For the better part of three seasons, quarterback Jimmy Harris led the Oklahoma Sooners down the path of victory. From 1954-56, Harris and the Sooners never lost a football game going 31-0 while he was at the helm. Harris played four seasons in the NFL as a defensive back with the Philadelphia Eagles, the Los Angeles Rams and the Dallas Cowboys. ESPN Classic's Phillip Lee recently caught up with Harris.
Phillip Lee: What are you doing these days?
Jimmy Harris: I own an oil company. We call ourselves Midroc Operating Company. I got a geology degree. Back in the old days, you had to get degrees because going to the pros sure weren't going to make you any money. I think Paul Hornung was the No.1 draft pick the year I went to the pros, and he got $15,000 -- a $3,000 signing bonus and $12,000 (salary). Most people got a $1,000 signing bonus and $10,000-7,000 (salary). I played pro football for four years and in between coached a year. I've been in the oil business since 1962.
PL: When did you start Midroc?
JH: I worked with an older gentleman that played football at OU who was a drilling contractor and we formed the company together in 1966.
PL: Who was the football player?
JH: Roy Guffey. He played at OU from 1923-25. I roughnecked for him in the summers and got interested in the oil business. I liked what the geologists were doing and they all lived quite well. So, I thought that would not be a bad pursuit for a career.
PL: So I guess your degree came in handy?
JH: Oh yeah. I was with the Rams in 1958 and they had offered me $9,500 to come back. I had started every down at left cornerback. I said I wanted $10,000 and they wouldn't pay me. I came back and told (Bud Wilkinson), who was still OU coach at the time, and asked him "What do you think I oughta do?" He said, "I would get my geology degree." We discussed whether I wanted to coach or be a geologist. He said, "When you turn about 45, you're going to wish that you were a geologist."
PL: Was he right?
JH: He was right. I don't know what kind of coaching career I would have had -- Darrell Royal and Eddie Crowder and some of the other old quarterbacks did quite well. I don't know whether I would have (done well) or not, but I have thoroughly enjoyed the business that I'm in.
PL: So no regrets about not coaching?
JH: No regrets at all. I coached one year at Oklahoma in 1959. I was on the staff and finishing up a couple of grades. That was the first year that (Wilkinson) had lost more than one game. (The Sooners went 7-3 in 1959). I thought they were going to fire him. I don't want this. He had won almost everything (and they wanted to fire him).
PL: Talk about Coach Wilkinson.
JH: To me, he was a father figure. I was lucky enough to be a quarterback and spent an enormous amount of time with him. He was one of the smartest men I've ever known and probably one of the most organized people I have ever known, and I played under Tom Landry. Wilkinson had that ability to take you as an individual and focus on you and make you feel that you were the only person around. He could make you feel extremely special, at least he did with me, but I think he did it with everybody. You get back to why did we win and win 47 in a row -- it was the fact he took each individual and made him feel that he was an integral part of the puzzle. We had some good athletes and some great athletes, but he made us a team. We were like a precision machine. If you look back at the film of the 1955-56 teams, there were very few mistakes and mistakes beat you.
PL: During your playing days, coaches were not allowed to signal in plays so on offense that responsibility fell upon you as the quarterback. Since you were basically calling the game for him, there must've been some intense preparation.
JH: That's right. You would sit there many, many hours with (Wilkinson) and go over every situation that you would expect from whatever team we would be playing. You'd be watching the film and he'd say it's 3rd and 3 on their 38-yard line and you're on this side of the sideline, what are you going to do? So by the time you got into the game, it was an automatic. There was a game against Texas and it's something like 3rd and 28. There was a timeout and a substitution. The guy runs in and says, "Bud wants you to do the fake quick kick." What was unbelievable was that I had already called that play and that's the play he sent in. That was exactly the play I knew he would want. It was kind of eerie that I thought just like he did.
PL: You played from 1954-56?
JH: Yes. You couldn't play as a freshman.
PL: You were 31-0 as a player at Oklahoma. What does that mean to you when someone says to you, "You played college football and nobody ever beat you."
JH: It spoils you. I always say that I would have had that kinda luck -- and it definitely wasn't all luck -- but I would have liked to have that kinda record in the oil field drilling wells. It does spoil you, but you realize that there had to be a little luck involved, too. We played some good teams. A lot of people said the Big Seven or Big Six, whatever it was at the time, didn't have that much competition. We played Texas and Notre Dame and we pretty much tore everybody up. And one thing, we were a quick team and it never rained on us the whole three years.
PL: Never played in bad weather?
JH: Nope. It snowed in Colorado in my senior year, but they covered the field and the day of the game, it was perfect.
PL: Do you think the 47-game winning streak will ever be broken?
JH: All records are set to be broken. Maybe (current OU coach) Bob Stoops will do it. I don't know, but this was a team effort. We had a couple of guys make All-American every year, but basically you could have replaced them with somebody else, myself included, who would've done the job. It was just a hell of a team.