Cowboys legends Cliff Harris, Jimmy Johnson inducted into Hall of Fame

The inspiration for the speech Cliff Harris gave at his enshrinement came on a solitary hike through the Ouachita Mountains ahead of an early summer thunderstorm.

Jimmy Johnson’s speech was fueled by the belief he allowed the long hours of coaching to compromise the relationship with his sons, something he’s now reclaimed, and a gnawing sense he was too driven to fully enjoy his success in the moment. He thanked Jerry Jones “from the bottom of my heart’' for the opportunity to coach the Cowboys and touched on why he now finds himself in the Hall of Fame.

“I wasn’t a dreamer,’’ Johnson said. “You know, dreaming is hoping. I believed.

“I really believed.’’

Harris and Johnson are part of a special Centennial Class that was inducted Saturday evening. Drew Pearson follows Sunday night (Class of 2021) to complete this Cowboys trifecta.

Jones threw a party to honor the three at the stadium before the enshrinement ceremonies got underway. Harris, Johnson and Pearson mingled with the Cowboys greats who preceded them into the hall while surrounded by family, friends and other former teammates and coaches.

Harris was the second of 12 enshrinees to speak Saturday evening. He was introduced by Charlie Waters, his dear friend and former Cowboys teammate.

“It’s an oxymoron to say Cliff is just a football player,’’ said Waters, who named one of his sons Cliff. “He’s a lot more than that.

“Cliff Harris was not like a free safety who had been playing in the NFL before that. Because of his aggressive style, coach (Tom) Landry designed an 8-man front way before Buddy Ryan brought in the 8-man front.’’

Harris spoke for eight-and-a-half minutes, thanking his family and the teammates and coaches who meant so much to him along the way. He touched on his humble roots as an undrafted rookie free agent out of Ouachita Baptist.

“How does a kid from a small D-2 school make it to five Super Bowls and the Hall of Fame?’’ he asked. “I may be the only one who truly knows how slim that chance was.’’

The six-time Pro Bowler and member of the 1970s All-Decade team ended by quoting parts of Proverbs 3, making it clear “how vitally important’' his faith in God has been in his life. Sandwiched between was the story about his hike, the one that found Harris and his cell phone about two miles away from his car before that storm hit.

“I knew better than to look too far down the long path, because it would seem too imposing,’’ he said. “I made sure to keep my head down, made sure to make it past every rock without stumbling.

“I realized that was a metaphor for my life. I’ve never taken anything for granted or looked too far down the road. I stayed in the moment, focused on that rock right in front of me.

“I did trip on a rock or two that day, just as I have in my life. But I didn’t get discouraged. I got back up and pushed even harder, one step at a time, one rock at a time.

“Before you knew it, I had achieved my goal.’’

Johnson presided over two Super Bowl championships with the Cowboys before his infamous parting with Jones. Many of the players from those teams were at the Jones party. Norv Turner, Dave Wannstedt, Tony Wise, Dave Campo and others from his Cowboys coaching staff were also there to share in the moment.

Johnson estimates he’s given more than 1,000 corporate speeches and addressed his college and NFL teams countless times more. But this was one speech he wanted to practice. He delivered it to his family Friday evening in a quiet setting.

Johnson couldn’t get through it without crying.

He didn’t cry on this evening, although he came close. Always the showman, Johnson was less than one minute into his nearly nine-minute speech before he gave the crowd what it wanted.

“I guess you want to know what I’m going to say about Jerry Jones,’’ Johnson said, pausing right afterwards for dramatic effect.

“Well, Jerry, you told me we’re going to make sports history before we ever bought the Cowboys; before you ever bought the Cowboys because I didn’t pay a damn cent. And you know what? We — we — did make sports history. Not only for the Dallas Cowboys, but for the NFL.

“To go from the worst team in the league two years in a row and win back-to-back Super Bowls in building a heck of a football team, we did it. And let me tell you from the bottom of my heart, thank you, Jerry. Thank you for giving me that opportunity.’’

Johnson lamented not being able to watch his sons, Brent and Chad, play football when they grew up because he was so consumed with work. He spoke about the importance of relationships. While part of his speech was about the collateral damage often caused by success, he wanted everyone to know why he had the ultimate success at the University of Miami and with the Cowboys.

“You know, I always tried to make my people better,’’ Johnson said. “Every player, every coach, I tried to make them better. I never really dreamed.

“People said...what made you think you were going to win a Super Bowl when you were 1-15? I didn’t dream about it. I believed we were going to win a Super Bowl.

“When you believe it, it does something to the way you act and how you deal with people. You’re putting expectations on them. You treat a person as he is, he’s going to stay as he is. Treat a person as if he were what he could be and should be, he’ll become what he could be and should be.

“I didn’t dream,’’ Johnson continued. “I believed we were going to do it. You can live your life influenced by others, or you can believe in something and people can say ‘hey, you’re stubborn, you’re foolish, you’re crazy.’

“But if you believe it, you’re going to work to make it happen.’’

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