Gold Jacket Spotlight: Cliff Harris ‘Crashes’ Into Hall Of Fame
In his opening remarks for an edition of “Drew Pearson Live” a couple of years ago, the show’s host delivered a playful jab at former teammate Cliff Harris.
“It’s good to see you, man. And I’m surprised you didn’t deck me on the way in,” Pearson said. “You used to deck me all the time in practice.”
Later, he asked Cliff to talk about the nickname another member of the Dallas Cowboys had given him in the 1970s.
“Oh, I don’t know why he called me ‘Crash,’” Harris said with a smirk.
“Ask those receivers coming across the middle,” Pearson retorted. “They certainly know why.”
Challenging the middle of the field was a risky proposition when Cliff patrolled the secondary during his 10 years with the Cowboys. Voters selecting the Centennial Class of 2020 took into consideration his 29 career interceptions and his prowess as a big hitter who broke up numerous other passes and kept receivers’ heads on a swivel.
That career is revisited this week in the Gold Jacket Spotlight.
“The hardest hit I ever got in my career was Cliff on a slant route,” Pearson told NFL Films. “He knocked me flat-out, and he just loved it.”
In another interview with NFL Films, Pearson turned up the rhetoric a notch.
“Sometimes for me it was a pleasure to get in a football game after going through a week’s worth of practice against Cliff Harris. “I would get beat up more in practice going across the middle. There’s Cliff, all of a sudden knocking you out. He’ll say, ‘I’m sorry’ and help you up. Then he’ll knock you out again.”
As Cliff saw it, intimidation was part of his job description.
“I wanted to make someone know that if they came into my territory, they’re going to pay a price,” he said.
Cliff’s 10-year career spanned the decade of the 1970s. He helped the Cowboys reach the playoffs nine times and the Super Bowl five times, winning twice. His consistency and reliability earned him four All-Pro selections and a spot on the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 1970s.
While his productivity with the Cowboys became predictable, his ascension to NFL stardom came as a surprise to many at that time.
Undrafted out of tiny Ouachita Baptist College in Arkansas, Cliff arrived at his first training camp with roughly 120 other rookies seeking to make a team already loaded at most positions. By the time camp ended, he not only had made the team, but he also had been penciled into the starting lineup at free safety.
“I didn’t realize at the time how slim my chances were of making it in pro football,” Cliff told an interviewer about his journey.
One attribute Cliff possessed that helped separate him from the other players competing for a coveted roster spot: his analytical mind. A math and physics major in college, he could comprehend Coach Tom Landry’s complex “Flex” defense almost instinctively.
“I understood that ‘Flex’ defense – and I was really thankful for it,” he said. “Coach Landry knew that I understood that Flex and how to really maximize that defensive scheme in itself.”
Coming off several disappointing playoff losses that prevented them from reaching any of the NFL’s first four Super Bowls, the Cowboys entered the 1970 season with lofty expectations.
“The first year I was in the starting lineup, Bob Lilly was in the huddle and he said, ‘Hey, rookie. We’re going to the Super Bowl this year, and I don’t want you to do anything to – let’s just say – “mess” it up,’” Cliff recounted.
Cliff more than did his part as a rookie – the Cowboys reached Super Bowl V – and over the next nine seasons year until a neck injury prompted his retirement.
Self-confidence and determination led “Crash” from undrafted free agent to two-time Super Bowl champion and into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“If I can make it, anyone can achieve their goals,” Cliff said in his Enshrinement speech. “The key is to never quit, never give up.”
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