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The Case for the Defense: Wayne Harris: Harris is a CFL defensive all-time great. Playing a dozen seasons for the Calgary Stampeders he helped re-define the linebacker position.

CFL Free agency has been busy again this year. Arguably the biggest signing has been the Winnipeg Blue Bombers retaining Outstanding defensive player of the year Willie Jefferson.

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.

It is time to redress the balance a little. The series itself so far has featured Willie PlessAngelo MoscaDickie Harris, and Norm Fieldgate. Now it is time to look at another great defensive player from the CFL annals. This time it’s Wayne Harris of the Calgary Stampeders.

Wayne Harris – A Stampeder great

Wayne “Thumper” Harris is widely regarded as one of the best to have suited up for the Calgary Stampeders. Described as “the best player I’ve ever seen to play his position,” by Rogers Lehew, the Stampeders’ offensive assistant coach when Harris joined the Stamps in 1961.

He would go on to play his entire 12 year career in Calgary on a team that between 1961 & 1972 went 111-76-5, appeared in the Western Final 10 times and appeared in 3 Grey Cups winning it all in 1971.

During that Grey Cup game, Harris had five tackles, three assisted tackles and a fumble recovery. This put him at the heart of a D that sacked Toronto quarterback Joe Theismann six times, broke his nose and held the Argos without an offensive touchdown.

Which all contributed to 14-11 win delivering Calgary’s second ever Grey Cup victory, and Harris being named MVP.

Before the Stamps

Prior to his successful career in Calgary, Harris was an All-State selection at El Dorado High School for three years. As well as an All-Southern and All-America prep guard.

Then he went on to play his collage ball for Arkansas from 1957-1960.

A two-time First Team All-Conference selection, in 1960 he was named most outstanding player in the South West Conference when he set an Arkansas single-season record for tackles with 174.

In 1961 he was offered a contract by the Boston Patriots and the Calgary Stampeders. He chose Calgary and Stamps fans were always glad he did.

He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2004 & the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame in 1981.

Thumper left his mark

The 6-foot, 190-pound frame of Wayne Harris might seem slight by modern standards. But Thumper left his mark when he played.

The transformation of what a linebacker could or should do was in part helped by Harris. His line speed meant he could patrol sideline to sideline and get in the hit.

His one-on-one battles with former Roughriders running back George Reed were a focal point of many games. In an era where the main job of the middle linebacker was to stop the run, Harris truly excelled.

Because of the era he played in there are no stats covering some major defensive categories such as tackles or quarterback sacks. However the few defensive stats available from that era, covering fumble and interception returns give some indications as he is the Stampeders’ all-time leader in fumble recoveries with 24 and is second all-time with 28 interceptions.  

The Awards

Harris was named a CFL All-Star on 8 occasions (1962, 1964-68, 1970, & 1971). As well as being named CFL West All-Star on 11 occasions (1961-1971 inclusive).

He was made a member of the Stampeders’ Wall of Fame in its’ inaugural year – 1985, as well as being one of seven former Stamps to have had their jersey number retired.

Hie election to the Canadian Football Hall of Fame came in 1976.

Wayne Harris was nominated nine times for the Schenley Most Outstanding Lineman Award and won four times — in 1965, 1966, 1970 and 1971.

Further, Harris was twice voted by teammates as the Presidents’ Ring Award recipient for on-field excellence, leadership and motivational skill.

Harris was named the Most Valuable Player of the 1971 Grey Cup.

* This included the likes of Pinball ClemonsHenry ‘Gizmo’ WilliamsLui PassagliaBob Cameron, & Dave Cutler. Go take a look if you are interested!

Featured Image: Wayne Harris with the Grey Cup in 1971. Image from Calgary Herald.

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