“I’ve been playing football for so long, I feel like I could write a dissertation on it,” he says.
Rose has certainly earned his summa cum laude in quarterbacking. Directing one of the most complex offenses in college football for three seasons now, he has broken nearly every meaningful passing record in Harvard history and redefined the position in the Crimson offensive scheme. He led Harvard to a perfect Ivy record in 2001 and almost repeated the feat this year. Simply put, Neil Rose turned Harvard football into winning football.
But for Rose, the meaning of Saturday’s Harvard-Yale game has to do with more than football. It’s about the end of a very long journey, one that started in 1998 with him being plucked from the playing fields of his native Hawaii and brisked away to Harvard Stadium—and a journey that, in the past 10 months alone, has tested both his body and mind.
It’s late January, and Rose and some friends are getting ready to leave Las Vegas, their intercession destination. But while the friends get on a place headed back to Boston, Rose is going in the opposite direction—home to Hawaii.
Due to a foot injury sophomore year that prevented him from playing, Rose has been granted a fifth year of eligibility by the Ivy League. But it means that he will have to take the spring semester off so he can qualify academically when he returns. And so it is that Rose—only a few months removed from living the high life of an Ivy champion, sipping champagne from trophies—finds himself living at home with Mom and Dad.
Luckily he had a real job lined up at the time, one that he loved and that kept him out of the house from nine to five. A small investment management firm that Rose had worked with in previous summers offered him a job even before he had made his decision to come back for a fifth season at Harvard. Rose jumped head-on into the work.
“Actually, I got to relax,” Rose says. “I got to do something that wasn’t football-related, not really academic either—just the real world.”
Not the real real world, of course—just the Hawaiian version of it.
“We have a nice small house and friendly neighbors, and the community feel we have back there I doubt anybody else has here,” he explains. “We often eat dinners together, just close off the street and have barbeques together. It’s the way Hawaii is in general.”
Instead of serving up deep balls to defending Ivy Player of the Year Carl Morris, Rose was serving up hot dogs to his neighbors’ children.
As relaxing and low-key as the time at home was, Rose did make one trip back to Cambridge—in June for his graduation as a member of the Class of 2002. (Rose walked with the class but did not get a complete diploma.) While his best friends and blockmates took their degrees and talked about their promising futures, Rose says that when they saw him, those same happy grads seemed slightly envious that he got to return to the football field.
Back on the island, Rose continued his work for the firm, and began to realize that his future lay in the world of finance and economics.
“I was glad more than anything else that I had direction. I knew what I was going to do after football,” he says. “I was really happy for the fact that I was excited about something not football-related. I’ve always been that way—I’m not one of those guys who just always needs football.”
But as the starting quarterback and captain, Harvard football still needed him. From thousands of miles away, Rose kept in touch. He called the coaches and other players and received tapes of spring ball practices in the mail.