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Originally published Saturday, October 1, 2011 at 6:17 PM

Harvard QB at the heart of Bills' resurgence

Fitzpatrick's college coach challenged quarterback to test himself along side the best in the game

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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — The groundwork for the predictable career on Wall Street had already been laid — the course work in economics, the internship at a Boston hedge fund.

Then Ryan Fitzpatrick's college coach surprised him with a suggestion after his junior season: Spend a long weekend that summer of 2004 at the Manning family's passing academy in Louisiana.

That is not what most Harvard students do before their senior years. By then, Fitzpatrick's friends were already lining up job interviews for their futures in finance.

Until his coach, Tim Murphy, thought Fitzpatrick should spend a few days measuring himself against quarterbacks from the powerhouse college conferences, that is what Fitzpatrick imagined he would do, too. When Murphy broached the idea of the passing academy, Fitzpatrick was so surprised that he did not immediately understand why Murphy wanted him to go. Harvard had given Fitzpatrick insight into how he would hold up in capitalism's crucible. The Manning camp, Murphy hoped, would give Fitzpatrick perspective on how he would rank among elites in an entirely different competition.

"I figured on the typical Ivy League route, go to Wall Street for two years, figure out your life, work crazy hours and then move on to somewhere else," the Buffalo Bills quarterback said. "I would have always loved to be in the NFL, that was always a dream, but I'm a realistic guy as well. So I don't think I ever thought it was reality up to that point."

But in the sweltering heat of a bayou summer, Fitzpatrick discovered that when he threw alongside quarterbacks from the SEC and the NFL, he was not that different.

Quarterbacking in the NFL, says his coach at Buffalo, Chan Gailey, is about decision making and accuracy.

At Harvard, Fitzpatrick excelled at both, completing 59.9 percent of his passes in college and leading Harvard to a 10-0 season as a senior. Goldman Sachs could wait. Fitzpatrick would prepare for the scouting combine, where he got a taste of the conventional wisdom about his career choice.

"When I would go and train at some of the combine training centers, those people were like: 'What does this Harvard kid think he's doing?' 'Why is he thinking he can do this?' " he said.

That is how the most charming story of the NFL season — Harvard quarterback, aware of the outsize attention his pedigree receives, becomes the emblematic leader of a 3-0 Bills team whose talent and town have been overlooked — got its start.

Now, Fitzpatrick is averaging 280 yards passing and the Bills are scoring a league-best 37.7 points a game.

Notes

Mike Heimerdinger, a veteran assistant coach in the NFL who directed high-powered offenses and developed quarterbacks such as Steve McNair, Jay Cutler and Vince Young, has died. He was 58. He died Friday while in Mexico to receive experimental treatments for a rare form of cancer. He was offensive coordinator for the Titans when he was diagnosed with cancer in November 2010.

• Dolphins rookie RB Daniel Thomas has been ruled out for Sunday at San Diego because of a hamstring injury.

Peter Gent, who turned his vivid memories of a five-year career as a wide receiver with the Cowboys into the blisteringly candid best-selling novel "North Dallas Forty," has died. He was 69. Gent died Friday at his home in Bangor, Mich., of complications from pulmonary disease.

• The Raiders have promoted S Ron Parker from the practice squad and waived WR Nick Miller.

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