Welcome back to Beyond the Clock! In between Sean Martin’s Cowboys On The Clock we will be analyzing the best Cowboy players that were not drafted. We’ve covered the great Don Meredith and Don Perkins, now we focus on one of the greatest safeties in Cowboys and NFL history out of Ouachita Baptist University, Cliff Harris.
Harris was not chosen in the 1970 NFL Draft but the Cowboys invited him to training camp and was signed as a free agent. Cliff Harris had never seen an NFL game in person and had never played in front of more than 7,000 fans, but once he got on the Cowboys field he thrived off of pure competition. He beat out Cowboys third-round pick Charlie Waters for the starting free safety spot his rookie year and never looked back. He served in the military the second half of the season, but he returned in time for the Cowboys’ victory in Super Bowl VI over the Dolphins.
Feared by many, Harris was given the nickname “Captain Crash” for his hard hits, brutal defense and reckless pursuit of ball carriers. Hall of Fame head coach George Allen described him as a “rolling ball of butcher knives.” Harris made it a point to wear the pads of kickers and punters in order to keep his speed and quickness up. Because of Harris’ play style, other defenses would model their free safeties after him. Opposing offenses would tailor their gameplay around number 43. According to Harris, he loved to practice and play with intensity and delivering tough hits to receivers was intimidation for next week’s opponents.
Cliff Harris eventually teamed up with Waters to form the Dallas Cowboys’ dynamic duo.
They proved to be the top safety couple in the NFL in the 1970s and remain perhaps the best safety tandem in NFL history. Sure, there have been more notable individuals at the free safety or strong safety position like Ronnie Lott or Ed Reed, but there has probably never been a better twosome than Harris and Waters.
They patrolled the defensive backfield together as the last line of defense for the fabled Dooms-Day Defense of coach Tom Landry, for 10 years. In fact, the Cowboys’ defense ranked in the top 10 every year with Harris in the lineup.
Over the course of his career, Harris went to six Pro Bowls and was an All-Pro selection five times. Setting the tone for the Cowboys defense, Harris won two Super Bowls in the ’70s. He is one of only 13 players in NFL history to play in five Super Bowls, be chosen for the Pro Bowl six consecutive times and be voted All-Pro four times.
The Cowboys were surprised when Harris announced his retirement in 1980 to concentrate on his oil business at age 31. Harris finished his ten NFL seasons with 29 interceptions, which he returned for 281 yards and one touchdown and 16 fumble recoveries, which he returned for 91 yards.
He was also selected to the NFL 1970 All Decade Team and the Cowboys Silver Season All-Time Team in 1984. Unfortunately, out of 11 players on the All Decade team, only Harris isn’t also a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Most recently, in 2004, he was added to the Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor.
“Captain Crash” was a fun player to watch, a nightmare for other receivers, a remarkable safety and an incredible Dallas Cowboy. He was Cliff Harris, an underrated wonder.