Rose Stands Ready to Take Ivy Ring
The first thing you should know about senior quarterback Neil Rose is that he’s not going anywhere.
“I’ve been thinking about it, and if I had to picture what it would be like next year,” Rose says, “I definitely think I’d be back.”
Rose has another year of eligibility after a foot injury in 1999 sidelined him for the entire season. His return next year is good news for all Harvard fans, as Rose’s numbers so far this season—66 percent completion rate, 1553 yards, 11 touchdowns and only three interceptions—have been pushing former Crimson hotshots out of the record books. More importantly, he’s led this team to the Ivy League championship, and his return bodes well for the 2002 squad as well.
“Neil Rose is absolutely amazing,” Harvard Coach Tim Murphy said after the Crimson’s 28-21 defeat over Penn, another game in which Rose rallied the team to victory after an early deficit.
Sure, Rose’s story has been told plenty of times on these pages: the son of an Ohio farmboy Marine and his Japanese-born wife, growing up in Hawaii where football takes a back seat to surfing.
But with the exception of a very few guys on the team, Rose has had one long, tough year.
Rose first had to erase the memory of last year’s 34-24 loss to Yale at the Stadium.
“It was absolutely the worst game I’ve ever played,” Rose says. “It was a culmination of all the things we’d been doing bad all year. I was by far in the worst physical shape of the year as well.”
A bevy of Rose interceptions and the Crimson’s poor play in general meant that Harvard fans, most of whom were seeing him play for the first time, got the impression that he was prone to mistakes.
Then in March 2001, Rose entered the journalistic fray when he penned an op-ed in the Crimson that called for corporate sponsorship of Harvard athletics. Among other things, Rose pointed to poor athletic equipment and sparse attendance as some of the things sponsorship could cure, and one of the reasons he “came to love road games.” His article was in response to an earlier story in the paper about the administration’s stance on corporate sponsorship.
“There’s a lot of things I regret since writing that,” Rose says. “I realize that the message I was trying to get across wasn’t received. People thought that what I was trying to say was that I was unhappy with Harvard, and nothing could be further from the truth.”
While Rose regrets hurting some of those in the Athletic Department, he still maintains his stance is correct. Harvard is the only school in the country that does not accept corporate sponsorship, and Rose feels the handouts have very few drawbacks.
“I was pretty much speaking for every varsity athlete,” Rose says. “I shot an e-mail to every team, at least the real visible ones, and 99 percent said to go for it.”
Rose worked in midtown Manhattan last summer with the investment bank Bear Stearns in an attempt to get some real-world experience for his economics concentration. It was his first time in New York City, and Rose says he loved it. With the September 11th terror attacks, he also vividly remembers the weeks before the world changed.
“I had an apartment down [in Lower Manhattan],” Rose says. “I was down there all the time. After work I’d go to a bar with some buddies, right at the base of the World Trade Center.”
When Harvard traveled down to Columbia for its Nov. 3 game, Rose got a chance to see the city he had spent his summer in once again.
“We had to cross the George Washington Bridge, and you can see everything from there,” Rose says. “Usually we goof around on the back of the bus, but crossing the bridge, everyone looked to the left, and everyone was quiet.”
Rose came into camp excited and ready to play, and with good reason. The Crimson’s vaunted offensive line would be stronger this year, and despite losing junior running back Matt Leiszler for the year, the rushing attack was supposed to mean Rose wouldn’t be throwing the ball 45 times a game.
“The coaches have really opened up the offense and suited it to the personnel,” Rose says. “We run a legit pro offense—we change protections, unlike 90 percent of other college teams.”
But one thing that would slowly regress was the Crimson’s backup QB situation. Even though freshmen Ryan Fitzpatrick and Garrett Schires have performed admirably when Rose was hurt, they started way down on the depth chart. Guys like Barry Wahlberg, junior J.C. Harrington and sophomore Conor Black all quit the team.
“I won’t speculate on each individual’s reason to quit. Football’s a big commitment, a lot of hours out of the day, and Harvard’s a great place—a lot of things to do and experiment with, and football’s a big sacrifice,” Rose says. “I’d say every player comes close to quitting sometime in his career.”
Even Rose himself?
“For me it was twice,” Rose says, laughing. “I won’t say when but definitely there were two times when I was just thinking about hanging it up and enjoying the things I couldn’t do—like take classes at 2pm.”
Early on this season it didn’t matter who was behind Rose. He led the team to four straight victories, including wins over Brown and Cornell, and threw six touchdowns without an interception.
Then at home against Princeton, the injuries started again. Rose took a few shots, threw three interceptions and came out of the game. When he returned for a series, he led Harvard to the game-winning score, but pinched a nerve in his neck in the process.
Those three interceptions, by the way, are the only one’s Rose has thrown all year.
Rose thought he would play the next week against Dartmouth instead of Fitzpatrick. But tests were inconclusive, and doctors mentioned a fracture, which would have been devastating. Rose could only watch from the sidelines as Harvard went down 21-0 early.
“At halftime, I was jumping all over the trainers and doctors, telling them nothing was broken and I could play,” Rose says. “They were giving me all these push tests, asking, ‘does it hurt? Does it hurt?’ and I said, ‘No! If it was broken wouldn’t it hurt?’”
As it was, Rose didn’t play but Harvard came back to win the game anyway.
He started the next week against Columbia, and played almost perfectly, going 14-of-16 with two touchdowns. But he had to leave the game again with a stinger, and didn’t return.
Despite all the injuries, and some still-nagging soreness, Rose played one of his best games ever against Penn and will be fine for The Game.
More than anything this season, Rose puts his success on the offensive line and junior wideout Carl Morris.
“I think he’s the best receiver in the league,” he says. “I’m just so comfortable throwing the ball downfield to him.”
Ask about Coach Murphy, though, and Rose laughs nervously, in almost feigned fear.
But he answers anyway.
“He’s from the old school, smashmouth football, we’re tougher than them,” Rose says. “He really gets into it a lot, he enjoys the blue-collar, humble kid. Murphy’s a great recruiter, and when I met him here, he seemed very straightforward and very professional. I thought Harvard took football more seriously than any other school I visited.”
Morris, Murphy and others will get a chance to play with Rose again next year, as he’s making up for some lost time.
“I was just learning the system,” Rose says about his redshirted sophomore year. “I would have loved to compete with Brad Wilford and Rich Linden for the starting job.”
All things considered, he probably could have gotten the starting position back then. But he’ll be back for another chance as a three-year starter.
“I’ve just found a whole new love for football,” Rose says. “I used to tell people I played for three reasons: my dad’s pride, the guys I played with, and ten Saturdays a year. It’s a lot more than that now.”
After the Game and fall exams, Rose will take a semester off, which means he won’t graduate with his best friends—the senior class.
“This class is closer than any class I’ve seen here,” Rose says. “Previous classes, it seemed they were clique-ish, they didn’t really get along with each other and had a lot of personality conflicts. All the senior offensive line, they’re my blockmates and we enjoy each others’ company.”
After the Game, their time will have run out for Harvard football, however.
“I’m just starting to fully realize what I have here, and I guess I’m not ready to let that go,” Rose says.
If next year is anything like the seasons we’ve just enjoyed, it will be Harvard that’s not ready to let go.