January 20, 1975
MIAMI (AP) - It was restoration of tarnished pride for the abused National Conference All-Stars, but it was a personal triumph for James Harris, the black quarterback castoff whom some said would never be able to cut it.
"I wasn't trying to prove anything,” the 6’4”, 215 pound signal-caller of the Los Angeles Rams said, reflecting on the NFC's 17-10 victory over the American Conference Monday night in the Pro Bowl football game.
"I just prayed I would play my best. I knew if I could play my best, with the best guys in the league supporting me, we were capable of doing the job."
Harris, a late replacement on the NFC squad for Minnesota's sore-armed Fran Tarkenton, was voted the most valuable player after taking over late in the second quarter for the injured Jim Hart of the St. Louis Cardinals and passing for two quick fourth period touchdowns that won the game.
The first, an eight-yarder to Mel Gray of the Cardinals, was set up by a 57-yard bomb to Gray. The other, just 1 ½ minutes later following a fumble by Pittsburgh's Franco Harris, was another eight-yarder to Charley Taylor of the Washington Redskins. Both scoring passes came on crucial third-down plays.
The AFC built a 10-3 lead in the third period on a 32-yard pass from Miami's Bob Griese to Dolphin teammate Paul Warfield and Roy Gerela's 33-yard field goal.
Green Bay's Chester Marcol kicked a 33-yard field goal for the NFC in the second period.
Harris is not prone to boastfulness, often speaking so low it is difficult to understand him. Yet he is not one to lowrate his own passing ability or to lightly pass over his problems in getting a starting position with a National Football League team.
"I got so disgusted at one stage I thought I would just toss it in," he said. "I felt that people thought a black quarterback could never make the grade. I really got the impression there was something racist in my early failures to make the grade."
A graduate of Grambling, Harris joined the Buffalo Bills in 1969 and was cut in 1972, joining the Rams' taxi squad. He didn't start for the Rams until the sixth game of the 1974 season after John Hadl was traded, yet finished as the No. 2 passer in the NFC, completing 106 of 198 for 1,544 yards and 11 touchdowns.
He was thrust into another pressure role Monday night when Hart went out in the second period with a bloody gash over his right eye that needed six stitches. Harris completed seven of 13 passes for 119 yards in directing the NFC's successful rally.
It was the first NFC triumph over the AFC in four years in the Pro Bowl and eased some of the pain suffered in losing six of the last seven Super Bowls.
"We turned it around," exulted tackle Alan Page of the Minnesota Vikings, who played an outstanding game on defense. "Old Jim did a great job for us."
Chuck Knox of the Rams, who coached the NFC squad, said the victory was a matter of "great personal satisfaction” for him.
“These boys had been hearing so much about AFC superiority that they had it up to here," he said, gesturing to his adam's apple. “They were so eager and determined to win that I even had volunteers for the kickoff team, which you know is a suicide assignment."
Oakland's John Madden, whose staff coached the AFC losers said, “It was a good game. You have to have a good game with so many stars on the field. Sure, we were disappointed because we had so many chances to win, but in a game like this you have such a small period to prepare that it's difficult to get a team working in complete harmony."
One of the mixups occurred late in the game when Bob Griese of the Miami Dolphins, quarterbacking for the AFC, threw a wild pass out of bounds on a fourth-and-three situation when the AFC desperately needed a score.
“The pass was to be to Fred Biletnikoff," the Dolphins' quarterback said, "but the play did not develop as we had practiced it. It is one of the things that happens in a case where a team doesn't have enough time to get ready."
The Bills' O.J. Simpson just gets past a diving Ted Hendricks.