Harris played sparingly in 1970 because of a knee injury, and Rauch was replaced by Harvey Johnson, who started Harris twice in 1971. Then Johnson was replaced by Lou Saban, who cut him right away.
No team picked him up for the start of the '72 season, so Harris took a job in D.C. working for John Jenkins at the Department of Commerce, helping black athletes transition to the business world. "I was through with football," he says. "That was it. At first, I tried to stay in shape, but I stopped working out. That's when the Rams called."
As it turned out, Harris received that call because Tank Younger had received a call from Robinson. Younger, a former NFL great who worked for the Rams as a scout, had played for Robinson at Grambling, and in fact, had become the first alumnus of a historically black college to play in the NFL. Younger convinced Rams coach Tommy Prothro and new Rams owner Carroll Rosenbloom to sign Harris to the practice squad, which was then called the taxi squad.
So, Shack decided to take another shot at that tree.
THERE HE IS, standing tall and comfortably in the pocket, unleashing all kinds of throws: touch passes, deep balls, lasers on timing patterns. Sometimes, he'll roll out, or nimbly escape the pressure. He's like a more mobile Ben Roethlisberger, or a more physical Kurt Warner, and, if you didn't know the clips on the DVD provided by NFL Films were from the '70s, you would think you were watching a Rams quarterback from a much more recent vintage. James Harris was the real deal.
"You should have seen Shack in his prime," Ron Jaworski says. "God, he could sling it. He was the prototypical pocket passer, hanging in there, never flinching. What a pretty delivery. He was smart; he could read defenses; and he was a great leader."
The ESPN analyst we now know as Jaws is sitting in his aerie above the lobby of NFL Films in Mount Laurel, N.J., taking a break from dissecting a Jets-Patriots game. Once upon a time, he was a rookie quarterback on the Rams. When he got to Los Angeles in 1973 after being taken in the second round out of Youngstown State, he found John Hadl and Harris waiting for him.
What you are about to read are remembrances of people who were on or around those Rams, a storied team blessed with star power and cursed by rotten luck: From 1973 until 1980, they didn't miss the playoffs, but they lost in the only Super Bowl (1979) they made. Most of these memories came out of one-on-one interviews, although the quotes from Chuck Knox (coach from 1973-77) come from his autobiography, Hard Knox, written in 1988 with Los Angeles Times sports columnist Bill Plaschke.
James Harris: When I got to the Rams in '72, I was very rusty. Tommy Prothro was the coach, and he got fired after the season. But he had prepared files on all the players, and he gave those to Chuck Knox, and I guess he had some nice things to say about me because they kept me around.
Ron Jaworski: I was excited to get to Rams camp. I had followed Hadl's career, and I had seen Harris play in Buffalo because I was a Bills season-ticket holder. Section 23, Row 13, Seat 3 at the War Memorial. Hell, I had watched Shack, O.J. Simpson and Al Cowlings.