You know that Houston Rockets point guard Jeremy Lin, Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, and maybe even ATP star James Blake graduated with Harvard degrees, but they’re the exceptions to the Harvard kids are all brains, right? Not so fast – there are other Crimson alums out there. The Back Page takes a closer look at a few notable ones, with more to follow.
Brains—and Brawn: Matt Birk ’98
Two-time All-Pro, six Pro Bowl appearances, Super Bowl ring wearer…and Harvard football star? Scouts told Sports Illustrated the 305 pound (at the time of the 1998 NFL draft) lineman “may be the best Ivy League prospect to come along in several years.”
Boy, were they right.
After a decorated career at Harvard in which Birk was an All-Ivy, All-New England, and All-ECAC lineman, and let the Crimson to the Ivy title in 1997, Birk moved onto the NFL as the Minnesota Vikings’ sixth round draft pick.
After two seasons of relative obscurity as a backup offensive lineman, Birk got his chance in 2000 starting at center for the Vikings. He started every Vikings game for the next four years before losing the next two to injury.
But the Harvard product fought his way back to top form, turning in solid season with the Vikings and the Baltimore Ravens. In his final season with the Ravens, Birk anchored a solid offensive line that supported the team on its Super Bowl XLVII title journey. Representing the Crimson well, he was also named the sixth smartest athlete by Sporting News in 2010.
Even before retiring, Birk made an impact both on and off the field, earning the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award for his work with at-risk youth in the Baltimore and surrounding areas. Though he had signed a three-year deal with the Ravens less than a year prior, Birk hung up the pads this past February.
The Moore Trio: Mark ’00, Steve ’01, and Dominic ’03
Older Harvard hockey fans may remember the 1999-2000 season that saw all three brothers play on the same Crimson team. They were the first – and only – band of brothers to play on the same Harvard team and the sixth trio in NCAA ice hockey history.
Intriguingly, the only one of the three Moore brothers – Mark – to not play in the NHL was nicknamed “The Smartest Man In Hockey”, with a reported 1590 out of 1600 on the SAT, according to his biography. Mark suffered a concussion in 2002 while playing for the ECHL team Augusta Lynx and had to turn down a tryout with the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens the next year due to lingering post-concussion syndromes.
All three Moore brothers were drafted by NHL teams, with Steve claiming the honors of being the highest pick at 53rd in the second round of the 1998 entry draft by the Colorado Avalanche. After a successful career with the Crimson, Steve went on to play in parts of four seasons for the Avalanche, tallying 12 points over that time.
But in 2004, Steve was on the receiving end of a vicious hit in the infamous Bertuzzi Incident and suffered fractured vertebrae and a concussion. The hit effectively ended his NHL career.
On a much brighter side, Dominic, the youngest of the bunch, is still playing in the NHL and has appeared in over 500 NHL games. After sitting out the 2012-2013 season, the 1999-2000 Ivy League Rookie of the Year signed with the New York Rangers, the team that drafted him with the 95th pick out of Harvard. Dominic, who is tenth on Harvard’s all-time goals scored list, has three goals and four assists for the Rangers this year.
Blast to the Past: Ted Donato ‘91
Before you ask, coach Donato isn’t playing anymore; the current Harvard hockey coach hung up his skates a few years back. But in his prime, Donato was a force to be reckoned with.
Selected 98th by the hometown Boston Bruins in the 1987 draft, Donato went on to score 14 goals and 37 assists for Harvard’s NCAA national championship team. It was Harvard’s first – and only – NCAA title, and Donato was the tournament MVP with two goals in the Crimson’s 4-3 overtime victory over Minnesota in front of 61,418 thundering fans in St. Paul, MN.
After a down year, Donato stormed back to tally 56 points in 28 games in his senior campaign, but the Crimson would go on to fall in the ECAC semifinals. He would finish his collegiate career with 50 goals.
The 5’10” forward continued to shine at the higher level, scoring four goals in eight matches at the 1992 Winter Olympics. He then transitioned to the NHL, playing eight years for the Bruins before bouncing around the league. Eight different teams later, Donato was back with Boston for his final season, racking up 11 points in 63 games.
Finishing his NHL career with 347 points in 796 games, Donato immediately took over the helm of the Harvard hockey program upon retirement, guiding the Crimson to a 21-10-3 record in his first season as coach. The following season saw a Donato-led Harvard team capture the Ivy League and ECAC championships. He continues to coach the Crimson to this day.