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
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?)
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
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
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.
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).
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
Middle Linebacker – Chuck
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.
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.
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.
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).