From the Bench: With "The Play's" 35th Anniversary at Hand, Rewinding to Major Harris' Breakdown of It

By Jeff Toquinto on August 27, 2023 from Sports Blog via

Editor's Note: This blog ran 10 years ago, when the headline read "25 Years later," and now we're on the cusp of the 35th anniversary. Even more unique is when this ran on August 14, 2013, WVU was looking at playing Penn State again in 2020. Now, WVU will open up the 2023 season in Happy Valley. This is, without a doubt, one of my favorite blogs and was prompted for running again after the video randomly showed up on a Facebook feed of "The Play."
When the history of West Virginia football is written, there will be a chapter involving Major Harris. And there will be a page dedicated to a game in 1988 against Penn State, a long-time rival for the Mountaineers that had actually become almost an automatic win for the Nittany Lions.
Because of that, the game in 1988 would take something special for it to change the perception of a one-sided series of games that one program considered a rivalry and the other likely did not. It would take a beat down of Penn State to even make it possible to consider. Or better yet, it would take a special moment, a play that would make this game 25 years ago live in infamy.
As it turned out, the game got both. There was a 51-30 beat down on national television with Brent Musburger calling the action. Yet, even that wouldn’t have been enough to have Mountaineer fans still talking about it a quarter of a century later.
What it took wasn’t a play to keep the game relevant all these years later. What it took was “the play.” A play orchestrated by the beloved Major Harris that was busted from the beginning but ended in end zone redemption.
The score didn’t win the game, but it forever won the hearts of the Mountaineer faithful for Harris. And as Harris looks back, he fully understands the significance of the moment.
“You know, it’s almost safe to say the game that year with Penn State was the apex of my career. The Fiesta Bowl, without a doubt, was bigger, but when it comes to a winning game that was tops for me in the career that was it,” said Harris. “We’re playing on national television, we’re trying to move up in the rankings and I know we were already ranked higher, but there was this sense that we were the underdog.”
Almost immediately, there was a sense that not only was WVU going to win this game in front of a packed, rowdy and somewhat inebriated stadium, but they were going to dominant in doing so. The final score of 51-30 wasn’t even close to just how thorough of a thrashing the Mountaineers would administer.
Here’s the thing: Ask someone the final score from that game and I’m betting they won’t remember. Ask someone about Major Harris’ play, and if they were outside the womb at the time they’ll remember.
“It was a situation where I called the play in the huddle and the clock was winding down so I was hurrying the guys up to the line. In the process of telling them what was going on, I couldn’t remember everything about the play,” said Harris. “When I saw the clock running down all I could remember it was an option and I ended up running the wrong way and, well, the rest is history.”
History in the sense that Harris not only waltzed through the PSU defense on the play, but managed to make almost the entire unit miss and look foolish in the process on his way to a 27- yard touchdown run that resonates  to this day. I was 20 years old when it happened and I still get chills watching it on replay. I got chills listening to Harris recall it when talking with him. Harris said he knew it was special almost immediately.
“After it happened, yes, I knew that it was a pretty big deal. As it was happening, I remember going around the first guy and then the second. Then, I was like, I’m going to score even though I went the wrong way,” said Harris. “When you think about it, it was just crazy how it happened.”
Harris said he hears about the play – regularly. Most of the comments, he said, come from West Virginians and that, he said, makes it even more special.
“Everyone still talks about it. More than most of the time, it’s someone from West Virginia that brings it to my attention. You’ve got fans from other states, even New York and New Jersey, that remember it, but not in the same light. For the people of West Virginia to still bring it up after all of these years, man, that’s big,” Harris said. “When you tally up all that’s gone on with the program and that’s one of the plays they still talk about, you get a chance to see how big it was. I get that from the fans and I really appreciate it.”
Harris also is appreciative that the Penn State-West Virginia football series has been reportedly renewed in 2020 (it's now actually this year). While it’s still a ways off, Harris said there’s nothing a guy like him values more than seeing the Nittany Lions back on the schedule.
“Man, that’s big. I guess since I’m from Pittsburgh I see the entire series a little bit different because, growing up, Penn State was always the team I was impressed with. A guy from Nebraska wouldn’t see resuming this series like me or someone from West Virginia,” said Harris.
Harris is quick to admit that he grew up fascinated with Penn State. And he was also fascinated with the late Coach Joe Paterno.
“Joe Paterno was the greatest coach in college history and to have them on (WVU’s) schedule or anyone else’s schedule was a great recruiting tool, especially if you were from Pennsylvania,” said Harris. “I think how I felt about Coach Paterno made our games with them so much bigger.
“Today, a lot of people look at Penn State and talk about Coach Paterno and, whatever happened, I think we agree it was wrong,” Harris said. “But when you go back and talk about Penn State back when I was playing and he was coaching, you were facing one of the all-time great programs. To beat them and be remembered for something like that play is something that’s fine with me. I’ve got no problems with that.”
Editor's Note: Top photo and cover photo courtesy of The Dale Sparks Collection. Anyone wishing to purchase this iconic photo, or thousands of others from WVU sports, wisit or his business at 160, Pleasant Street, Morgantown. Bottom  photos of Major Harris versus Penn State and bottom photo of Harris against Oklahoma State courtesy of WVU Sports Communications.

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