Nov. 13, 2012, was a special day for Longbranch resident Jeff Harris, who was inducted into the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame with many of his teammates from the 1962 Oregon State University football team in attendance.
The 1962 Beavers represented OSU at the fourth annual Liberty Bowl in Philadelphia, where they defeated the Villanova Wildcats.
Harris, the team’s left tackle, played alongside Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Terry Baker, who is the only Heisman winner to be named “Sportsman of the Year” by Sports Illustrated.
The Beavers were coached by Tommy Prothro and ended the 1962 season with a 9-2 record.
Fifty years ago, the Liberty Bowl was one of only five postseason football contests that NBC televised in both color and black and white. The game’s broadcasters were Mel Allen and Jim Leaming.
“Color television is of special value in football because colors of uniforms, the crowds and halftime ceremonies so greatly enhance viewers’ pleasure,” Bob Goldwater, NBC press sports editor, wrote in the game program.
“The actual telecast of the game requires split-second coordination. The announcers’ booth, the camera crews, the control room in the mobile unit — plus the NBC-TV master control unit in New York — are in constant touch by open phone lines.”
An estimated 27 million fans watched the game on TV, while another 17,048 frozen fans watched from the stadium that registered 17 degrees at kickoff. The teams switched from cleats to tennis shoes prior to the game due to the frozen footing on the field.
Midway through the first quarter, Villanova downed a punt inside the OSU 1. One play later, however, Baker got loose and ran for a 99-yard touchdown.
Baker’s subsequent two-point conversion failed, but his spectacular 99-yard run before a national television audience cinched his approval for the Heisman Trophy. It also ended up being the only score of the day, as the Beavers won, 6-0.
The day after the game, the OSU players took time to tour New York City and the Statue of Liberty before they flew home to Corvallis, Ore.
That flight was only the second in Harris’ life. His first was from his home in Aberdeen to Corvallis when he was offered a football scholarship at OSU.
“Football was a great high-school endeavor, and getting a scholarship was amazing,” Harris said.
He admits his dream was to attend the University of Washington “like every Aberdeen kid.” In 1961, when he traveled with OSU to Seattle to play UW, “I was terrified,” he said, “but we beat them, 3-0.”
Reality bettered the dream.
After he graduated, Harris never talked about football.
“It wasn’t part of post-college life,” he said.
He joined the Peace Corps and served in Peru. From there, he worked for the U.S. Agency for International Development in Vietnam and Washington, D.C., then relocated to his home state and worked in Olympia for the state’s Department of Commerce.
After his move to the Key Peninsula in 1995, he managed the Custom Camera business near Key Center and has served as director for South Sound March of Dimes, director of Communities in Schools and was the first president and founding member of the Key Peninsula Community Council.
As Harris reflects on college football today, he says the game has changed very little but college sports has become big business.
“The benefit of that change has been to fully fund Title IX, giving women the opportunity to participate in team sports,” he said.
From his football years, Harris most greatly treasures the opportunity to play for Prothro, whom he called “a real southern gentleman.”
One memorable story Harris recalled is of the team traveling to play a game at the University of Houston and not being allowed hotel accommodations because they were an integrated team with black players.
Instead, they stayed in college dormitories.
That made Prothro angry, Harris recalled.
“Prothro never forgave the (Houston) coaches, and some lost their jobs over that incident,” he said.
Prothro taught Harris the concept of teamwork, the value of doing your best, and how to be reflective about what you’ve done.
“It wasn’t about glory, it was about the team winning and making a contribution,” he said.