Dig out the scrapbooks. Dust off the memories. The induction of Harold Harris into the Tennessee Sports Writers Association Hall of Fame is a return to yesteryear.
Harris was on the News Sentinel sports staff from 1935 until 1980. Before that, he was a football player at old Knoxville High and Tennessee Wesleyan College.
He will be honored posthumously Thursday evening at Cumberland University in Lebanon. He died in 1992 at age 78.
Harris grew up in Knoxville just before the Golden Age of Sports. He read about Jack Dempsey, Babe Ruth, Red Grange, Bobby Jones and Bob Neyland. He wrote about Paul (Bear) Bryant throwing down his crutches and playing for Alabama against Tennessee — despite a broken leg.
Harris covered Knoxville professional baseball, college and high school sports of all sorts and even wrote an occasional outdoor column. He reported on some historic events, including the 6-0 Tennessee football victory over Georgia Tech in Atlanta in 1956. He saw The Stop, the famous goal-line play in 1959 when the Vols denied the two-point conversion attempt by LSU’s Billy Cannon.
Alabama invited Harris to be a guest of the Crimson Tide for the 1946 Rose Bowl.
During the 1945 season, Harris consistently voted Alabama ahead of Army in the Associated Press poll. Some weeks Harris was the only vote the Cadets did not get. Alabama noticed that one first-place vote was coming from Knoxville, of all places.
The AP made a story out of this difference of opinion. John Lardner wrote in Newsweek magazine about the brave Tennessee voter.
When Alabama was chosen to play in Pasadena, Harris was invited to go along for the ride. The school would pay all expenses.
Harris had said he would never get on an airplane but when it was almost time to go, he could hardly wait. The trip was terrific. His vote was validated. Alabama defeated Southern Cal.
Harold got arrested in New York while on assignment to cover Tennessee basketball in the NIT.
Somebody gave him an extra ticket and he was outside Madison Square Garden trying to unload it. A plain-clothes detective charged him with scalping.
“I was incarcerated for about 30 minutes and talked my way in to see the night-court judge,” Harold explained. “He administered what he called ‘New York justice’ and fined my $2 for selling without a license.
“The arresting officer felt so bad about the incident that he took me back to the Garden in his own car. I made it to courtside just before the referee tossed up the ball.”
The Vols lost to Rhode Island State.
When Harris wrote a column, there was no question about his position.
The 1957 Sugar Bowl, Baylor versus Tennessee, was marred by an ugly incident. The Bears’ Larry Hickman kicked Vol guard Bruce Burnham in the head while he was on the ground.
Burnham suffered some kind of seizure and doctors later admitted he almost died. Teammates stood with heads bowed, praying for their teammate while medics worked to stabilize Burnham before removing him from the field.
Harris wrote that the kick was obviously intentional. Wire services picked up the column. It was republished in Texas. The response was an avalanche of hate mail, including one death threat. Harris framed some of the more spirited letters for his den wall.
One of Harris’ most famous football stories was written on short notice.
Sports editor Bob Wilson went to Durham, N.C., to cover a Tennessee-Duke football game. He arrived near enough to dinner time that writing a Saturday advance was inconvenient. His solution was to extract the football story from the Durham Herald and give it to the Western Union operator to send to Knoxville.
Bob put a very creative line at the top: “Here’s what they are saying in Durham about the big game.”
On Saturday morning in downtown Knoxville, Harris came in early to assemble the sports section. He grabbed the Wilson column from the Western Union ticker and was immediately confused. It was the Wilson column from Thursday.
Harris did not bother calling Wilson so early in the morning. He quickly wrote the pre-game advance, under Wilson’s byline with the Durham dateline. It was outstanding. Wilson said it was his best of the season.
Cold Out There
Harris and other staffers were working late one Friday night, wrapping up high school football.
A legendary Vols guard, Bob Suffridge, Tennessee’s only three-time all-American, stopped for an office visit. He chatted about times past, told of some ups but mostly downs in his life, announced it was cold outside and that he was going to warm it up.
Soon he guessed correctly. Harris and Suffridge were very near the same size. Suffridge had chosen Harris’ coat to combat the cold.
Frigid temperatures were no problem for Harris that night. He was plenty hot under the collar.
Marvin West, former News Sentinel sports editor and managing editor, is a columnist for The Shopper News.