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Reggie Harrison, Steelers Running Back, 1974-1977

November 8, 2011
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Reggie Harrison:

First, can you tell readers how you are doing these days?

Well, I’m nursing a lot of injuries. I had back surgery and have been declared disabled. I fell down some steps that collapsed on me while I was working and have fought this injury for five years. I finally had to be cut on and had the surgery in the early 90’s.

I’m also dealing with the headaches from the various concussions I’ve received over the years playing football.

You were drafted by St. Louis in ’74, correct?

I was – but they let me go twice in ’74. I guess you had to be in your eighties to play running back in St. Louis – they had Don Shy (a former Steeler) and Donnie Anderson there.

How did you end up in Pittsburgh?

Frenchy got hurt – then Preston Pearson got hurt too. Dan Radakovich (assistant coach at the time) was my coach at the University of Cincinnati the prior year, so he knew I could carry the mail. He recommended me to the team and I went in for a tryout. The rest is history.

Who took you under their wings that rookie season and helped you in Pittsburgh?

Joe Gilliam took me under his wing. And Dwight White gave me the name Boobie.  Boobie Clark in Cincinnati evidently gave them the blues. I was as big as Boobie Clark so Dwight said we got us a Boobie too! I hated the name but I guess it stuck with me (laughing).

How hard was it as a rookie wanting to get playing time but being behind a player like Franco Harris?

As a rookie I was chomping at the bit to play. I thought it was about ability. But Frenchy came back and he and I talked about it a lot. He definitely let me know that this was Franco’s job. I needed to learn the halfback slot and wait for my opportunities.

I talked to the scouts in college. I knew and they and the coaches knew I could play. I found a home in Pittsburgh. If I was given a fair chance in St. Louis I would have played there. But I’m glad I wasn’t – it gave me the chance to come to Pittsburgh.

Who are the guys you remember most from those teams?

Oh, I remember all of them! My rookie crew – Stallworth, Swann, Webster, Kellum, Shell and many others. We had a squad of athletes.

It was your rookie year, but were you sensing the effect Noll was having, turning the team around?

The older guys I listened to like Greene – they had been there before and you could see them getting excited. They had been there before the team was good.

We knew it was Chuck’s team. Russell and Walden were there the longest. Russell told me that in Chuck’s first year he held a team meeting and told the team he knew why the team was losing. “Most of you guys aren’t worth a damn” Chuck said, and told them most won’t be there for long.

Mansfield was a jokester – he said he’d come in every day to work and more and more people disappeared.

Chuck was a business man. In St. Louis, Coryell would come in to the locker room kicking and yelling. I thought that was the way the NFL was. Then I got to Pittsburgh and was amazed.

How did you get along with Chuck?

Chuck looked at the film. If you were messing up you were gone. And if you broke the team rules you were gone.

That’s what happened to me. I hurt my hip and had to take medication. The medication knocked me out and I missed the training session. He cut me. No discussion. I was gone.

You never had a chance to explain what happened?

He never knew what happened. He never heard my side. I broke the rule and that was it.

I went to Green Bay after and finished up the year there. That was another team with great athletes but they could never out it together. Bart Starr was no Chuck Noll.

Who were the toughest guys you lined up against in practice?

Ham was the best linebacker I had ever seen. Wagner was the smartest safety I had ever seen. Edwards at safety would knock your head off. Andy Russell was there and some rookie named Lambert was in the middle.

How tough were those practices?

We all got along. We had our battles of course.

I remember getting mad at Ernie Holmes once. He was the Godfather of my oldest girl – I loved the guy. But I jumped on him and he just turned me upside down and tossed me down. He was a beast. I used to tease him about going at it again (laughing).

What do you think of today’s NFL?

I like where the game is today. Any time you can protect ballplayers…When you are in the situation I am in you understand. I had three-to-four concussions – before I played in the NFL.

The type of running back I was got hit in the head a lot. Now I regret it. I used to get on Franco for running out of bounds. He told me that the way I run, I won’t last. Taking lots of hits and giving hits out. Either way, you are taking hits he said. He told me it was like a bag of marbles. Say you have ten marbles. Every hit you take or give takes one away. Until you have none left.

Cullen Bryant, Earl Campbell, me…. all of us backs that ran like I did have problems now. Guys that look for contact have issues. Look at Earl.

They say you should stop at three concussions. I had three before the NFL…

Now, I’m suffering from head and back injuries, taking my daily regimen of Methadone and Oxycontin.

Is the NFL helping?

The NFL is helping. I was one of those that got disability. Conrad Dobler had to fight to get his.

I’ll never forget when I called and found out I got disability. Mr. Rooney told me I was one of those guys that always tried to get back to the huddle. He pushed for me to get the disability.

Any last thoughts for readers?

Football is still the greatest game in the world.

I hope that all those players that need the help get it. I have a scooter to get around. Sometimes I need it worse than other times. I hurt. I just don’t know what’s next. You don’t know what pain medication will do to you either.

Those Steelers teams lead the league in deaths. It’s spooky. You don’t want to lead the league in that statistic. I think it’s because of how hard we played and hit.

But I’d do it again. In a New York minute!

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Tony permalink
    July 24, 2013 2:32 pm

    Did I miss it or did you not ask a question about the biggest blocked punt in Steelers’ history?

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