Withering Rose Says He's Ready to Play
Fitzpatrick stands prepared to take the helm versus Lehigh
It seems that is all Harvard senior quarterback Neil Rose has been doing since leading the Crimson to its perfect 2001 season.
Waiting to get back to Cambridge while spending his spring semester working for a hedge fund in his native Hawaii.
Waiting to be cleared for fall practice, after injuring his back in the weight room.
Waiting on the sidelines of Brown Stadium with a back injury, watching his backup lead the Crimson
to a come-from-behind victory.
Now, that same injury has Rose waiting to find out if he will be the starter when Harvard travels to No. 12 Lehigh this weekend.
“I haven’t been cleared offically yet,” says Rose, who will meet with a back specialist today. “There are a lot of things going on. If I had to bet on it, I’d say I’m going to play.”
Crimson Can’t Lose
The smart money may be on Harvard no matter who starts at quarterback.
Sophomore Ryan Fitzpatrick relieved Rose in each of the season’s first two games, and performed remarkably well.
With Rose’s situation unsettled, Fitzpatrick was announced as the probable starter on Tuesday.
“I think it’s all up in the air,” said Harvard Coach Tim Murphy on Tuesday. “We’ll plan on going with Fitzy, and if Neil’s ready, then great.”
Murphy is in an enviable situation.
Rose is the most prolific passer in school history. He owns or shares 13 school records, and with a 90 percent completion percentage, three touchdowns and no interceptions, has been ridiculously close to perfect this season.
Fitzpatrick, meanwhile, has proven his mettle by leading game-clinching drives in each of Harvard’s season-opening wins. With 131 rushing yards against Brown, he also became the Crimson’s first quarterback to run for 100 yards since 1992.
Fitzpatrick, who is taking all of the first-string snaps in practice this week, admits that the uncertainty isn’t easy.
“Not knowing for sure if you are going to start or not is more difficult mentally, sure,” says Fitzpatrick.
However, the success of both quarterbacks helps their teammates seamlessly handle transitions between the two.
“It doesn’t really matter [who is playing quarterback],” says sophomore wide receiver Rodney Byrnes. “When Fitzy’s in, he’s going to run the ball a little more, but they can both put the ball where it needs to be.”
Byrnes and his fellow receivers have seen both quarterback first-hand quite a lot recently. The Crimson is extremely used to having Rose injured, another reason why there is little trepidation heading into such an important road contest.
“You’ve got to understand that in the last six or seven games, Neil has been pretty banged up,” Murphy explains. “I think he’s only finished two of them, so it’s a situation we’re pretty used to.
The situation became more familiar with Rose’s most recent injury.
Root of the Nerve
In August—when Rose traded in palm trees for the ivy-covered walls of Harvard Stadium—he did so with visions of reclaiming the glory of the 2001 season.
But just a week after arriving in Cambridge, paradise was lost.
Rose, who had gained 100 pounds on his squat max during the offseason, was feeling a little ambitious in the weightroom. So he stacked 525 lbs onto the rack.
The extra stress, 25 lbs more than Rose usually squatted, strained his back, and an MRI showed bulging discs at vertabrae L4-L5 and L5-S1. The discs were rubbing against the sciatic nerve.
Rose was forced to sit out the first three weeks of fall practice immediately after missing the entirety of spring ball while in Hawaii.
When Rose was finally cleared to play, he had only one week in pads to develop chemistry with the offense’s new cogs.
Luckily, practice wasn’t needed to make Rose perfect.
In his first outing, a 28-23 victory over Holy Cross, Rose completed 19-of-22 passes for 240 yards and three touchdowns.
“He certainly exceeded our expectations, but Neil has been known to do that,” Murphy says. “He has such a mental command of the offense that he was able to do something without physical repetition that was pretty amazing.”
All of this came before Rose left the game late in the third quarter after absorbing a hellacious hit, an injury separate from his sciatic nerve.
“I just got my bell rung,” says Rose.
Wih Harvard safely ahead—leading 21-6 when Rose left the game—team doctors were cautious and told Rose to remain on the sidelines.
Rose obliged, even as the Crusaders pulled the game within a score, but wasn’t happy.
“Looking back, I probably should have been more assertive,” he says. “I’m a senior, and I don’t have that many games left. So I have to be greedy with my playing time.”
Against Brown,however, Rose had no choice. After leaving the game in the second quarter, he was forced to remain in the locker room for almost an hour, his back searing in pain.
Finally, in the fourth quarter, the captain emerged.
Wearing a jacket and tie, he stood by watching stoically.
Rose is waiting again now, the caution of others thrust upon him. The caution of coaches and doctors and trainers.
In Rose’s world, there is no room for caution.
He just wants to play.
“If I had to bet on it, I’d say I’m going to play,” Rose says. “The question is, ‘Will they let me?’”
-Staff writer Lande A. Spottswood can be reached at email@example.com