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Make 2022 your best year yet and let this Moon Reading decode your destiny with precise wisdom you can’t find anywhere else!

James ‘Shack’ Harris was an NFL pioneer on and off the field — Andscape

Get This Before It Disappears!


Get This Before It Disappears!

Make 2022 your best year yet and let this Moon Reading decode your destiny with precise wisdom you can’t find anywhere else!

GLENDALE, Ariz. – As the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles prepare to play Sunday in Super Bowl LVII, James “Shack” Harris already feels like a winner.

Harris never played for either team during his 10-year career in the old American Football League and the NFL, but the former Pro Bowl quarterback has a rooting interest in both. One of the league’s Black trailblazers at pro sports’ most important position, Harris is filled with pride about the historic matchup of Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts in the first Super Bowl in which African American passers face off on the league’s biggest stage.

“Shack Harris, being the first Black NFL quarterback to lead a team into the playoffs, to win the Pro Bowl MVP, he’s someone who kind of made that step, that transition, for guys like me to come in now and play,” Mahomes said.

When Harris stood tall in the face of racist taunts and while being deluged with hate mail throughout the 1970s, he did so, partly, in the hope that those who followed him would one day benefit from his struggle. The rise of the Black quarterback in the NFL occurred because Harris and others persevered and excelled even when the game was rigged for them to fail, and Mahomes and Hurts stand on his shoulders in the Super Bowl.

Clearly, Harris’ hard work paid off.

“It definitely makes you feel good to see what these young guys have done,” Harris told Andscape recently. “We [pioneering Black quarterbacks] went through a lot to prove we could play, a lot to just get on the field. But we always knew we could do it … we just had to get the opportunities.

“And once we started to get the chance, you see what happened. It’s great where they [Mahomes and Hurts] are, and just what it means about how far we’ve come. You can’t deny that these guys are two of the best [quarterbacks] in the league. It makes you feel like everything you went through may have just helped move the ball along a little.”

Or in Harris’ case, a lot. Just ask Doug Williams.

Washington Redskins quarterback Doug Williams (right) hands off to Timmy Smith (left) against the Chicago Bears during the NFC divisional playoff game Jan. 10, 1988, at Soldier Field in Chicago.

Focus on Sport/Getty Images

The first Black quarterback to start in a Super Bowl and win the game’s MVP award, Williams followed in Harris’ giant footsteps, first at historically Black college powerhouse Grambling State University and then in the NFL. Harris had a major role in dismantling racist myths about the ability of Black men to thrive at quarterback.

Harris, Williams said, wielded a big hammer even before Williams held one.

“Let me tell you about James Harris,” Williams told Andscape. “I have an older brother, but James Harris served as my other older brother.

“And it’s unfortunate that Shack has not gotten the recognition he so rightly deserves. Because when we talk about pioneers at the quarterback position, and a lot of people are quick to give me that title, I say that the James Harrises of the world are the true pioneers.”

No lies told.

Among the list of accomplishments in his career, Harris kicked down the following doors:

  • He became the first Black quarterback to start a season opener in the modern era of major pro football in the United States.
  • He became the first Black quarterback to start and win a playoff game.
  • He became the first Black quarterback to play in the Pro Bowl.
  • He became the first Black quarterback to be selected Pro Bowl MVP.

After a stellar career at Grambling, which he led to three Southwestern Athletic Conference championships, Harris was eager to prove he had the chops to make it big as an NFL passer. In many ways, Harris appeared perfectly suited for the job.

At 6-feet-4 and 210 pounds coming out of college, Harris – whose nickname is short for Meshach, the biblical figure who never wavered in faith of his beliefs – had the ideal size to play the position. Entering the draft in 1969, however, Black men were not drafted to play quarterback in either the AFL or NFL.

Pro scouts told Harris that he would have to move to another position, as was the practice of the day with Black men who played quarterback in college, if he wanted to play pro ball. Harris made it known he would not change positions. That was his proverbial line in the sand.

“I kept my word by not switching,” Harris said. “And they [teams in the AFL and NFL] kept their word: They didn’t draft me on the first day.”

Finally, in the eighth round, the Buffalo Bills selected Harris with the 192nd overall pick. That was the same draft in which the Bills used the No. 1 overall selection to acquire O.J. Simpson, the Heisman Trophy-winning running back from USC.

James “Shack” Harris as a rookie with the Buffalo Bills in 1969.

Julian C. Wilson/AP Photo

Disgusted about being passed over so many times, Harris considered walking away from the game he loved.

Famed Grambling head coach Eddie Robinson wouldn’t let Harris go out like that.

Robinson pleaded with Harris to go to Buffalo and fight for not only himself, but also for the Black quarterbacks who would follow him. Robinson challenged his protégé to scale towering walls previously untouched by Black quarterbacks.

“He said, ‘James, obviously, the decision is yours. But I just want to let you know that if guys like you don’t go to the NFL and play quarterback, it’s going to hurt the opportunities for others and it’s going to be that much longer before someone gets the opportunity to play,’ ” Harris said. “ ‘Now, James, if you decide to go and you don’t make it, don’t come back and say that the reason you didn’t make it was because you’re Black. You know it’s not going to be fair. You’ve just got to be better and leave them no choice but to let you play.’ ”

Message received – loud and clear.

While receiving bags of hate mail daily in training camp, Harris shone on the field and emerged from the preseason as the Bills’ Week 1 starter. But Buffalo’s roster was in disrepair, and Harris never gained his footing with the franchise.

He had a better run after moving on to the Los Angeles Rams.

During the 1974-75 season, Harris was voted to the Pro Bowl. The next season, Harris went 11-2 as a starter.

Still, the Rams’ decision-makers were always in search of a quarterback to replace Harris. By the 1976 season, the Rams were playing musical chairs at quarterback. Harris was traded to the San Diego Chargers, with whom he finished his career.

“Back in those days, we truly were Black quarterbacks,” Harris said. “And we knew since that’s the way were looked at, we almost had to play perfectly.

“For a lot of those years, there was nobody in the league starting but me, I was the only one, and there was always this [undercurrent in the media] that someone else should be starting ahead of me. So I felt I couldn’t make mistakes.

“But to play that position the best, like I did in high school and college, you have to be able to move on from a mistake, like an interception, and just put it up some more. And I just didn’t feel that way in the pros.”

James “Shack” Harris (center right) co-founder of the Black College Football Hall of Fame, greets guests attending the fifth annual enshrinement ceremony on March 1, 2014, in Atlanta.

David Tulis/AP Photo

Although Harris’ playing days ended in 1979, he still had many years ahead of him as a trailblazer. In his next act, he became a successful NFL player-personnel official.

Harris made the long, steady climb from being a scout to a front-office executive for several clubs. Harris helped build the Baltimore Ravens’ 2001 Super Bowl championship team. He was the vice president of player personnel for the Jacksonville Jaguars. In early January 2015, Harris retired from his role as a senior personnel adviser with the Detroit Lions.

Harris has challenged the NFL to improve its poor record on inclusive hiring in football operations at the club level.

“There’s no question that there are a lot of talented guys out there who are ready [for leadership roles],” he said. “There’s no question they’re qualified. … They’ve got to get the opportunity.”

On and off the field in the NFL, Harris was a pioneer. And for anyone interested in learning about his legacy, a big part of it will be on display Sunday.

Jason Reid is the senior NFL writer at Andscape. He enjoys watching sports, especially any games involving his son and daughter.


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