Cliff Harris Dallas Cowboys
"I do hit hard, but I do it legally. As a pass defender, I am allowed to hit the receiver one time before the ball is thrown. However, once he catches the ball or becomes a blocker he can be hit until tackled or knocked out of bounds."
In 1970, the Dallas Cowboys, like every other team in the National Football League, opted not to select safety Cliff Harris during any of the 17 rounds of the annual player draft. Even though the Cowboys were clearly interested in improving their secondary – they drafted safety Charlie Waters and cornerback Mark Washington and traded for future Hall of Fame cornerback Herb Adderley – Harris went undrafted.
However, after watching films of tiny Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, the Cowboys scouting department and coaching staff agreed he was worth a free agent tryout. Harris signed with the Cowboys as a free agent.
Harris earned a starter’s berth as a free safety, but his rookie season was interrupted by obligatory military service. He returned the following year in time for training camp and regained his starter’s role. It was a role he would not relinquish during his 10-year career.
A model of consistency throughout his career, Harris earned the nickname “Captain Crash” for his hard-hitting technique. “A rolling ball of butcher knives,” was how Hall of Fame Coach George Allen described the Cowboys’ free safety.
Hall of Fame safety Larry Wilson also offered high praise for Harris. “I feel Harris is the finest free safety in the business today,” Wilson said in 1979. “He’s changed the way the position is being played. You see other teams modeling their free safeties around the way Harris plays, strong as can be against the run, able to go back and cover against the pass and striking fear in everyone on the field because he hits so hard.”
In addition to 29 career interceptions, “Captain Crash” also accounted for 16 opponents’ fumble recoveries. During the first half of his career he was also utilized by the Cowboys as a punt and kickoff return specialist.
Harris was also an astute student of the game. His vision and leadership on the field earned him the respect of teammates and opponents alike. “Their front four, even though it was a great front four, really wasn’t a concern,” commented Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw, who faced the Cowboys in Super Bowls X and XIII. “We blocked them pretty well. But their secondary was just great. Safeties Charlie Waters and Cliff Harris were super.”
Six times during his 10-season career Harris was recognized by his peers and the league’s coaches by being invited to play in the Pro Bowl. He was also named first- or second-team All-Pro or All-NFC and six times.