The Case for the Defense: Dickie Harris.
All of which got me to thinking. We have run a series on all time great CFL special teams players in the past. So now I think in honour of Willie Jefferson being perhaps the biggest name this time around, we should focus on some defensive greats.
So it is time to redress the balance a little. The series itself started with Esks’ great Willie Pless and Angelo Mosca. Now it is time to look at another great defensive player from the CFL annals. This time it’s Montreal Alouettes great DB Dickie Harris.
In a decade long career running from 1972-82 Harris played all of his 134 games with the Montreal franchise.
Harris’ road to the CFL
Prior to being a pro athlete, Dickie Harris played for the University of South Carolina. They recruited him from Point Pleasant Beach High School in New Jersey where he had stood out as a running back.
Harris played for the Gamecocks from 1969-71 and his time there was highlighted by All-ACC honors and a first-team All-America selection by the American Football Coaches Association.
In 1970, he returned a punt 97 yards for a touchdown against North Carolina and later that season Harris scored a pair of return touchdowns, one on a 96-yard kickoff and the other on a 94-yard interception, both against Georgia.
Montreal made their interest clear and Harris headed north to stardom.
Montreal and nowhere else
Dickie Harris played his entire CFL career in Montreal. 131 games as an Alouette and 3 games as a Concorde.
Thus Harris played 10 seasons with Montreal from 1972 to 1982, participating in 134 games and winning the Grey Cup twice. He still holds the team’s interceptions record with 38 and the longest interception return with 118 yards.
Throughout much of that time he was an excellent cornerback and a dangerous kick returner for the Als.
His 10 year career ran over an 11 year span as he didn’t play in 1981. Harris’ career high interception return (7), came in his rookie season in 1972. That was followed by at least 3 interceptions in each of his first nine seasons, and the only season his career that he didn’t have an interception was his final year in 1982 when he only played three games.
In his rookie season Harris had that 118 yard interception return for a TD, had two blocked kicks and on the only pass reception of his career took it 50 yards.
Over the ensuing two seasons, Harris had 57 and 44 yard fumble returns for touchdowns. In 1979, Harris had three punt returns for touchdowns, including one for 102 yards. Clearly a big play specialist! In total, Harris, recorded 7 career touchdowns.
The Right place and time
After some down years in the late 1960’s, (they were 7-31-5 from 1967-69), things picked up under new ownership for the Als in the 70’s.
The Alouettes won three Grey Cups in 1970, 1974 and 1977. They appeared in a further three championship games across the decade also. Not to mention making 11 playoff appearances over the next 12 years.
As well as the on field success, the Als had a new stadium to play in after 1976 when Olympic Stadium or the “Big O” was built for the 1976 summer Olympics.
So successful were the team and the stadium that 1977 still stands as their all-time records for regular and post season attendances. Dickie Harris was being a big time player in front of big time crowds (59,525 average).
Harris was named a CFL All-Star on 8 occasions (1974-80) and an Eastern All-Star 9 times (1973-80). As well as being Montreal’s nominee for Outstanding Rookie in 1972 and for Outstanding Defensive Player in 1979.
The Canadian Football Hall of Fame inducted him as part of the class of 1999.
5 Grey Cup appearances, ( 1974, 1975, 1977 – 1979 ), produced two winners rings, in 1974 & 1977. In one of those quirks of fate every one of those Grey Cup games was against the Edmonton Eskimos. A team that would dominate over the last few years of Harris’ time in the league.
Still considered one of the best DB’s to play for the Als, in 2006 he was placed 33rd on a list of the top 50 CFL players of all time.
Banner Image: some of the Grey Cup wins for Montreal celebrated on championship banners. Including the ’74 & ’77 teams that Harris played a large part in. From flickr.com