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Former Calgary Stampeders star linebacker Wayne Harris dies at age 77

06/04/2015 06:18 EDT | Updated 06/04/2016 05:59 EDT
CALGARY - Wayne Harris, who was named the MVP of the Calgary Stampeders' Grey Cup win in 1971, has died at the age of 77.

The Stampeders confirmed Harris's death in a release Thursday.

Harris was drafted by the Boston Patriots of the American Football League but opted to play for Calgary, spending his entire 12-year CFL career in Alberta. The six-foot, 195-pound native of Hampton, Ark., was the league's top lineman a record four times and named a league all-star on nine occasions.

He participated in three Grey Cup games, winning in '71 when the Stampeders edged the Toronto Argonauts 14-11 on a soggy Empire Stadium field. Late in the game, Argos running back Leon McQuay fumbled and Calgary's Reggie Holmes recovered.

Harris was named the game MVP.

Harris retired in 1972 and the following year Calgary retired his No. 55. He earned the nickname "Thumper" because of his bone-jarring hits and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1976.

In a 2009 story on the CFL's website, Harris said a high school coach gave him the moniker.

"One of my assistant coaches in high school said that they could hear the thump when I hit someone all the way in the top row of the stadium,” he said. "That sort of stuck with me through my days in college and the Canadian Football League."

George Reed, the legendary former Saskatchewan Roughriders standout fullback, said Harris was a true competitor.

"I would say to anybody that I think Wayne Harris was my best competitor game in and game out," he said. "Sometimes he had the edge and sometimes I had the edge, but there were no hard feelings.

"We had some really raw battles."

Harris said he opted to play in the CFL rather than with the Patriots because it better suited his lifestyle.

"Basically the decision was made because I didn't want to go East, there are too many people down there," he said. "I wanted to stay in the West and I talked to a couple of guys at college who were playing up here and they really loved the CFL and told me it was really a first-class league.

"I'm sort of a loner and don't like a lot of people being around."

Harris said the ability to hold down a job outside of football in Canada also factored in his decision.

"Up here at the time you could also work too on top of playing football," he said. "You could only work out with your team once a day after training camp ended.

"Therefore you could have another job on top of playing football."

In 2012, Harris was chosen to represent the Stampeders on a stamp that was part of Canada Post's 100th Grey Cup anniversary series.

"Wayne Harris was a great player who meant so much to this franchise and to this city," Stampeders president Gordon Norrie said in a statement. "He was also a great man who will be missed and on behalf of the Stampeders organization, I extend sympathies to Wayne's wife Anne and his children Wayne Jr., Cooper, Heather-Ann and Wynelle."

Harris remained in Calgary after his CFL career ended and worked in the oil business until his retirement in 2008.

His son Wayne Jr. also played for the Stampeders and is currently head coach of the University of Calgary Dinos.

The elder Harris played collegiately at the University of Arkansas from 1957 to 1960. In his final season there he was selected as the outstanding player in the Southwest Conference and played in the Cotton Bowl Classic and the All-American Bowl.

Harris was inducted into the U.S. College Football Hall of Fame in '04. He's also a member of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame and named to Arkansas' all-century team for the 20th century.

In 2006, Harris was voted ninth among the CFL's Top-50 players by TSN. No linebacker was selected ahead of him.

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