These 5 Former Ivy League Athletes Went on to Big Things

posted by Chris Valentine

The Ivy League is America’s most elite collegiate sports conference. Not because Ivy League teams are better than their non-Ivy peers — unfortunately, that’s less often the case than many Ivy boosters would like.

Rather, it’s because all eight Ivies are renowned for rigorous academic programs, world-class faculty, hallowed facilities, and generously funded research labs. There’s no disputing the fact that an Ivy League education is truly first-rate.

So it’s perhaps no surprise that so many Ivy League athletes would go on to do great things after graduation. Let’s take a look at five athletic standouts whose second acts were (and are) even more impressive than their first.

  1. Steve Jordan

Steve Jordan was a football standout at Brown, which is widely derided as the “least athletic” of the eight Ivies. That dubious distinction didn’t seem to hold him back. In the NFL, he played 12 seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, racking up nearly 500 catches and more than 6,000 yards.

Some 25 years after hanging up his cleats for good, Jordan remains the team’s all-time leading tight end for total catches and yards. He’s still showing up at games, too, on account of his son Cameron — a standout player for the New Orleans Saints.

  1. Ryan Nivakoff

Former Columbia University football player Ryan Nivakoff never went pro, but that hasn’t stopped him from making waves off the field since his senior year, in 2008. Since graduating, Nivakoff has been an officer with the New York Police Department, opened a successful restaurant in Manhattan, founded a boutique investment firm, and (most recently) served as CEO of a consumer products firm. Nivakoff attributes his off-the-field success, in part, to his rigorous on-field training at Columbia.

  1. Sid Luckman

Sid Luckman was another collegiate standout, albeit old enough to be Nivakoff’s grandfather. Though Luckman earned most of his undergraduate credits at the now-defunct New College for Teachers, he transferred to Columbia in his senior year, then went on to NFL glory with the Chicago Bears — leading the team to four championships in little more than a decade as first-string quarterback.

  1. Jeremy Lin

Harvard graduate turned New York Knicks guard Jeremy Lin is best known for his brief but exhilarating hot streak in 2012, a stretch forever immortalized as “Linsanity”. Lin helped the Knicks turn around what had been an abysmal stretch and set an example for Chinese- and Taiwanese-American athletes everywhere.

  1. John Heisman

For those who follow collegiate sports, John Heisman needs no introduction. His namesake trophy is arguably the most coveted award in the NCAA, honoring players exhibiting an unusual combination of skill, work ethic, and off-field grace.

Heisman himself was a double-Ivy graduate, completing his undergraduate studies at Brown and going on to law school at the University of Pennsylvania.  He spent the better part of his career as a journeyman football coach, eventually returning to Penn after an extended circuit through the American South and Midwest.

Make Your Mark

Even if you don’t plan to matriculate at any Ivy, or age has shut the door on that opportunity forever, you have the power to make a real mark on the world around you. Don’t let the name on your degree hold you back — you’re worth every bit as much as you believe you are, perhaps more.


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