The quarterback who never lost, OU's Jimmy Harris, dies at 76

by Berry Tramel Published: August 9, 2011

But the chips rarely were down in Harris' era. His 25 wins were not marked by a bunch of close calls. In fact, Harris' greatest play as a Sooner came on a punt return.

In the second game of 1954, against TCU, the game in which Gene Calame suffered a broken collarbone and launched Harris into the starting QB role, Harris returned a punt 68 yards for a touchdown after OU trailed 2-0 at halftime. The Sooners won 21-16.

That's the forgotten part of Harris' career. He was all ballplayer. His statistics were not gaudy; Harris rushed for at least 100 yards only thrice in his career and never passed for 100 yards in a game. Of course, his halfbacks were Thomas and Tommy McDonald, who combined to play 23 NFL seasons, so there weren't a lot of extra yardage to be had.

Then Harris played four seasons in the NFL himself, as a cornerback, with 11 interceptions.

Let's see. A quarterback who never lost. An NFL cornerback. A punt returner with a better career average (14.6) than Ryan Broyles. Folks, that's a football player.

“He was probably a better defensive player than offensive, but he did a heck of a job at quarterback,” Burris said. “Very elusive. You never could get a good lick on him.”

Thomas as a young Sooner scrimmaged against Harris and called it “like tackling a wet rope. He wasn't there. And when you did get ahold of him, you didn't hurt him. Didn't punish him at all. He just had a gift. He was born that way. And he sure took advantage of it.”

And finally, one more way that Jimmy Harris matters, even in 21st century Oklahoma football. Before 1956, Harris' senior year, the Sooners had produced just two All-Americans from Texas. Jim Weatherall in 1950-51 and J.D. Roberts in 1953.

But Harris helped convince Wilkinson that the Sooners could make a regular foray south of the Red River and return with bounty.

From the early '50s on, the Sooners have been raiding Texas for ballplayers. That started wholesale with Wilkinson going after the likes of Harris and Tubbs and Ed Gray in 1953.

Harris told me back in 2009 that Wilkinson “was everything to me. I would do anything to keep his record and everything he's done out front.”

I'd say mission accomplished for the quarterback who never lost a game.

Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at btramel@opubco.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.


by Berry Tramel
Columnist
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The...
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