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Major Harris Way Introduced in Pittsburgh’s Historic Hill District

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In the heart of Pitt territory, a symbol to the greatness of West Virginia football now lies as legendary quarterback Major Harris (1987-89) witnessed the intersection of Reed Street and Elmore Street in the Hill District be renamed Major Harris Way in his honor.

The ceremony took place in front of at least a crowd of 100, many of which were former teammates, players (Harris coaches for North Hills High School currently), fans and family, including his mother.

”Growing up, there’s things you never expect,” said Harris. “Even going to college, playing on TV and different things like that, and then when you accomplish that, and you look back on it, you can appreciate it even more. But when you get older, and something like this happens, it kind of hits you on the spot, so basically, you’ve got to take it as it comes.”

Harris grew up in the Hill District, a historically Black neighborhood in Pittsburgh. The neighborhood is a center for Black culture and history in Pittsburgh. The area is most notably for the arts, specifically it’s history with jazz music, but has had multiple high-profile Black athletes, including Harris and 1972 NFL MVP running back Larry Brown.

”This is where I’m from,” said Harris when asked what the Hill District meant to him. “It’s all I really know. To come back home and have something like this happen, to me you can’t ask for a better spot for this to happen than where you grew up.”

The area has also been used as a symbol of Black oppression in the city. The Hill District was once a vibrant cultural center with more than 40,000 people living there. But various policies, most notably the building of the Civic Arena in 1961 which led to the demolition of many buildings and construction of new highways that acted as a barrier between the Hill District and Downtown Pittsburgh, isolated the area from the rest of the city. The area even went without access to a pharmacy or grocery store for thirty years.

As noted by Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey, who has ties to the Hill District and is the first Black mayor of the city, the street re-naming was just as much about honoring Harris as it was about recognizing Black heroes from the area to give the Black youth someone to look up to.

“A lot of times, particularly in the African American community, our heroes don’t get recognized. We don’t tell our young people why our heroes are so great. We don’t talk about it,” said Gainey. “But to make this a diverse city, to make integration our creation on why we can move this city forward, the stories of Major Harris have to be told.”

The stories of Harris are comprised of 5,173 career passing yards, 2,161 rushing yards and 59 career touchdowns (41 passing, 18 rushing). He was the second quarterback ever to throw for over 5,000 yards and run for over 2,000. Those combined 7,334 total was a school-record at the time and currently sits at No. 7 in school history, led by Geno Smith’s 12,004 career yards.

He was an All-American in 1989, ECAC Player of the Year in both 1988 and 1989, finished within the top five in Heisman voting twice (1988 – 3rd, 1989 – 5th), was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2009 and had his jersey number (No. 9) retired by the school last fall.

Perhaps his most memorable season was that 1988 season when he lead West Virginia to a undefeated 11-0 regular season record. It was the closest West Virginia ever came to a National Championship since finishing the 1922 season undefeated, as they faced No. 1 Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl making it essentially the championship game. They fell in that game against Notre Dame 34-21.

Prior to West Virginia, Harris played football at Brashear High School. He was a two-way player and was considering Pitt at the time, but the school only wanted him to play defensive back. Now he has a street renamed after him just a few minutes away from the rival that passed on him at quarterback so many years ago with just a few months to go before the renewal of the backyard brawl.

”[The rivalry] means everything,” Harris said. “Growing up here, at the time, Pitt Stadium was a 10-minute walk from here. It meant everything.”

The full ceremony can be found on our YouTube page WV Sports Now.

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