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NFL's Colts Prez Sounds Off on Ivies
Last week, Bill Polian, the president of the Indianapolis Colts, came to Harvard to speak at the former Mayor of Indianapolis Bart Peterson’s Institute of Politics (IOP) study group. The topic of discussion, according to the IOP’s website, was “The Politics of Being an NFL City.” But for the Ivy League sports enthusiast, Polian offered information on Harvard football’s latest NFL entrant, Clifton Dawson.
“Well, I was here [at Harvard] for the Columbia game when he was a junior,” Polian recalled of the first time he saw Dawson. “He really stood out, and so I marked him down as a prospect and then came back to see him the following year—was convinced that he had the ability to play in the NFL.”
But why did it take Polian so long to be convinced?
At Harvard, Dawson set the Ivy League record for career rushing yards (4,841), career rushing touchdowns (60), career touchdowns (66), career points (398), and career all-purpose yards (6,138). But it takes more than gaudy stats to become an NFL athlete.
“There’s an acronym we use called PQs, physical qualities,” Polian noted. “There is a baseline height, weight, speed—particularly speed as regards Ivy League players—that is necessary to play in the NFL.”
Apparently Dawson met those baselines as he was signed by Polian and the Colts as an undrafted free-agent following last year’s draft.
But recruitment to the NFL has long been a problem for Ivy League football players. With such an insular schedule—having only three non-conference games against Lafayette, Lehigh, and Holy Cross—Harvard football players are not generally exposed to the same level of play as other Division 1 teams in, say, the SEC or the Pac 10. As such, NFL scouts have a difficult time assessing a player’s NFL potential with such a limited view.
“If a player does not meet those guidelines, if he’s too small, if he’s too slow, if he’s too light—if he happens to be a lineman—etc., it’s very difficult for clubs to take a chance on him,” Polian said.
Brown’s football team just recently demonstrated that NFL teams don’t take players based solely on their Ivy League performance. In the 2006 draft, the Bears running back, Nick Hartigan, who always kept Harvard-Brown contests close and finished his collegiate career with 2,761 yards, 33 TDs and fifth in the nation in scoring (10.2 points per game), went undrafted.
“In Hartigan’s case, while he was a wonderful college player, he was a bit slow to be a running back in the NFL and not quite stout enough to be a fullback,” Polian said.
But the following year, Brown lineman Zak DeOssie was the 17th pick in the fourth round by the New York Giants.
“I think [DeOssie] ran in the 4.6s at the combine, at 6’4”, 240, that’s going to get you a look, especially in his position,” recalled Harvard football coach Tim Murphy.
“That’s the great equalizer in the NFL—it’s a speed game,” Polian remarked. “So if you have speed, it doesn’t matter where you play college football, not that the Ivy League’s bad football—it isn’t—but it doesn’t matter where you play college football. If you can run, generally speaking, you’ll get a chance to prove you can play.”
This should come as a warning to the four Harvard players on the official workout list at the BC Pro Day, which took place in mid-March. Seniors Steven Williams, Andrew Brecher, and Doug Hewlett and junior Matt Thomas all took part in the March 18th workout, but there’s still no word of any pro team interest.
“I think there’s a little bit of interest in each guy,” Murphy said. “Steven Williams and maybe Brecher as examples are hoping that they can get an NFL contract that can get them into an NFL camp and give them an opportunity to show what they can do.”
With Dawson and others—like Bengals second-string quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick ’05—paving the way for Harvard football players in the NFL, the future of Ivy League players making it into the pro game looks good. Right now there is at least one representative from each of the Ancient Eight teams in the league.
“I was in the weight room this morning and I saw a pretty tall, athletic looking guy,” Dawson said. “He took off his sweatshirt and he had a Columbia shirt on. Ivy League recruiting is becoming a lot more common. It’s just great to see.”
As for this season, Dawson is likely to get significant playing time, especially early on with the Colts playing five preseason games—they will play the Redskins in the Hall of Fame Game. Last season he rushed for 64 yards on 30 carries, with one touchdown.
“He’ll have a chance to mature a little bit more physically and work with Peyton and our other quarterbacks in the offseason program and get really comfortable with our offense,” Polian said about Dawson’s playing prospects for next season.
Of course, even with likely increased playing time, Dawson still has yet to make the full transition into an NFL player.
“You know, he’s a funny guy,” Murphy joked. “He’s very frugal. You know, you come into the parking lot of the Colts or any NFL team and there’s a bunch of Hummers and Escalades.”
“Yeah I got a beat-up old Volvo mid-way through the season,” Dawson laughed. “I take a lot, a lot of flack from the other guys on the team for my Volvo.”
With the 2008 NFL draft quickly approaching on April 26-27, familiar company could join Dawson as the Ivy Leagues could put some fresh faces in the pros.
“Right now the Ivy League has more guys in the NFL than in a long, long time,” Murphy added. “I think we’re in a very good cycle now.”
Last Wednesday I had the distinct pleasure of sharing a small lounge area in the Harvard Institute of Politics with the company of former Mayor of Indianapolis and current IOP fellow Bart Peterson and his study group guest Indianapolis Colts president Bill Polian.
When Polian entered the room, I stood to shake his hand. Fortunately for me, he wears his Super Bowl ring on his right hand so I got to feel the warmth of that sweet chunk of victory nestle against my palm.
It was going to be a great interview.
I recently wrote about the interview with Polian as it pertained to former Crimson running back turned Indianapolis Colts back-up tailback Clifton Dawson and Ivy League football recruiting in general. Since I wasn’t able to include all the quotes, I now bring you some other good tidbits from my interviews with Polian, Dawson, and Harvard football coach Tim Murphy:
—Polian on how the Colts got Dawson: “Well I was here for the Columbia game when he was a junior and then, I can’t recall who you played when he was a senior, but I saw him play twice. When I was here for the Columbia game, he really stood out and so I marked him down as a prospect and then came back to see him the following year, was convinced that he had the ability to play in the NFL. Of course, did the research and found out about his background, Northwestern, Canadian, etc. and then we were fortunate enough to sign him after the draft. He had made the team, but we had an injury and had to juggle our roster at the cut to 53 and we lost him to Cincinnati. And I was heartbroken when it occurred and fortunately enough, three or four weeks later we got him back.”
—Anecdote Polian told regarding the widespread advertising a football franchise has for a city: “I was speaking to the Society of Civil Engineers, the Indiana Society of Civil Engineers. At the end of the talk, I took questions and a gentleman, an elderly gentleman in the back of the room stood up and he said to me, ‘I don’t have a question, but I’d like to tell you of an experience I had. I was in Northern Tibet, building a bridge, and it was a program that was run by a government consortium and there were a number of people from different corporations involved. And we met for the first time, sat around a table and there were a couple of government ministers there who were heading up the project. And they asked us to stand up and identify ourselves and our company affiliation, to say where we were from.’ So he stood up and he mentioned his company, he said, ‘I’m from Indianapolis, Indiana.’ And one of the government ministers said, ‘Oh, Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison, I saw them on Monday Night Football.’”
—Who are Clifton’s comparables?: “He’s very much like Thurman Thomas, who I had with the Buffalo Bills. He doesn’t quite have Thurman’s shiftiness, but similar. And not dissimilar to James Mungro, who we had for us in Indianapolis for five years. James hurt his knee, and that pretty much finished his career. But very similar in style to those kind of guys.”
—Polian on whether or not we’ll see Clifton and the rest of the Colts perform something a la “The Super Bowl Shuffle”:
“I don’t think there’s any chance whatsoever that they would do it, because I would veto it. Like General Sherman, ‘If nominated I will not sing, and if elected, I will not appear.’ An emphatic no!”
—Murphy on his phone conversation with Clifton a month ago: “He’s doing great. You know, he’s a funny guy. He’s very frugal, which you appreciate because a lot of those guys in the league aren’t. You know, you come into the parking lot of the Colts as an example or any NFL team and there’s a bunch of Hummers and Escalades and you know very expensive vehicles and I said, “Clifton have you bought a car yet?” And he said, “Yeah, oh yeah, Coach I bought a car I’m really proud of.” I said, “Great, What’d you buy?” And he said, “I bought a Volvo.” I said, “Ah that’s a nice solid car.” “Yeah Coach it’s ten years old and has a 150,000 miles on it.” And I said, “Clifton, you know, the first dollar you earn, you’ll have saved.” He said everyone was giving him a hard time about it.”
—Dawson on the difference of lifestyle between the NFL and the Ivy Leagues: “The lifestyle in the NFL is very, very, very different to that of the Ivy League and Ivy League football. You know, there’s an excess of money. Guys go from making nothing as a college athlete to making hundreds of thousands of dollars, and millions of dollars in some cases. And so, the pressure to buy really nice cars and have the best of everything is pretty high. Although I was very fortunate to play last season for a full season, I’ve just been really conservative with my spending. I actually just got back from going with a friend who was on the practice squad last year. And practice squad guys make a fraction of what we make and he just bought a huge $50,000 truck and I’m just sitting there with my Volvo.
NFL’s Colts Prez Sounds Off on Ivies
By Dixon McPhillips, The Crimson
Photo Credit: Amanda J. Guzman
Sports Blog’s Complete Coverage of Polian
The Crimson Sports Blog