LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Teammates of former Dallas Cowboys safety Cliff Harris said Monday that he deserves more recognition — up to and including a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame — because of his revolutionary play in the secondary.
The scout who helped bring Harris to the NFL, along with teammates from the Cowboys' championship runs in the 1970s, gathered to honor Harris, an Arkansas native, at the Little Rock Touchdown Club. Beginning this year, the group will give the Cliff Harris Award to the top defensive player in small-college football.
"This is a great thing for Cliff. And if anybody deserves it, he does. The only thing that we need to do with Cliff now is get him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame," scout Gil Brandt said.
Roger Staubach, who won the Heisman Trophy at Navy in 1963 and was at quarterback for the Cowboys when they won two Super Bowls, said Harris changed the way defenses work.
"Cliff played safety. A lot of safeties were deep. ... They really didn't like to hit people but they liked to intercept, but Cliff became a safety and a linebacker," Staubach said. "He covered a lot of ground. His speed, his ability, his instincts, were fantastic, and they're hall of fame instincts and abilities.
"He really had an effect on how safeties play the game of football," said Staubach, who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame after 11 years at Dallas.
Harris said he was honored by the praise for a player who went from a small Arkansas high school to a small Arkansas college to the Cowboys' Ring of Honor.
"I am so grateful and blessed that it happened the way it did," Harris said.
Former Cowboys' receiver Drew Pearson said he was inspired to sign with the team because of their history of free agents making the roster.
"If Cliff Harris could make it from Ouachita Baptist and be a member of the Dallas Cowboys football team, that gave me an inspiration," said Pearson, who attended Tulsa. "Hopefully his name on this award ... will inspire other young men. Not so much about what they see in that name but where he came from to get there."
Pearson and Charlie Waters, who was in the Dallas secondary during much of Harris' career, recalled how hard Waters hit, even in practice. Waters said Harris' influence on offensive game plans should be noted by Hall of Fame voters.
"When you set your game plan based on what that one guy does in his 'area,' then that person is deserving of a Hall of Fame vote," Waters said.
Ex-cornerback Mel Renfro, who is in the hall and has served as an adviser to the seniors committee, said in an interview with The Associated Press after the Touchdown Club meeting that Harris perhaps needs "a good promoter."
"A guy like Cliff is not in there and probably should be," Renfro said.