"There's more to life than football," says Rich Szaro '71, and he should know. Now an export manager for a New York City clothing firm and co-founder of Energetic Propulsions, Ltd., developers of a new, patented, horizontal motion bicycle, Szaro has shed his pads and helmet for good. There was a time not so long ago, however, when football was Szaro's whole life--from schoolboy running back to NFL placekicker with the New Orleans Saints.
When Szaro came to Harvard in 1967, a tall, blond Polish kid who'd finished high school as the all-time leading scorer in the New York metropolitan area with 164 points in a single season, great things were expected. Crimson coach John Yoviscin was not disappointed; as a freshman Szaro broke the school record for season points (56), was second in rushing with 487 yards (averaging 6.3 yards a carry), and as the team's punter averaged 34.1 yards a kick and hit 14 of 14 extra points. "Richie is one of the most talented players I've ever seen," glowed Yoviscin back in 1967 adding "It's not often that a coach gets a boy like this. He could have played anywhere in the country."
Szaro went out for outdoor track that spring and promptly broke the school and the New Englan javelin record with a toss of 246' 7". But a sophomore year injury curtailed his physical activities, and the multi-sport star was forced to give up running.
So, Szaro became the team's place kicker for the next three years. He set two Harvard records for career points in place-kicking, led the team in scoring in 1969, and was selected All-Ivy his senior year.
While the number of Harvard football greats who have gone on to play in the pros can be counted on one hand, Szaro made it into that elite circle and joined the New Orleans Saints in 1975. Szaro played for three seasons and in 1977 led the NFL in field-goal percentage.
Szaro's then-agent and now-business associate Jim deHart recalls one of the highlights of Szaro's pro football career: "Richie was a left-footed kicker, you know, and that season (1977) he'd hurt his left foot so badly he had to kick with his right one. He won a game for the Saints on Monday Night Football using his right foot. He's probably the only one who ever did that--the only one on Monday Night Football, anyway."
According to deHart, it was a hamstring problem that forced Szaro to abandon his football career. According to Szaro, it was a gradual weariness of his football life and a desire to try something else. "Even football becomes boring after a while, very stagnant and routine," he says. "We looked at it as any 9 to 5 job, for the paycheck it brought. I'm glad that I got out early enough to begin something new."
Fortunately, Szaro already had a trade to go back to. Between college and his years in the NFL, Szaro had worked as an export manager with Colgate-Palmolive, travelling extensively throughout South America, Europe, and especially the Far East. Szaro recalls as one of the most rewarding times of his life a stint as liason between skilled Jewish professionals emigrating from Russia and American businesses, many emigrants whom he place through Harvard connections.
Szaro returned to the export business and continues to travel to Europe and South America frequently, "but when I choose to, not when I have to follow a rigorous schedule."
Szaro is also currently involved in developing a new kind of bicycle that is ready to be marketed in about one year. The idea, conceived by Szaro and a Soviet engineer he helped come over to the U.S. years earlier, replaces the inefficient circular motion of the standard bicycle with a horizontal motion, something like a linear pump, and more natural to the motion people use in walking.
Szaro is wholly absor bed in this venture, which he calls "the passion of my life over the last 5 years," and with his home of New York City, which he refers to as "the top of the world."