl XVII against Miami in 1982.  Despite never earning All-Pro or Pro Bowl honors, Starke was selected as one on the franchise’s 70 all-time players in 2002.

Right Guard – Greg Van Roten (Pennsylvania).  Signed by the Green Bay Packers as an undrafted free agent out of Penn in 2012, Van Roten has pieced together a nomadic career that has spanned 10 years of pro ball (eight NFL and two CFL) and five teams (Packers, Carolina Panthers, New York Jets, Buffalo Bills and Toronto Argonauts).  He’s still going strong, having been recently signed as a free agent by the Las Vegas Raiders.   

Center – Matt Birk (Harvard).  A sixth-round draft selection of the Minnesota Vikings in 1998, Birke was one of the top centers in the league throughout much of his 14-year career.  He earned six Pro Bowl trips in ten years with the Vikes before moving on to the Baltimore Ravens, where he won a Super Bowl ring in 2012 (SBXLVII).  He was honored as one of the 50 Greatest Vikings at the franchise’s 50th anniversary in 2010.     


Left Guard – Ross Tucker (Princeton).  Perhaps the weakest link in our Ivy League cadre, Tucker still managed five years in the National Football League.  After going undrafted in 2001, Tucker signed as free agent with the Redskins.  After a year and a half of spot duty in Washington, Tucker was picked up on waivers by Dallas.  In 2003, he signed with the Buffalo Bills, with whom he had his longest tenure, including 17 starts in 28 games.  He finished his career with the Patriots in 2005, appearing in one game that season.     

Left Tackle – De Witt “Tex” Coulter (Cornell).  Little-known Tex Coulter spent his entire six-year NFL career with the New York Giants, earning two Pro Bowl selections during that time.  He was a 60-minute performer with the Giants, playing tackle on offense and tackle and linebacker on defense.  He jumped to the CFL after his second Pro Bowl season (1952) and was named an All-Star in his first year with the Montreal Alouettes.  He finished his career with the Alouettes in 1956. 


Wide Receiver – Sean Morey (Brown).  Probably better known for his work on special teams, Morey nevertheless enjoyed a pretty nice nine-year career in the NFL.  Tapped by the New England Patriots in the seventh round of the 1999 draft, Morey also spent time with Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Arizona.  He won a Super Bowl ring with the Steelers in 2005 (SBXL) and was voted into the Pro Bowl in 2008.     

Kicker – Nick Lowery (Dartmouth).  An 18-year pro career is not too shabby for a player who went undrafted coming out of college, but that is what kicker Nick Lowery accomplished most notably as a member of the Kansas City Chiefs, where he spent 14 of those seasons.   Lowery earned two first-team All-Pro selections and played in three Pro Bowls in his career.  At the time of his retirement, Lowery was ranked first in field goal percentage and had amassed the most field goals in league history.  He remains the Chiefs' all-time leading scorer with 1,466 points.  He finished his career with the New York Jets and also played briefly with the New England Patriots.    

NFL HOF: Nick Lowery - YouTube



Right Defensive End – Desmond Bryant (Harvard).  Signed as an undrafted free agent by the Oakland Raiders in 2009, Bryant became the 29th alumnus of Harvard University to play in the NFL.  He spent four years with the Raiders before signing a huge deal with the Cleveland Browns in 2013.  He played three seasons with the Browns.  For his career, Bryant registered 25 sacks and four forced fumbles in 104 games played.  

Defensive Tackle – Don Colo (Brown).  Colo was selected by the Baltimore Colts in the third round of the 1950 college draft.  After stints with the pathetic Colts, New York Yankees and Dallas Texans, the Brown University alumnus found a home with, oddly enough, the Browns of the NFL in 1953.  Over the next six seasons, Colo would play a key role in leading the Browns to two NFL Championships (1954 and 1955) while earning three Pro Bowl selections.    

Defensive Tackle – Seth Payne (Cornell).  A fourth-rough pick out of Cornell in 1997 by the Jacksonville Jaguars, Payne carved out a nice 10-year career evenly split between the Jags and the Houston Texans.  Payne registered 17.5 sacks in 128 total games played.     


Left Defensive End – Marcellus Wiley (Columbia).  Though most young fans might know Wiley better for his work in the broadcast studio, the fact is the Columbia grad put together a solid 10-year career as a defensive end with the Buffalo Bills, San Diego Chargers, Dallas Cowboys and Jacksonville Jaguars.  He earned a Pro Bowl berth while with San Diego in 2001 after posting a career-high 13 sacks.  Wiley was a second-round selection for the Bills in 1987 (the 52nd overall pick).

Marcellus Wiley on his Columbia Football Career - YouTube

Right Linebacker – Reggie Williams (Dartmouth).  Selected in the third round of the 1976 college draft by the Cincinnati Bengals, Williams would spend his entire 14-year career in Cincinnati, becoming one of the most beloved players in franchise history.  He played in a total of 206 regular season games, starting 196.  Williams also appeared in two Super Bowls with the Bengals (XVI in 1981 and XXIII in 1988). 

Middle Linebacker – Chuck Bednarik (Pennsylvania).  Concrete Charlie was the Eagles first-round pick—and number one overall—in the 1949 college draft.  He played 14 outstanding seasons in Philly, gaining fame as one of the last true 60-minute men by playing center on offense and linebacker on defense.  Normally an outside linebacker when playing defense, he did play the Mike position during his last two seasons, so we can move him to the middle and let Reggie Williams keep the right outside spot.  The Hall-of-Famer scored five All-Pro nods and seven Pro Bowls as a linebacker and is still considered one of the toughest players to ever suit up in the NFL.   

#35: Chuck Bednarik | The Top 100: NFL’s Greatest Players (2010) | NFL Films - YouTube

Left Linebacker – Foyesade Oluokun (Yale).  Entering his sixth season in the NFL, Oluokun is emerging as a star.  He was a 6th-round selection for the Atlanta Falcons in 2018.  In his fourth year with the Falcons, Oluokun led the league in total tackles (192).  He then moved on to the Jacksonville Jaguars where he again led the league in tackles (184).  His 128 solo tackles in 2022 also led the league!  Oluokun has played just about every slot as a linebacker, so we will reserve the left outside position for him.

Cornerback – John Dockery (Harvard).  After going undrafted coming out of Harvard in 1966, Dockery played a little minor league football before earning a tryout and winning a spot with the New York Jets in 1968.  He was activated with three games remaining that season and helped the Jets upset the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.  Never a star, Dockery still enjoyed six seasons in the NFL, including four with the Jets and two with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He also spent one season with the New York Stars of the World Football League (1974).

Cornerback – Eddie Bell (Pennsylvania).  Bell was a 5th-round choice of the Philadelphia Eagles in 1953 but did not join the club until 1955.  His impact was immediate, however, as he became a starting defensive halfback (cornerback) on opening day of his rookie season, and did not miss a start during the first three years of his career.  Bell spent four years with the Eagles before casting his lot with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the CFL, where he earned All-Star honors in 1959.  He returned to the states in 1960 and spent a final season with the New York Titans of the upstart American Football League.  In all, Bell played 62 games of American football, recording 11 interceptions and six fumble recoveries. 

Strong Safety – Gary Fencik (Yale).  Fencik was drafted by the Miami Dolphins in the tenth round of the 1976.  He was cut before ever playing a regular season game and was later picked up by the Chicago Bears.  By his second year in Chicago,. Fencik had earned the starting strong safety position and remained a fixture  for 10 years.  He was a two-time Pro Bowl performer and named All-Pro twice  (one first team, one second team), and an anchor of the Super Bowl winning Bears of 1985, which had what some historians consider to be the greatest defensive unit of all time.  Fencik retired after the 1987 season, his 12th with the team, and remains the Bears’ all-time leader in interceptions and total tackles.

Free Safety – Dick Jauron (Yale).  A 4th-round pick for the Detroit Lions in 1973, Jauron enjoyed an eight-year stay in the National Football League, including five seasons with Detroit and three with the Cincinnati Bengals.  He nabbed 25 interceptions during his career.  Selected to the Pro Bowl in 1975.  He later had a successful career as a head coach, winning Coach-of-the-Year honors in 2001.

Punter – Pat McInally (Harvard).  Evidence that Ivy Leaguers are inherently intelligent was provided when Pat McInally scored the only verified perfect score among NFL players on the Wonderlic Test (an intelligence test to prospective players to judge their aptitude for adapting to certain situations).  Selected in the fifth round by the Cincinnati Bengals in 1975, McInally went on to a 10-year career spent entirely with the Bengals.  From 1976 to 1985, McInally was the Bengals punter while also seeing spot duty at wide receiver, catching 57 passes for 808 yards and five TDs during that span.  In 1981, he became the first graduate of Harvard to play in either a Pro Bowl or Super Bowl, appearing in both that same year.  He led the league in punting average in 1978 (43.1) and 1981 (45.4).

Pat McInally Inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame - YouTube 


  1. From Brian wolf ...

    Great team. Fencik was HOVG worthy and Roberson had a nice bounce back after being let go by the Raiders for Biletnikoff ... Williams for the Bengals was a talented player who overcame hearing problems. Jordan for the Vikings had an excellent career ...

  2. BW ...

    Good call on Hill, Jeffrey ...

    When Calvin retired he was #21st on the NFL's all-time list for career yardage from scrimmage despite being wasted in Washington and losing carries to Duane Thomas and Walt Garrison in Dallas. Fans can only imagine how his career might have gone, had he stayed the number one runner after his great rookie year. Tex Schramm under-estimated him ...

    1. Hill might be looking at a HOF career had Thomas not come along. I cant believe he hasnt made the HOVG yet.

  3. Excellent list --one quibble is Gary Fencik was a free safety. Doug Plank, Todd Bell & Dave Duerson were his strong safety counterparts for the Bears. Also, Fencik actually played WR at Yale.

  4. Excellent list --one quibble is Gary Fencik was a free safety. Doug Plank, Todd Bell & Dave Duerson were his strong safety counterparts for the Bears

  5. You forgot George Plimpton, Harvard (ha ha)

    1. Fencik played SS for six seasons. Yes, he moved to FS later, but his time at SS gave me the flexibility to move him over.

    2. Actually considered throwing Plimpton in as an Honorable Mention, but come on ...

    3. Just checked an old 1978 media guide--you are correct the Bears were starting Fencik at SS and Doug Plank at SS. Excellent work, and my apologies for questioning

    4. No need to apologize, my friend. It's all good!

    5. BW ...

      George Plimpton was simply a "Paper" Lion but Shelly Plimpton, the stage actress in Hair, was hot to me ...

  6. I think you should've put McInally at WR and P. He was All-America at Harvard as WR and was a decent #3/4 receiver for Cincy. Sean Morey as ST

  7. I believe you missed another Hill; Kenny Hill - Safety out of Yale. Super Bowl Champion with the LA Raiders (1983) and the NY Giants (1986).

  8. Hill was on my list, but figured Fencik was the better choice. Fencik's stats, longevity and high level of performance over a longer period gave him the nod. Hill was only a full time starter for about 4 seasons ... Though his rings are impressive...

    August 10, 2023