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'Ivy League Sweet 16' pro athletes - past and present

Posted by Obnoxious Boston Fan  March 21, 2014 06:28 AM

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Havards Wins.jpg

"Linsanity" never made it this far.

Harvard is one win away from the Sweet 16. The Crimson's victory over Cincinnati in the second round of the NCAA Tournament was not a complete surprise. The No. 12-seed Ivy League champs get to see if their Cinderella slippers fit against Michigan State Saturday. That will be an upset if they prevail.

While best-known for producing presidents, authors, scientists, academics, titans of industry, internet savants and other leaders of note and ill-repute, the Ivy League has gifted the world of sports with many notable stars. The Ivy League began as a formal athletic conference in 1954, but its schools had producing athletic greatness for decades. John W. Heisman, who attended both Brown and Penn, was the inspiration of the trophy that bears his last name. Yale won what passes for college basketball's first national championship in 1901.

The sports world was swept up in "Linsanity" two years ago this month, as former Harvard player Jeremy Lin became the NBA's Tim Tebow, rising from the depths of the bench to become one of league's hottest players.

Unlike Tebow, Lin is still around in the pros. He signed a three-year, $25 million deal with the Rockets after playing just 26 games in the tail end of the 2012 season. He is currently averaging 12.4 PPG and 4.3 APG this season backing up Patrick Beverley [who incidentally when to the University of Arkansas].

But Lin's Harvard teams never made the NCAA Tournament. The Crimson have scored March Madness wins two years in a row.

Boston's sports scene has its share of Ivy Leaguers in leadership positions. Former Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey and GM Theo Epstein went to Yale [which you may have read Theo attended Yale 3 or 4 million times]. Patriots owner Robert Kraft attended Columbia and Harvard Business School, Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli played hockey for Harvard and Celtics CEO and co-owner Wyc Grousbeck won an Ivy League crew and national rowing title at Princeton.

All wicked smaht, most of the time.

Here's our all-time "Ivy League Sweet 16" of past and present pro athletes. We're not here to list them all, but let us know who you wanted to see here that we omitted. The debate rages. Like any NCAA "Sweet 16," it has top-seeds, mild upsets and a couple of Bracket Busters.

Good luck Crimson on the "Road to North Texas."


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Jeremy Lin: "Linsanity" isn't what it used to be. But it ruled the NBA just long enough to inspire a trivia question. "What school did Jeremy Lin attend?" We all know that answer. At Harvard, the 6-foot-3 guard became the first Ivy League player to score more than 1,450 points [1,483], amass 450 rebounds [487], grab 400 assists [406] and 200 steals [225]. He was undrafted after graduating in 2010 and played for the Warriors and Rockets before landing with the Knicks during the 2011-12 season. Once he started receiving serious playing time, the Knicks won seven straight games, including his first six starts. Lin is the only NBA player to have at least 20 points and seven assists in his first five starts.

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Teddy Donato - Globe Photo.jpg

Ted Donato: You want local? Donato grew up in Boston and played at Catholic Memorial and Harvard before embarking on a pro hockey career that saw him play for the Bruins and seven other NHL teams. Donato had 347 points in 796 NHL games, not quite Hall of Fame credentials. But he made stops in Manchester, N.H., Providence, Hartford and Bridgeport, Conn., during his pro career and he's been the coach of the Harvard hockey team since 2004. You can't get much more New England Ivy League than that.

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Lou  Gehrig1

Lou Gehrig: Before there was an Ivy League, the Iron Horse was a football and baseball star at Columbia. "The Pride of the Yankees" established the standard for both durability in the majors and farewell speeches He was a Yankee even Red Sox fans could respect and admire. In 1925 the Yankees reportedly offered to trade Gehrig to the Red Sox for the immortal Phil Todt, but Boston passed. A lifetime.340 hitter, Gehrig hit 493 steroid-free home runs in his career and had an eye-popping 184 RBI in 1931. His name remains forever linked to raise awareness of the disease [ALS] that took his life.

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Breslow - AP.jpg

Craig Breslow: The Red Sox lefty set-up man went to Yale but wasn't smart enough to hold the ball in Game 2 of the World Series. His errant throw from home plate up the third-base line and into left-field helped the Cardinals prevail in that game at Fenway Park. Otherwise, Breslow [5-2, 1.81 ERA and 33 strikeouts in 59.2 innings] was a solid left-handed anchor for Koji Uehara last season and made 71 appearances, including the post-season. Breslow hasn't pitched for the Red Sox this spring due to shoulder soreness. He is set to pitch Monday and still hopes to be on the Opening Day roster. His occasional batterymate Ryan Lavarnway also attended Yale before joining the Red Sox in 2011.

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Thumbnail image for Chris Dudley AP Photo.png

Chris Dudley: The 6-foot-11 center out of Yale deserves praise for NBA resiliency and his skill in consuming space, if not for his scoring ability. He played for the Nets, Knicks, Trail Blazers and Cavaliers in a pro career from 1987-2003. His career averages [3.9 PPG and 6.2 RPG] complimented his ability to block shots. He set the standard for brickmasons from the free-throw line and make Shaq look like Larry Bird, hitting on just 45.7 percent of his attempts. The Boston Globe's Bob Ryan writes: He was nicknamed "Quag" by Cavs general manager Wayne Embry, as in, 'He rises out of the quagmire to get his rebounds.'"

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SidLuckman

Sid Luckman: Long before Ryan Fitzpatrick carried the flag for Ivy League QBs in the NFL, Luckman was tearing up the nation with the Chicago Bears via their T-formation. The Columbia tailback struggled at QB at first, but made a huge impact on the NFL with the Bears' 73-0 win over Washington in the 1940 title game. The Bears won four NFL titles in his 12 seasons. Luckman was league MVP in 1943 and he hit for seven TD passes vs. the Giants in a 56-7 rout. That's two more TDs than Big 10 product Tom Brady has thrown in his past three games against the Giants.

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Calvin Hill: Ivy Leaguers like Luckman, Matt Birk [Harvard] and Gary Fencik [Yale] had equally prominent and successful NFL careers. Hill gets a nod for having played in Yale's 29-29 loss at Harvard Stadium in 1968. A four-time Pro Bowler, Hill gained 5,009 yards in his six seasons with the Cowboys (he also played in Cleveland and Washington) and won a ring for Super Bowl VI. While his son, Grant, didn't go to an Ivy League school, he was still smart enough to land a $92 million contract with the Orlando Magic before playing just 210 games with the team due to injury. Birk, who has lost 75 pounds since he retired in 2013, and Fencik also won Super Bowls. Birk's ring came after beating the 49ers and Fencik won his against your New England Patriots back in 1986.

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EddieCollins

Eddie Collins: The first GM in the history of the Red Sox, Collins [right] was one of two ex-Columbia players inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1939 - Gehrig was the other. A career .333 hitter and rampant base thief in his 25 seasons, Collins played on four World Series winners with Philadelphia and Chicago at second base. He emerged clean after 1919 Chicago Black Sox scandal. During his career as Red Sox GM, Collins [with the help of Tom Yawkey's pocketbook] dealt for Lefty Grove, Joe Cronin and Jimmie Foxx before singing Ted Williams and Bobby Doerr in 1936. He also kept the Red Sox 100 percent white. It took another Ivy League-educated GM to lead the Red Sox to a couple World Series titles in the 2000s.

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Chuck Bednarik: He was the last great two-way NFL player. The Maxwell Club's annual award for best defensive player in college football bears his name in honor of his success at Penn. An NFL Hall of Famer on his first year of eligibility in 1967, Bednarik played center and linebacker for the Eagles from 1949-62. His 1960 hit on Frank Gifford is the stuff of NFL Films legend. It knocked Kathie-Lee's future hubby out of football for 18 months. She was seven at the time. Bednarik also flew 30 combat missions as a B-24 gunner in WWII. Not your typical Ivy League nerd.

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Rudy LaRusso: "Roughhouse Rudy" played for the Minneapolis and Los Angeles Lakers and Warriors after starring at Dartmouth. The four-time All-Star scored 50 points against the Hawks on March 14, 1962 and averaged of 15.6 points and 9.6 rebounds as a pro from 1959-69. The 6-foot-7 forward and two-time All-Star is often forgotten when talking about the Lakers' teams in the 1960s that so often lost to the Celtics in the NBA Finals. He averaged a double-double in 1962, 63, and 64.

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Ron Darling AP.jpg

Ron Darling: A native of Millbury and a St. John's of Shrewsbury grad, Darling attended Yale before a career with the Mets, A's and Expos. He went 136-116 [with 13 shutouts] and started three games for the Mets in the 1986 World Series. He held the Red Sox to an unearned run in a 1-0 loss in Game 1. Darling pitched seven scoreless innings in Game 4 as the Mets evened the series with a 6-2 victory. He started Game 7 but lasted just 3.2 innings and left with the Red Sox up 3-0. We know what happened next. Darling spends time in the booth for SNY and TBS. Darling did not invent the wrap sandwich, but he can speak fluent Chinese and French.

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Ken F. Dryden

Ken F. Dryden: The Hall of Fame goalie spent the bulk of his career haunting and tormenting Boston. He led Cornell to the 1967 NCAA hockey championship by stopping BU 4-1 in the title game. Dryden ruled between the pipes for the Montreal "Bleeping" Canadiens on six Stanley Cup teams [1971, 73, 76, 77, 78 and 79]. Dryden and the Habs eliminated the Bruins four times during that run. Like another Conn Smythe Trophy-winning goalie Bostonians know, Dryden was politically outspoken. He served as a member of the Liberal Party in Canada's House of Commons from 2004-11. That other guy did not.

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Joe Niewendyk: The former Cornell standout [he left after his junior year] and Canadian gold medalist [2002] was elected to the Pro Hockey Hall of Fame in 2011. He won three Stanley Cups with three different teams [Calgary 1989, Dallas 1999 and New Jersey 2003] and scored 11 goals [21 points] to win the Conn Smythe Trophy for the Stars in '99. After stops in Toronto and Florida, Niewendyk retired with 564 career goals and 1,126 career points. He began his pro career greeted by the headline of "Joe Who?" after being taken by Calgary in the 1985 draft. But the headline writers got it wrong and his No. 25 was raised to the rafters there earlier this month. [Video]

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Bill Bradley - AP.jpg

Bill Bradley: A three-term U.S. Senator from New Jersey after his retirement, Bradley was a gold-medal winning Olympian [1964] and Rhodes Scholar before joining the Knicks in 1967. The Knicks won their only two NBA titles [1970-72] with Bradley, a Princeton grad, at forward. Of course he had a little help from Walt Frazier, Willis Reed and Dave DeBusschere. The Pro Basketball Hall of Famer scored 9,217 points in 742 NBA games (12.4 PPG). Among athletic Ivy Leaguers, he joins Ted Kennedy [Harvard freshman football], George H.W. Bush [Yale baseball] and George W. Bush [Yale cheerleader] who later went pro in Washington.

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DeOssie - AP.jpg

Zak DeOssie: The long-snapper and linebacker won two Super Bowls with the Giants, both at the expense of the Patriots. He played at Phillips Academy before starting at 29 games at Brown. DeOssie is a team captain for Big Blue and was just named as a player rep for the Giants this week. After a rare blown snap that sailed over the head of the punter against the Eagles in 2013, Eli Manning famously said of DeOssie: "You're going to be the most famous long snapper in the league this week. And it's never a good thing when you're the most well-known long snapper." DeOssie and his dad, Steve, who played at BC, are the only father-and-son duo to win Super Bowls with the same team.

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George Parros: He is the modern-day version of Bednarik, at least when it comes to staggering hits and destroying the notion of the "Ivy League Nerd." An unapologetic NHL assailant and "Violent Gentleman," Parros, who attended Princeton, plays right wing for the Canadiens when he's not in the penalty box. He is a life-time average minus-10 and has amassed 1,070 penalty minutes in his nine-year, five-team NHL career. He won a Stanley Cup with the Anaheim Ducks in 2007 and, at age 33, is considered an elder statesman among NHL thugs. Despite having participated in more than 160 NHL fights, Parros did not sustain his first concussion until opening night this past October, when he fell on the ice during a brawl with Colton Orr.

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Some Others of Note Upset in the Earlier Rounds: Tennis: Big Bill Tilden [Penn], James Blake [Harvard]; Baseball: Former Red Sox catcher and super spy Moe Berg [Princeton and Columbia Law School], catcher Brad Ausmus [Dartmouth], utility man/infielder Mark Derosa [Penn], Nationals pictcher Ross Ohlendorf [Princeton], outfielder Doug Glanville [Penn], Hall of Famer James "Orator" O'Rourke [Yale], former commissioners Fay Vincent and Bart Giamatti [Yale]; NBA: ABA and NBA Forward Jim McMillian [Columbia], Trail Blazers guard Geoff Petrie [Princeton]; NFL: Defensive back and long-time coach Dick Jauron [Yale], Bengals punter Pat McInally [Harvard & 50 on the Wonderlic test], Dolphins QB Jay Fiedler [Dartmouth], Bengals linebacker Reggie Williams [Dartmouth], Vikings running back Ed Marinaro [Cornell and "Hill Street Blues"] and the aforementioned Fitzpatrick, Birk and Fencik; NHL: Long-time executive Brian Burke [Havard Law School], Canucks left wing Chris Higgins [Yale] and Pittsburgh's Craig Adams.

[Note: As of Opening Day in January of 2013, there were 19 ex-Ivy Leaguers on NHL rosters.]


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