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Food, Football For Parma Panthers... And Harvard Grads
Parma, a picturesque city in Northern Italy, is the home of Parmigianino Reggiano cheese, Prosciutto ham, and Barilla pasta. Lately, however, this food-famous city has also become the home of another, more foreign, specialty—Harvard football alums.
Three recent Crimson graduates, Corey Mazza ’08, Danny Brown ’07, and former captain Ryan Tully ’07, are now playing in the Italian Football League (IFL) with the Parma Panthers.
“We’re having a good time over here, and [I’m] just getting to do what I love and to travel,” said Tully, a linebacker for the Panthers. “It’s the best of both worlds.”
The trend of postponing the business world for more time with the pigskin, playbooks, and cheering fans is becoming more commonplace for Harvard footballers. Currently, there are Crimson football alums playing in National Football League, the Canadian Football League, and now, the IFL.
“I think the word has gotten out that you can work the rest of your life,” said Harvard football head coach Tim Murphy. “You can only continue this football thing for so long.”
The choice, between the working world and the football world, is one that all three Parma Panthers had to face. Former standout wide receiver Mazza made the decision to delay graduation in 2007 after the Crimson’s less-than-spectacular 2006 season. Instead, Mazza returned to Cambridge for a fifth year to use up his athletic eligibility. That decision turned out to be a wise one, as he helped lead his team to an Ivy League title, and also opened up doors to athletic opportunities after graduation.
“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for [returning for a fifth year],” Mazza said. “It’s been a smooth transition from the Yale game to the game this month. It wasn’t a very long off-season, so it was like going right back into spring ball.”
The transition was less fluid for Brown and Tully, who were both working before their decision to sign on to the Italian team. Luckily, it didn’t take long for them to get back into the flow of things.
“Once you step on the field, football’s the same,” Brown, the new Parma quarterback, said. “It makes it instinctual.”
That instinct will be advantageous to the three Panthers as they adjust to playing alongside men who are working full-time jobs instead of devoting their extra hours to two-a-days and watching film.
“Over here, [football’s] not taken quite as seriously as it was in college,” Tully said. “It’s more just playing for the fun of it.”
Brown echoed these sentiments, citing the decreased time commitment and pressure as a crucial difference between collegiate football and playing in the IFL.
“It’s almost a different sport,” Brown said. “The heart and desire of all the players are the same if not more here, but it’s based on pride here and not a business aspect, which is refreshing.”
Added Mazza, “It’s in a more pure form, I think.”
The ability to play the sport they love, without it occupying the top slot in their life priorities is something new and different for the three Harvard grads. However, one aspect of their college careers has followed them to Parma: each other. Not only did they all teammates, but the three men were also roommates during their time in Cambridge.
“It’s definitely pretty weird,” Mazza said. “You wake up with the same guys but you’re in a different country playing football.”
This familiarity has helped the three athletes as they work towards assimilating into the Italian way of life, and onto the Parma team.
“It’s a great chance to continue our careers together,” Tully said. “We kind of know what we’re doing out there and we get to bring that chemistry together to this team.”
Their familiarity and comfort with each other has been evident in the Panthers’ play, especially in the second game of the season, where Parma trumped the Ancona Dolphins 28-6, due in large part to their Harvard alumni. Tully threw for two touchdowns in the game, with Mazza tallying one as well.
“They’re all great people, so I think they’ll bring great leadership to that team,” Murphy said. “[Mazza] not only was one of the great wide receivers in Harvard history, but was one of the great wide receivers in Ivy League history. [Brown] brought a toughness and resilience and great camaraderie to his team, and Ryan was a terrific player, leader and captain for us.”
All three athletes will continue to bring their skill and intensity to the Panthers until the early part of the summer, when their season ends. After that their futures are unknown. Each has a one-year contract and whether this year of playing leads to other post-collegiate football opportunities or simply postpones re-entry into the working world waits to be seen.
Would the IFL be a good option for other Crimson standouts? Brown thinks so.
“If I can do it, a lot of football players at Harvard certainly could too,” Brown said. “Leave all your options open and don’t be afraid to take a chance.”
Food, Football For Parma Panthers
By Alex J. Mihalek, The Crimson