The Nov. 25 edition of Sports Illustrated has an excellent story on A. J. McCarron, Alabama’s two-time National Championship quarterback. He’s has been very effective, with a record of 35-2 in those games. There’s a good chance the Tide wins out this year, and if they do, McCarron will be among the very few quarterbacks in college history with more National Championships than losses. Based solely on results and leadership (as opposed to purely physical skills), the SI story builds a strong case for McCarron as the best college quarterback ever.
I had a casual acquaintance with another generation’s Best College Quarterback Ever. He played when freshmen were ineligible for varsity sports, when players were smaller and slower, when a full college season was ten games. There were just a few black players, minimal face masks, and weight training had not yet been perfected. Football has evolved dramatically since then. But a team that wins 47 consecutive games over parts of five years is historic, and being the 25-0 starting QB in the middle of that streak with two National Championships will earn you some votes.
I’m talking about Jim Harris and the 1954 – 1956 Oklahoma Sooners. Like McCarron, he was surrounded with an all-star cast, had a Hall of Fame coach (Bud Wilkinson), and was more of a game manager than passer. He was probably better as a cornerback, but everybody played both ways then; Jim even returned punts.
Kat and I met him through tennis, where he was something of a guerilla player. His strokes were far from textbook, but his enthusiasm and athleticism were off the charts. I was fifteen years younger, but he usually whupped me. Any win over Harris was going to be hard fought, and worthy of celebration.
Jim finally lost a big game in 2011, to lung cancer. Fame is fleeting. But he lived the way he played: all out.
Here’s a clip of some of his Oklahoma action. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SlY2gH5GvTs
He still ran like that 40 years later, nearly as fast. One night Harris and D. D. Lewis (recently retired Cowboys linebacker and Miller Lite spokesman) were playing doubles on the court next to us. You’ve never seen guys have so much fun whacking a tennis ball, nor heard so much whooping and hollerin’. We finished our match about when they did, and everybody retired to the bar. Oh, the stories they told! And what did the star of those Lite beer ads order?
“I’d like a tall Chardonnay, please.”