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Harvard Great Performances: Terence Patterson ’00

9.25.20

Harvard's Terence Patterson catches a pass under pressure from two Yale defenders during The Game 1999. 

Photograph by Dominic Chavez/The Boston Globe via Getty Images


Harvard's Terence Patterson catches a pass under pressure from two Yale defenders during The Game 1999. 

Photograph by Dominic Chavez/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Had events not dictated otherwise, this week the Crimson football team would have been battling Brown at Providence. Instead we are taking another trip down memory lane. (As is Bloomberg News Radio, which on Saturdays this fall will rebroadcast classic Harvard games of the Coach Tim Murphy era.) Our Great Performer this week is ace wide receiver Terence Patterson ’00, who in 1999 became the only Harvard player to score touchdowns rushing, passing, receiving, and returning in the same season.

Patterson today is CEO of the Memphis Education Fund, a nonprofit investment fund that focuses on improving K-12 education in his hometown. The two-time All-Ivy honoree certainly is in the discussion for the MVP (Most Versatile Player) in Crimson history. Among the few who can match him are Charles Brickley and Huntington “Tack” Hardwick, both A.B. 1915, and Eddie Mahan, A.B. 1916. These All-Americas were versatile partly because they had to be. In those days of limited substitution, everyone played defense and offense, providing the chance to score on interception returns.  Brickley and Mahan were running backs who manned the defensive secondary, and Hardwick moved between end and the backfield; they all also booted field goals and extra points. But Harvard did not pass much in that era, so none of this trio had the profusion of aerial opportunities afforded Patterson.

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Patterson arrived in Cambridge in the fall of 1996 as a highly touted quarterback. At Memphis’s Germantown High School, he had compiled a 25-2 record as a starter. The way Patterson remembers it, Harvard coach Tim Murphy and his staff told him, “You’re going to be our Kordell Stewart.” The reference was to a versatile Pittsburgh Steeler quarterback who, because of his many skills, could line up at several other positions. Though Patterson didn’t start at quarterback, all his talents were on view, especially during his senior year, an otherwise forgettable 5-5 season. 

What is most remarkable is that Patterson achieved his four scoring methods within the first five games. The rushing touchdown came in the opener, a 24-7 win over Columbia, on a fourth-quarter reverse. At the Lion 30, Patterson lined up on the left. When the ball was snapped, he ran to the right and received a handoff from running back Troy Jones ’00, who was running left. Patterson then scooted the rest of the way into the end zone for the score that punctuated the game. “It helped having guys like [All-Ivy running back] Chris Menick [’00] and Troy Jones running full speed in one direction,” he says. “It made it easy for me to loop around the end on the other side.” 

In the third game, a 37-34 win over Colgate, the old high-school quarterback got to unleash his arm. From the Red Raider 40, the play was another reverse. Patterson got the ball and headed around the end. But this time, instead of barreling toward the goal line, he stopped. Spying wide receiver Kyle Cremarosa ’03 all alone at the goal line, Patterson tossed it to him for the touchdown. “I don’t know when we put in the passing element,” he says. “Midway through the season there was an ah-hah moment: ‘Yeah, you were a quarterback, you could probably make that throw.’”

Two weeks later, in a 37-30 win at Fordham, Patterson took care of the other two scoring legs. In the first quarter he ran a punt 55 yards to the house to give the Crimson a 14-0 lead. This is the scoring category he is most proud of. “There are a lot of people who can throw a football,” says Patterson, who returned 64 punts during his career. “There are a heck of a lot of people who can catch a football and even run it, but I’ve got to tell you, you have to be built a special kind of way to catch a football with 11 guys running at you at full speed.” Later he achieved his final scoring feat and his most familiar, a good old touchdown reception of five yards from quarterback Brad Wilford ’00 near the end of the first half.

The score that Patterson recalls most fondly, which came in a 17-14 home loss to Penn in the season’s next-to-last game, was another punt return, this one a 77-yarder. “My good buddy Willie Alford [’02] threw the big-time block that sprung me,” he recalls. “When it happens, you see the play unfolding in slow motion. Talk about being in the zone!” 

He has one almost surreal memory of the play: “When I saw it on film you could see seagulls at the top of the screen, and I vividly remembered seeing those birds flying [during the return], seeing them and thinking, man, this is like a magical moment. My parents were in the stands and my dad wondered why I wasn’t called for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, because I backpedaled the last 10 yards into the end zone.”

In The Game, a 24-21 loss at Yale, Patterson caught three passes, finishing his career with 147 receptions—best in Harvard history at the time. This was especially impressive because the Crimson offense during his era was not as pass-happy as it is today; notably, it also produced record-setting rusher Menick, who remains number two on the career list behind Clifton Dawson ’07. Today Patterson is fourth on the receptions list, way behind the 245 career catches of the leader, his friend Carl Morris ’03. Morris was a freshman during that ’99 season, and Patterson was his mentor. “Sometimes I joke with Carl and tell him that the only reason he set that mark,” says Patterson, “was that I taught him everything I knew.” 

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