This past weekend, Major Harris, one of the greatest players in Mountaineer history, was forever enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame.
For those of us who followed his remarkable football career, the memories are still bittersweet.
For those of you too young to remember Major’s outstanding collegiate career, I urge you to check out some of his highlights on YouTube. They are incredible.
Major’s abilities on the gridiron took West Virginia to a prominence in college football the university had never known.
Unfortunately, his early departure left many with a bad taste in their mouths.
In the 1988 football season, Major took the Mountaineers to the mountaintop, playing Notre Dame in the national championship game.
A year later, coming on the heels of West Virginia’s Gator Bowl loss to Clemson, Major announced his intention to enter the NFL’s first draft of underclassmen.
Coming out of Pittsburgh’s Brashear High School, only West Virginia and Arizona State were willing to sign the City League star as a quarterback. Apparently, Don Nehlen and John Cooper were the only college coaches willing to adjust their offenses to complement the unique set of skills Major could bring to the table.
Major’s ability to both run and throw the football was groundbreaking for the time.
“You get a guy like Major Harris,” former Mountaineer assistant Dwight Wallace told me, “you’ve got to rebuild your whole offense with Major. You put him at quarterback, is he going to cause problems for the defense? For sure! That’s why I give Don Nehlen a lot of credit.
“Don allowed us to bring the offense to Major,” Wallace continued. “I don’t think the pro guys—at least at that time—they weren’t ready for Major.”
Taken in the 12th and final round of the NFL draft, his pro career seemed doomed from the outset. The Raiders immediately sent Major to Canada. He only played one season there, starring in the final game as the British Columbia Lions beat Saskatchewan.
Major was magnificent in that game, passing for a couple of touchdowns and running for a couple more. The game was vintage Harris.
Unfortunately, Major chose to leave Canada after only one season, entering the Arena League. From there, his love of the game would find him traveling around the country, playing minor league football, never finding his way back to the pros.
It was a tragic end to an otherwise promising career.
“I’m not bitter about how my career went,” Major said, “because every time I was given an opportunity to play, I delivered.”
Dwight Wallace also added some insight into Major’s failed professional career.
“I just felt his skill level was not a good match for the pro game and the mentality of the coaching staffs at that time,” Wallace said. “But I will tell you, if they’d ever given him the ball, he would have found a way to win, I think. He was just an unbelievable competitor.”
Major’s long overdue enshrinement in the Hall finally recognizes his unique contributions to the game. His skills paved the way for a host of college and pro quarterbacks who would eventually follow him.
As the first college quarterback to ever pass for over 5,000 yards and to rush for 2,000 more, Major certainly earned his place in the Hall of Fame.
Perhaps Mountaineer broadcaster Tony Caridi actually said it best: “He’s got that special innate quality that all the great ones have. All he cared about was winning! Major was oblivious to his numbers. He just loved to play the game.”
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