Former Chiefs DB Eric Harris Dies

There was a decade in franchise history where the Chiefs fielded some of the best secondary talent in the National Football League.

From 1980 through 1990, at least one defensive back from Kansas City was selected to the Pro Bowl. In those 11 seasons, they accounted for 19 slots in the NFL’s annual all-star game. The names roll out of the pages of history – S Gary Barbaro, CB Gary Green, S Deron Cherry, CB Albert Lewis, S Lloyd Burruss, CB Kevin Ross . . .

And, CB Eric Harris.

Although he never made the Pro Bowl, for three seasons (1980-82) Harris may have been the best defensive back on the Chiefs in that decade of excellence. In 39 games, he made 37 starts and 17 interceptions, including one that he returned for a touchdown. In those three seasons only Barbaro with 18 had more INTs.

Harris passed away this week at his home in Little Rock, Arkansas. He was just 56 years old. Early reports indicate he suffered a heart attack.

He was a reluctant member of the Chiefs.

Coming out of what was then called Memphis State University, Harris signed in the Canadian Football League before the 1977 NFL Draft was held. With four choices in the fourth round that year, the Chiefs used the fourth of four picks to take Harris and retain his NFL rights.

After playing three seasons in the CFL for the Toronto Argonauts where he was an All-CFL player, Harris decided to return to the NFL. He worked out a contract deal with the New Orleans Saints. The Chiefs had the option of matching the details of the contract offer from the Saints – four years, $1.4 million, all the money was guaranteed.

Surprisingly the Chiefs matched the New Orleans bid, which is not something Harris was planning on. He wanted to play in New Orleans and he staged what in effect was a holdout from training camp before realizing there was no way out of the situation for him.

In that 1980 season, Harris had seven interceptions, including a streak of six straight games with a pick. He earned the Mack Lee Hill Award; that made him the fifth defensive back in nine years to win the Chiefs honor as rookie of the year, joining Gary Barbaro, Gary Green, Lloyd Burruss and Kevin Ross.

“Eric was an incredible athlete, one of the most gifted natural athletes I’d ever seen,” former Chiefs center Bob Rush told the Memphis Commercial-Appeal newspaper. Rush did not play with the Chiefs when Harris was in a K.C. uniform, but played with him at Memphis State. “He was really tall for a cornerback; he was almost 6-4. Truth is Eric could have been an all-American at wide receiver or cornerback. He was a great cover corner and with his size he could clean a ball carrier’s clock when it came time for run support.”

Still unhappy after three years in Kansas City, Harris was traded away in 1983 to the Los Angeles Rams, where he played three more seasons. In total, he played six years in the NFL, 71 games in all, with 21 career interceptions.

Harris leaves behind three children – sons Eliott and Alex and daughter Erica and a grandson, Jayden Harris. Services are set for Friday at Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church in Memphis. Viewing is from 9 to 11 a.m., followed by a service. In lieu of flowers, his family is asking that donations be made to the Eric Harris Children’s Educational Fund. An account has been established at Bank of America.

One Response to “Former Chiefs DB Eric Harris Dies”

  • February 23, 2012  - txchief says:

    Another example of how little good happened at Arrowhead for nearly 20 years between the departure of Hank Stram and the arrival of Marty Schottenheimer.

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