Dickie Harris - Defensive Back - 1972-80 - University of Southern Carolina
Ian MacDonald - Freelance - Montreal Gazette
Former Alouette Harris was seven-time All-Canadian -Hall of Fame defensive back
In stark contrast to common practice today, Dickie Harris spurned the NFL's New York Jets to join the Alouettes in 1972.
The strong Canadian dollar at the time was one factor that led the defensive back from Point Pleasant Beach, N.J., to sign here.
"The Jets drafted me in the fifth round after I played at University of South Carolina," Harris said from his home in Kelowna, B.C.
"J.I. (Albrecht) was wooing me from Montreal and he offered a much better deal. It was more money, and don't forget, the Canadian dollar was a little stronger than the U.S. at the time.
"It was more than the money. The Alouettes flew me to Montreal twice and made it clear they wanted me. The Jets weren't as interested. That's why I signed."
Fortunately for the Alouettes, Montreal and eventually Canada, Harris found a great deal more to love and enjoy than the strong dollar in this country over the years. Harris played nine years (1972-80) with the Alouettes. He was a key member of two championship teams (1974 and 1977) and played in the Grey Cup final on three other occasions (1975, 1978 and 1979).
Harris was named an All-Canadian for seven straight seasons (1974-80) and was the CFL's defensive player of the year in 1979.
Harris is one of four Alouettes (Peter Dalla Riva, Dan Yochum and Junior Ah You are the others) who have been inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. That total will rise to five when Ed George is inducted this fall.
Asked about special memories from his playing days here, Harris said: "one of the most enjoyable moments was winning the Grey Cup in 1977." That was the time the Alouettes demolished the Edmonton Eskimos 41-6 at Olympic Stadium before 68,318 - the largest crowd to see a Grey Cup final.
Actually, fans of that era probably remember Harris most for his dazzling work in returning punts and kickoffs.
His punt return of 102 yards against Ottawa on Sept. 30, 1979, remains the longest in Alouettes history. He was second only to the great Hal Patterson in the career return yards on kickoffs.
"It was always fun to have your hands on the ball," Harris said, "but I think the punt returns were more fun, more of a challenge.
"On kickoff returns, blocking schemes open up paths. But on punt returns, it's a reactionary thing, spontaneous - more exciting."
For four years (1973-77) and two Grey Cup championships, coach Marv Levy had the luxury of being able to use Johnny (Ordinary Superstar) Rodgers and Harris to return punts and kickoffs.
Harris became acclimatized to Montreal. During his second season, he was at a social gathering of players when teammate Larry Smith, current Alouettes president and former publisher of The Gazette, introduced his wife, Lisa (MacLean).
"She told me she had a sister (nicknamed) Dickie," Harris said. "I said 'well, I have to meet her.' It was a blind date that worked out beautifully."
Harris and Elizabeth were an item for five years and married in 1978. Two of the couple's three daughters - Lauren and Allison - were born here, while Kristina was born in Kelowna, where the family has lived since 1984.
Harris worked outside of football while playing with the Alouettes. As a partner with businessman Bill Edwards, he owned three downtown sports bars - The Longest Yard on Bishop St., Le Club on Mountain St. and Hemingway on Crescent St.
Later, Harris took courses and went to work with what was then Midland Doherty Investments. During the early '80s, while best man at teammate Brock Aynsley's wedding in Kelowna, he and Elizabeth were impressed with the area.
Harris managed to secure a transfer to Kelowna and the family has been in love with life in the Okanagan Valley since 1984.
Nowadays, Harris is an investment adviser assistant with CIBC Wood Gundy in Kelowna. The girls all played soccer, with Lauren spurning an offer of a scholarship to a school in the U.S.