Every Sunday, football fans tune in to see quick, athletic quarterbacks dice up NFL defenses. Names like Kyler Murray, Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen dash across television screens on a regular basis — quickness is almost a prerequisite to take snaps in the league these days.
But in 1987, West Virginia fans were gifted what was then a unique talent in the form of Pittsburgh native Major Harris. For three seasons, he juked and jolted across football fields all over the country while donning the Flying WV on his helmet — leaving a big enough impact that his No. 9 is now forever enshrined in Milan Puskar Stadium.
Like most of the top prospects out of Pittsburgh, Harris chose West Virginia over the Mountaineers’ biggest rivals — schools like Pitt and Penn State.
“I was leaning more towards coming [to WVU]. One of my big things when I was coming out was, because when you were young, you hear stories about…’well, this school ain’t going to play a black quarterback,'” Harris recalled. “At the time, we had one in John Talley, so my whole thinking was, I didn’t want to go somewhere where they didn’t have a black quarterback already.”
Harris started his career redshirting in his freshman season — a prospect many freshman loathe. He, on the other hand, was much more receptive to the idea, and looking back, he knows that was the right move for his career so he could get used to the speed of the college game.
Soon enough, the game was getting used to his speed. In his first year as the starter, Harris was the Mountaineers’ second-leading rusher with 512 yards. He went on to finish with 2,058 yards, nearly dashing for four digits in his final year with the Old Gold and Blue.
Most Mountaineer fans are quick to remember two major milestones from “The Maj'” — “The Play,” and his team’s undefeated regular season in 1988.
What Mountaineer fan could forget “The Play” against Penn State in 1988? The legend goes that in the first half, Harris called a play in the huddle against the Nittany Lions. Instead of calling timeout and trying again, he snapped the ball — as his team went left, he went right, and sliced through the defense for a 30-yard touchdown, without any blockers.
The memories of Harris, ever the team-player, go further than that one snap, though — rather choosing to praise the stellar play of the offense in that half.
“The thing that stands out in my mind was the game,” Harris said. “Everything for one half went right….If I had to write a script for a half, that would have been it.”
West Virginia defeated the Nittany Lions 51-30, the eighth win en route to an undefeated regular season.
That run reached its peak three games later in Morgantown, as the fourth-ranked Mountaineers hosted the 14th-ranked Syracuse Orangemen. West Virginia decisively won 31-9, earning a berth to the national championship against Notre Dame.
Harris and the Mountaineers made sure they didn’t go out on the town too quickly to celebrate. Instead, they took the field one more time to relish the moment with the WVU faithful.
“I remember we was in the locker room, and I forgot, but they said ‘go back out,'” Harris recalled. “I remember just running out on the field with my hand up and giving high fives.”
No matter how big of an impact he made on the program and University individually, Harris remains humble. Even receiving high honors like a jersey retirement is a little weird to the legendary quarterback.
“I feel uncomfortable when a player comes up to me, like today, [and says] congratulations, because we played together,” he said. “I kind of feel uncomfortable when a fellow player says that to me, making me feel like I was running around out there by myself.”
Harris, of course, is truly appreciative of his accomplishments and the recognition that come with them — but he emphasizes that he didn’t do it by himself.
Harris’s No. 9 was retired on Saturday during the Mountaineers’ contest with Oklahoma State. He is the second Mountaineer to have his jersey enshrined this season after Darryl Talley’s No. 90, and the fifth all-time to receive the honor.