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Throwback Thursday: Cliff Harris & Charlie Waters

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Two guys from different backgrounds who paired up to become one of the best safety tandems in the history of professional football.

Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Cliff Harris.... Charlie Waters.... You cannot mention one without mentioning the other. The two men came into the National Football League in completely different manners and from different backgrounds. Waters was drafted in the third round of the 1970 NFL draft. He had been an All-ACC wide receiver at Clemson. To this day, Charlie still ranks eighth all time on the Tigers yards per reception list. Harris was an undrafted free agent out of tiny Ouachita Baptist University. There he had been a standout small school defensive back and kick return man. Cliff was a two time All-Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference selection. They had little in common except that each had been given an opportunity to earn a spot on Tom Landry's football team.

Landry and Tex Schramm had envisioned Waters as an NFL safety. Suddenly the two rookies found themselves in competition for the same job, a starting role as one of the Dallas Cowboys safeties. By the time the team broke camp and arrived in Dallas it was Cliff Harris, the undrafted guy from a small school, who would be starting alongside Cornell Green. Waters barely missed getting cut from the squad during camp. Military service would eventually allow Waters to step in as the starter when Harris left to serve his country, but he would not officially become a Dallas starter until 1975 when Green retired from the game. Harris would remain the starter even though Waters earned All-Rookie honors for his efforts, including five interceptions, while his teammate fulfilled his duty.

With Harris back in the fold once his commitment to Uncle Sam had been completed, Waters became a back up cornerback for the Cowboys. It was not a smooth transition for the former receiver. He struggled to maintain his role on the squad. On the other hand, Harris continued to impress. He earned the nickname "Captain Crash" for his devastating hits delivered to opponents. Washington Redskins coach George Allen once described Harris as a rolling ball of butcher knives. The phrase summed up the way that Harris played the game his style changed the way free safety was played in the NFL.

When Green retired, Charlie Waters finally found his role in the league. He took over the strong safety slot and made it his own. The duo gelled together immediately and soon they reeled off a string of three straight Pro Bowl appearances together. From 1975 through the 1978 seasons the tandem were the safeties in the NFL. Nobody did it better. In 1979, the pair was broken up when a knee injury cost Charlie Waters the season. Waters returned to the squad the following year, but he would be without the man who had become his best friend in life. Cliff Harris left football to concentrate on his business interests before the start of the 1980 season. Perhaps the best safety tandem in the history of the game was no more. Waters would play two more years with the Cowboys before joining his friend in retirement.

Retirement saw the pair again working side by side in the oil and gas marketing field. As they had done on the gridiron, Harris and Waters found success together in business. The two Cowboys greats remain the closest of friends and partners as they now approach their seventh decade of life. They may have had different beginnings, but they shared a common fate in life.

Both Waters and Harris were named to the Silver Anniversary Dallas Cowboys team, and both men were nominated for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Harris becoming a finalist in 2004. Cliff is also a member of the Cowboys Ring of Honor. He earned six trips to the Pro Bowl and was an All-Pro four times. Waters made three trips himself and was twice named All-Pro.

Cliff Harris was also named as a member of the NFL's All Decade team for the 1970's.