Cliff Harris was one of those guys that nobody would have ever expected to even make an NFL roster, yet by the time he had finished his career Harris had accomplished enough that he was a Hall of Fame Finalist in 2004. His football career began as the backup quarterback for Hot Springs High School where he never managed to earn the starting slot, but before his senior season, the Harris family moved and Harris became the starter for tiny Des Arc High School. That year he led the Des Arc Eagles to an undefeated season.
Cliff's performance was not enough to earn him any attention from college coaches. In the end, Harris was offered a scholarship from Ouachita Baptist University, but that was due as much to the intervention of his father's former roommate at Ouachita as it was to his on field performance. Once Cliff Harris arrived on campus, he developed into something nobody would have expected. He became a steller defensive back, performing at a high level at each position in the secondary. He was twice named a first team Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference player. Cliff also excelled at returning kicks.
Coming from such a small school, Harris went undrafted during the 1970 draft, but he was invited to the Dallas Cowboys training camp. There he was paired up with the Cowboys 3rd round draft pick to compete for the starting free safety position. Even though the team was aware that they would lose his services part way through the season, Tom Landry named Harris the starter. The man he beat out was Charlie Waters. The two became lifelong friends, and would soon pair up as the top safety tandem of the 1970's.
Although he lost a large part of his rookie year to a military commitment, Harris would return to the Cowboys in time to participate in the Super Bowl victory over the Dolphins. It was the first of five Super Bowls that Harris would appear in as a player. He is one of only 13 players to have that destinction.
Among his teammates, Harris was known as Captain Crash for his hard hitting style of play. Fellow safety and Hall of Famer Larry Wilson considered Harris the best safety to ever play the game. He also credited Cliff with changing the way the free safety position was played around the league with his violent approach to tackling a ball carrier or receiver. Even though Cliff had a reputation as a hitter, he always played with placekicker pads to avoid losing any speed because of his equipment.
As recognition of his achievements, Cliff Harris was selected to the Pro Bowl six times and was a four time first team All Pro. He is a member of the NFL All Decade Team for the 1970's and a member of the Cowboys Silver Anniversary Team. He is also a member of the team's Ring of Honor. For his career Cliff had 29 interceptions and 18 fumble recoveries including one for a touchdown. He also added over 2000 yards in kick returns over a ten year career. In a move that took Cowboy fans by suprise, Cliff Harris suddenly retired at the end of the 1979 season to devote his time to his business interests in the oil and natural gas industry. At present he is still very active in the field along with his business partner Charlie Waters.