Despite many challenges and obstacles, a young, veteran college football quarterback led his team through an undefeated season. Then he found himself confronted with the biggest game of his amateur football career.
This outstanding quarterback knew he was only four quarters of football away from the most coveted prize in college football, the National Championship.
Over one hundred teams competed for this trophy, but only two were left standing on this precipice of greatness.
In the days leading up to the big game, there were a lot of things written about the young man. He was faced with many interviews and headlines, however, he tried to remember that, despite the pressure, it was only a game.
This was merely one game, a contest he had played many times before. He was used to the pressure. He was used to winning.
He knew his teammates were counting on him. All season long, he had been the one they looked to during the tough games. He was the one they counted on to make a play, to complete the pass, to lead them into the end zone.
Yet, early in the game he was injured.
As the final seconds of the game ticked off the clock, the bitterly disappointed, young quarterback watched the biggest game of his career slip away to his opponents
No, I am not talking about Texas Longhorns’ quarterback Colt McCoy. I am talking about former West Virginia quarterback and College Football Hall of Famer, Major Harris.
As I watched the Longhorns game with the Alabama Crimson Tide, I was immediately reminded of another game and another quarterback who suffered a similar fate.
In 1989, the undefeated West Virginia Mountaineers took on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the Fiesta Bowl, a game that would decide college football’s national championship.
Like Colt McCoy, West Virginia quarterback Major Harris found himself in the biggest game of his life. And also like McCoy, Major had never been injured in his college career.
That would soon change.
On the fifth play of the game, McCoy was injured; Major was injured on the third play from scrimmage, suffering a separated shoulder on a questionable hit.
In a phone conversation I recently had with Major, he confirmed that I was not the only person thinking of those strange similarities between their two football games. He, too, drew the same connection between this pair of National Championship games.
“The main difference was: I had a separated shoulder on my left arm,” Major said. “So, I could still throw the football.”
However, Mountaineer fans would later learn that Coach Don Nehlen had instilled an offensive scheme for Fiesta Bowl, a detailed game plan that relied heavily on Major’s ability to both run and throw the football.
Because of his injury, Major could only make the pitch out to his running backs when going to his right. However, that play routinely rendered his injured left shoulder vulnerable to further hits from the Irish defense.
Major was just not the same player following his injury. In addition to Major, the other injuries that West Virginia suffered, before and during that game, gave the Mountaineers no real chance to prevail.
And like Colt McCoy, Major Harris would see his dreams of a National Championship transformed into little more than a nightmare.
A little over twenty years later, Major Harris has become rather philosophical about that one big moment in 1989. Major will tell you that he is just grateful for the opportunity to have played for the National Championship.
Perhaps Colt McCoy may eventually feel the same way as Major, about his one chance to hoist that crystal football. Perhaps. But it may take him about twenty years or so.