Sometimes football runs in the family — and sometimes rivalries do too. Three football players — captain Paul Rice ’10, quarterback Patrick Witt ’12 and offensive lineman Gabriel Fernandez ’12 — find their families divided every year at The Game.
Witt’s brother, Jeff, was also a quarterback. But he represented the archrival Crimson.
“It will be weird when we play Harvard, but my brother had a good experience there,” Patrick Witt said. “[We were] a Harvard family, and [we’re] all Yale now.”
Witt’s refusal to play for his brother’s alma mater was a decision of necessity, rather than preference.
Of Witt’s top three choices in the Ivy League — Harvard, Yale and Princeton — only Yale accepts transfer students. This stipulation enabled Witt, a transfer from Nebraska, to narrow down his options quickly.
Jeff Witt has looked past his college ties to celebrate his brother’s success and opportunities.
“I’m very happy for him to be at Yale, actually,” said Witt, who graduated in May. “I was just happy to see him end up at an Ivy League school because I knew what the Ivy experience was like, and I was glad he would have the same opportunities.”
Even with his newly-minted Harvard diploma and Crimson allegiance, Witt insists his support at The Game, which he plans to attend, belongs to his brother.
“Blood is thicker than water,” Witt said. “And I certainly can’t support any notion of not supporting him.”
According to Patrick Witt, his parents, who will also be in attendance, will support him as well. Witt said his mother will be wearing Yale Blue and a red scarf for his brother but will be cheering for the Bulldogs.
Fernandez said that a battle between brothers would have been a welcome challenge.
“I wish I could have played against my brother,” Fernandez said. “I always have [wanted to] and never got to.”
Fernandez’s brother, Frank, an All-Ivy League selection in 2006, played center at Harvard and is currently playing football in Japan. Gabriel assured that his brother and his family will root for Yale.
However, Fernandez said a win for Yale would be more than just a good way to set the tone for next season.
“There would possibly be a little sibling bragging rights for a year,” Fernandez said.
Like Witt and Fernandez, Rice, a linebacker, has a strong family connection to Harvard, where his father was a defensive back for the Crimson from 1974-’76.
Also like Witt, Rice’s decision to come to Yale over Harvard was in some ways out of his own hands.
“Yale was the first school out of anyone who contacted me,” Rice said. “Harvard didn’t recruit me as much as Yale.”
Lou Rice understood the role of the recruitment process in dictating his son’s college decision. It was actually a current Harvard coach, Joel Lamb, who recruited Rice to Yale.
“My first reaction was, ‘Why can’t Harvard coaches be this aggressive?’ I wished he were more interested in Harvard, but by the time the process ended, I was very impressed with what Yale had to offer,” he said. “Would I preferred that he had chosen Harvard? I suppose so, but by decision time I was pleased with the outcome.”
Rice’s father, although a Crimson fan, will support his son in The Game as Jeff Witt and Frank Fernandez will support their brothers. Yet after Rice graduates, Rice insisted his father will return to his old allegiances.
Despite school ties, Lou Rice said perhaps the most remarkable thing about The Game is the shared experience among the players, whether they bleed blue or red — and being able to share it with his son.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen him in his life as happy as he was his freshman year when they beat Harvard in Harvard Stadium to win the title,” Lou Rice said. “Having won two titles in my varsity career at Harvard I remember how great it was to beat Yale. I know exactly what he’s feeling; I’m just so happy he’s had the opportunity to play in three games so far. Just being in that game — he’ll have it the rest of his life.”
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