Building grit from a small town legacy

September 1, 2020
by Ben Swanger, 2020-2021 Ouachitonian editor

from the 2019-2020 Ouachitonian

Cliff Harris now lives in football immortality as a Pro Football Hall of Famer, but he rose from humble beginnings. Out of Des Arc High School, one of the greatest safeties to ever grace the NFL gridiron had one scholarship offer. That offer was from Ouachita Baptist University.

Harris told the simple story of his recruiting process. “Every morning, Coach Buddy Benson would have coffee with Red Nelson, and Red told Coach Benson, ‘Buddy Harris has a son that plays quarterback, why don’t you give him a scholarship?’”

The rest is history.

At Ouachita, Harris transitioned to defensive back where he learned the nuances of the safety position. Harris played under one of the NFL greats in Coach Tom Landry, but believes Coach Benson orchestrated more grueling practices.

Harris said, “The two-a-day practices on that OBU field were harder than the Dallas Cowboys. The reason Ouachita won, and the reason I made it in the NFL, is I was tougher than a lot of the guys.”

Harris credits his success to his WWII hero father Buddy Harris and Coach Buddy Benson.

Harris’ father lost his vision and was unable to watch Cliff deliver the majority of his backbreaking blows in the NFL, but nonetheless, his father demonstrated toughness through it all.

“One of the elements of making it in pro football, and I believe in life, is mental toughness; my toughness came through my dad,” Harris said.

Harris continued, “Coach Benson also taught me mental toughness. He talked about a fine line between winning and losing, and I always believed if I could make it through Buddy Bob’s practices, I was tough.”

In 1970 the Dallas Cowboys brought in 120 undrafted rookies. Harris was the only one to immediately crack the starting lineup.

Due to military service, Harris lost his starting position to eventual running mate and business partner Charlie Waters. He regained that starting position the next season and teamed up with Waters for 10 seasons to create arguably the best safety-duo in NFL history.

The odds were never in Cliff Harris’ favor to succeed in the capacity he did, but he shattered those odds. To pass along that hope and to continue his legacy, Harris presents the Cliff Harris Award to the nation’s best small college defender each year.

Cliff Harris: a pedigree of toughness produced a prodigy of toughness who now provides the promise of hope to young dreamers.

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