Harris frustrated by 20 years of being overlooked

Updated: May 26, 2004, 9:53 AM ET
Associated Press

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. -- After being passed over for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame for the 20th straight year, former Dallas Cowboys safety Cliff Harris finally let his frustration show.

"I will have to say I was much more disappointed than I expected," Harris said during a trip to his hometown of Hot Springs for his annual golf tournament for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

"What was really disappointing was that none of the three Cowboys -- myself, (offensive tackle) Rayfield Wright and (wide receiver) Bob Hayes -- made it to the Hall of Fame."

Once the world's fastest human, Hayes died in 2002 at age 59.

Harris' expectations for making the Hall of Fame were raised this year when he made it to the final 15 and by conducting several interviews with Dallas media in anticipation of his selection.

"When I first made it to the final 15, I felt that was a goal in itself. But when I didn't make it, I felt like I was watching the Olympics in the stands," he said. "There you sit in admiration of what the athletes are doing, but you want to be out there competing with them. I don't want to be a participant. I want to win it."

Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway and Detroit Lions running back Barry Sanders made the Hall in Canton, Ohio, on their first attempt in January. The veterans committee passed over Harris, Hayes and Wright to choose offensive tackle Bob Brown and Minnesota Vikings defensive lineman Carl Eller.

Harris, who made the Pro Bowl six times and was a four-time All-Pro, said there may be a bias among selection voters against the Cowboys teams of the 1970s because they lost Super Bowls X and XIII to the four-time champion Pittsburgh Steelers, even though both games were close and even though those Dallas teams did win two titles.

The most indelible image of those encounters may have been a juggling catch by the Steelers Lynn Swann in Super Bowl X. Harris had leveled quarterback Terry Bradshaw on the play, but it was too late. Swann caught the 53-yard pass to set up the go-ahead score in Pittsburgh's 21-17 win.

But Harris blames Super Bowl XIII in 1979, a 35-31 Steelers victory.

"Super Bowl XIII, as it turned out, was one of the games, from the perspective of that decade, that influenced things," he said. "All people remember is Super Bowl XIII."

Twelve of those Steelers made it into the Hall, while only seven Cowboys did.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press