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Ivy League Pro Athletes

Sports | By The Top 13 on March 25, 2010

Tonight, Cornell resumes its shocking run in the NCAA Tournament when it takes on top-seeded Kentucky. While few people give the Ivy League champions much of a chance to score yet another upset, NBA scouts will be watching several Cornell players - sharpshooter Ryan Wittman and 7-footer Jeff Foote - to see if they've got what it takes to make it at the next level. And though the Ivy League is better known for graduating CEOs and senators than it is for producing all-stars and all-pros, there have definitely been some exceptions over the years. Here are the Top 13 Pro Athletes from the Ivy League.

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Lou Gehrig

1

Lou Gehrig

Columbia University

One of the greatest baseball players of all time, Gehrig excelled at both football and baseball at Columbia during his two years there. Signed by the Yankees in 1923, this left-handed hitting first baseman terrorized opposing pitchers for the next 17 seasons. Gehrig was named Most Valuable Player twice and knocked in more than 150 runs seven times. He retired with nearly 500 home runs and a .340 career batting average, having led the Yankees (along with Babe Ruth) to six World Series wins. The Iron Horse's record streak of playing in 2,130 consecutive games was stopped in 1939 only by a fatal neurological disease, which is now known as Lou Gehrig's disease. The Baseball Hall of Fame waived the standard five-year waiting period for Gehrig and enshrined him that year.

Ken Dryden

2

Ken Dryden

Cornell University

Though he played fewer than seven seasons in the NHL before retiring at the age of 32, Dryden dominated to such an extent that he is generally viewed as the best goalie in league history. Dryden played from 1971 to 1979 (though he sat out the 1973-74 season in a contract dispute), winning six Stanley Cup championships and five Vezina Trophies, which are awarded to the league's best goalie. Since his early retirement, Dryden was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame and has put his history degree from Cornell to good use, working as a politician, lawyer, and businessman in Canada.

Bill Tilden

3

Bill Tilden

University of Pennsylvania

Though history generally considers him one of the five best men's tennis players of all time, Bill Tilden couldn't even make the school's team while he was at Penn. After dropping out, Tilden dedicated himself to the game and ultimately mastered it. "Big Bill," as he was known, absolutely dominated the sport during the 1920s, leading the U.S. team to seven consecutive Davis Cup victories, and winning seven U.S. National Championships and three Wimbledons (these were the three most prestigious events of the era).

Eddie Collins

4

Eddie Collins

Columbia University

Often considered the greatest second baseman of all time, Collins broke into the big leagues in 1906 and played 25 seasons for the Philadelphia Athletics and Chicago White Sox. A graduate of Columbia, Collins was a fantastic hitter (retiring with a career batting average of .333) and a terror on the base paths. Indeed, he was the first major leaguer to steal 80 bases in a season and continues to hold a share of the record of six steals in a game. Collins, who played on four World Series championship teams, was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1939.

Sid Luckman

5

Sid Luckman

Columbia University

After graduating from Columbia, where he finished third in the 1938 Heisman Trophy voting, Luckman initially declined to pursue a career in the NFL. But once Bears owner and coach George Halas offered him a $5,500 contract, Luckman changed his mind. Once in Chicago, Luckman – as the quarterback in Halas' T-formation offense – turned the Bears into a juggernaut. During his twelve seasons, he was the league's best passer, leading the Bears to four NFL championships and winning a league MVP award. In 1965, Luckman was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Joe Nieuwendyk

6

Joe Nieuwendyk

Cornell University

A three-year star for the Big Red, Nieuwendyk was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award for the best college hockey player in 1987. He picked up where he left off after joining the Calgary Flames, who had made the center the 27th overall draft pick in 1985, as he became only the third rookie to score 50 goals in a season and won the NHL's Calder Trophy for rookie of the year. One of the best face-off men in the sport, Nieuwendyk would go on to play for five teams, making the all-star team four times and winning three Stanley Cups during his 20-year career.

Bill Bradley

7

Bill Bradley

Princeton University

Though he was offered scholarships to play basketball at 75 different schools, Bradley ultimately chose to attend Princeton, where he averaged over 30 points per game and was an All-American three times. Drafted by the Knicks, Bradley instead attended Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship and played professionally in Europe. Bradley finally joined the Knicks during the 1967-68 season and played for the team for the next 10 years, becoming an all-star and helping the Knicks win a league championship. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1983.

Chuck Bednarik

8

Chuck Bednarik

University of Pennsylvania

After flying thirty combat missions over Germany during World War II, Bednarik became an iron man at Penn, where he starred as both a center and a linebacker (and even punted) for the Quakers. A three-time All-American, Bednarik was taken first in the 1949 NFL draft by the Philadelphia Eagles. Known as a ferocious hitter, "Concrete Charlie" played on two championship teams and made eight Pro Bowls before retiring in 1962 as the NFL's last full-time two-way player. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.

Geoff Petrie

9

Geoff Petrie

Princeton University

Though he is best known today as the President of the Sacramento Kings, this 1970 Princeton graduate was a fantastic scorer both at Princeton and in the NBA. The first ever draft pick by the expansion Portland Trailblazers, Petrie was named Rookie of the Year after averaging nearly 25 points a game his first season. A 6'4" swingman, he continued filling the basket until 1976, when knee injuries forced him to retire. Petrie, who played in two NBA All-Star games during his abbreviated career, still has the fourth highest career scoring average in Princeton history.

Matt Birk

10

Matt Birk

Harvard University

Though he was just a sixth-round pick of the Minnesota Vikings in 1998, this Harvard graduate has turned himself into one of the best centers in the NFL over the past decade. Birk moved into the Vikings' starting lineup in 2000 and made the first of his six Pro Bowl appearances after that season. Prior to last season, Birk moved to the Baltimore Ravens as an unrestricted free agent, signing a three-year $12 million contract, which should give him the opportunity to make use of his economics degree.

Calvin Hill

11

Calvin Hill

Yale University

During his 12-year career, Hill was named the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year and was voted into four Pro Bowls. A 1969 Yale graduate with a degree in history, Hill was a fraternity brother of George W. Bush and led the Bulldogs to an undefeated season before being selected in the first round by the Dallas Cowboys. He spent the first half of his career with Dallas and became the team's first running back to rush for over 1,000 yards in a season (a feat he accomplished in back-to-back seasons).

Jim O'Rourke

12

Jim O'Rourke

Yale University

A graduate of Yale Law School, O'Rourke debuted in the major leagues in 1872 and played at a consistently high level mostly for the New York Giants and Boston franchises through 1893. Nicknamed "Orator Jim" because of his side job practicing law and his verbosity on the field, O'Rourke was primarily a leftfielder, although he also caught and played some first base. This speedy intellectual retired with a .310 career batting average and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1945.

Gary Fencik

13

Gary Fencik

Yale University

After graduating from Yale, Fencik was drafted as a wide receiver by the Miami Dolphins in the tenth round of the 1976 draft, but quickly sent to the Chicago Bears, who switched him to free safety. Fencik played his entire twelve-year career in Chicago, retiring as the team's all time leader in tackles and interceptions. The Bears' defensive captain through much of the 1980s, he was among the anchors of the team's ferocious defense during its 1985 Super Bowl championship season. Fencik, who also earned an MBA from Northwestern University, played in two Pro Bowls.

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Comments Leave a comment

ajay ★★

Jim O'Rourke FTW.

8:21 AM   Mar 25, 2010

stillathreat ★★

This is an interesting list, but it's worth pointing out that with the exception of Birk, all these guys are retired and most retired decades ago. You'd think the Ivy League schools can't compete anymore, but now we have Cornell. Go Big Red.

9:13 AM   Mar 25, 2010

NinthStreet 

I am partial to Matt Maloney out of Penn. He started for Houston and had a decent career - not hall of fame, but pretty good for an ivy guy.

12:54 PM   Mar 25, 2010

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