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A year ago, the Harvard football team watched in dejected silence as Penn celebrated on the visitors’ sideline at Harvard Stadium. The undefeated Quakers had just clinched their second straight Ivy championship and third in four years, holding off a late Crimson rally to win 32-24.
As the players and coaches milled about around the stadium—those in Harvard jerseys looking glum, those in Penn colors elated—Brian Edwards made his way through the throng towards Quaker coach Al Bagnoli. The junior wide receiver waited his turn to shake hands and wish Bagnoli congratulations on Penn’s achievement.
Bagnoli, in high spirits, greeted Edwards. Then he smiled.
“You would have looked better in blue,” the coach said.
Clearly, Bagnoli hadn’t forgotten a young wide receiver out of Los Gatos, Calif., who, when faced with the choice of two Ivy football programs, went with the one a bit further north.
But not before he waffled a bit on the decision.
“Penn was my last visit,” Edwards says of his January 2001 recruiting trip. “It was Harvard and then Penn the next weekend...and I ended up making a verbal commitment [to Penn].”
Edwards was attracted to Penn’s Wharton School of Business as well as the city of Philadelphia, and decided to sign on as a Quaker. After his verbal commitment, the school sent him a “likely letter,” a confirmation from the university that Edwards’ chances of acceptance were probable.
A few days later, however, Edwards started to reconsider.
“A week had gone by, and the more I thought about it the more I realized that Harvard was the better fit,” Edwards says. “The guys were super nice, I liked Boston...so I called back and had to send back the letter.”
The switch to Cambridge meant that Edwards had to make a somewhat uncomfortable phone call to the Penn football office.
“It was very awkward,” Edwards says. “I felt so bad...[Bagnoli] was not pleased, that’s for sure.”
Almost four years later, there are no lingering feelings about the decision on either end. When the Quakers and the Crimson face off in what has become a nearly annual showdown to determine the Ivy crown, there is too much at stake to reminisce about one player’s decision. Today, Bagnoli has nothing but praise for the wiry kid that he admittedly “tried like heck” to recruit.
“I don’t hold grudges,” Bagnoli says. “Kids make choices and there are eight great choices to make in this league. He’s had a stellar career and we thought he would.”
While Edwards emerged as the Crimson’s number one receiver last season, this year he has been more of a renaissance man, shining particularly on special teams where he has returned two punts and a kickoff for touchdowns.
Meanwhile, the Quakers have not gone wanting at wideout. Penn’s Dan Castles—a member of the same recruiting class as Edwards—has 780 yards and seven touchdowns this season, averaging nearly 100 yards per game.
But the most important comparison comes in a different category. Since 2001, the Quakers have two Ivy titles. The Crimson has one.
That last statistic is one that Edwards would like to even out before his time at Harvard is over. Regardless of any past connections he may have to Penn, when it comes to Ivy football the fact is that the road to the league championship goes through Franklin Field.
“I’ve had a hard time focusing on Dartmouth and Columbia the past two weeks because I’ve been looking forward to Penn,” Edwards admits. “We’ve been waiting for this opportunity to beat them again.”
On Saturday, the bright lights of Philly that once tempted him should hardly be a distraction. There’s a title on the line.
“Playing Penn, you don’t need much more to get fired up,” Edwards says.
—Staff writer Lisa J. Kennelly can be reached at email@example.com.
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