December 3, 2015 in Sports
By Stephanie R. Jones
Perry Harrington had no notion of playing football beyond his days on the field for Lanier High School. Then he found out his talents as a running back could pay for his college education.
Harrington elected to attend Jackson State University where his skills surpassed those of other college players in the country.
Tonight Harrington will be inducted to the Southwestern Athletic Conference Hall of Fame during a ceremony in Houston, Texas.
Harrington, who played at JSU from 1976-80, went on to play professionally with the Philadelphia Eagles for four years and St. Louis Cardinals for two years. He retired in 1985.
He said he hasn’t kept up with football much since leaving the NFL but said the SWAC Hall of Fame designation is important to him because it allows him to share his football history with his three children, who did not have a chance to follow his career. “They were not a part of my football career, so it’s nice to be able to share this with them,” he said Tuesday.
“I never really thought about a career in football except that I got a scholarship and it just worked out that way,” said Harrington, whose classmates at Lanier, from which he graduated in 1976, nicknamed called “Super P.” “It was a combination of being in the right place at the right time.”
A highlight of his professional career, he said, was playing in Superbowl XV his first season in the NFL.
At JSU Harrington was one of two running backs to gain more than 1,000 yards rushing in a season; the other was Jeffrey Moore, who was inducted into the SWAC Hall of Fame last year.
Former head coach W.C. Gordon, who coached Harrington for part of his career at JSU, said Harrington’s speed was what stood out. “He ran the 40-yard-dash – the standard used by NFL recruiters when judging running backs – in 4.4 seconds,” Gordon said. “The best is 4.3.”
“And Perry was a very physical player for his size. He could block as well,” Gordon said.
Something that worked in Harrington’s favor was Gordon’s decision to run the wishbone offense. “Some people criticized the change, but I knew I had a lot of strong running backs in Perry, Jeffrey and others and not as strong a quarterback for a passing game.”
Other strengths Gordon said he saw in Harrington, who majored in finance, were his commitment to academics and his citizenship on campus.
Gordon said when he would present a new play to the team, Perry would go back to the dorm and work with other players to help them grasp it. “He brought his academic strength with him on the field,” Gordon said. “Lanier High School prepared him well for academic life at JSU.”
After retiring from the NFL, Harrington, 57, worked in banking and railroad marketing. He’s retired now.
Gordon added that Harrington was a “good citizen” and representative for the university, who carried himself in a manner that would never leave a blemish on the school.
Harrington said he attributes that to his mother, who raised him and his 11 siblings in Georgetown of Jackson. He was No. 9 among nine girls and two boys.
“He never had any problems with the girls or academics,” Gordon said. “When he would score a touchdown he wouldn’t slam the ball on the ground because (his previous JSU coach) Bob Hill told him and others ‘you didn’t do it alone,’ that his teammates helped him get into the end zone,” Gordon said.
Gordon compared Harrington to JSU legend Walter Payton because of speed, skills and work ethic.
Harrington humbly said there’s no comparison. He said football was a means to an end and wasn’t something he was chasing. He wanted the education.
He said he would advise young athletes to “get all you can out of your university academically. Get that degree.”
As for athletes, he said, “work on fundamentals in whatever position or sport you’re playing.”
Gordon also mentioned the commitment Harrington and other alums have exhibited toward JSU. “Those guys were tremendous football players but they loved the university as well. People like Perry and Jeffrey are still fond of it. They are very supportive of JSU.”
Harrington, who is a member of the Mississippi Retired Players Association, said he didn’t realize the social and cultural part JSU as an HBCU offered players and other students until he went to the NFL and talked with players who had gone to larger predominately white schools.
“I enjoyed my college career but didn’t realize until I moved on to professional football, talking to guys who went to larger schools, the cultural part of it, was missing for them. You don’t realize or appreciate the relations you build with teammates, other students and the faculty and staff until you’re gone,” Harrington said.
Stephanie R. Jones can be reached at (601) 454-0372.