'All hell broke loose'

To Haden's credit, he went 5-1-1 in his seven regular-season starts and beat the Cowboys 14-12 in the first round of the postseason. But again the Rams came up short, losing 24-13 to Tarkenton's Vikings in the NFC Championship Game. Shortly after the season, Bayless wrote a three-part series about the chaotic quarterback situation. In February 1977, Los Angeles city councilman Dave Cunningham introduced a resolution protesting Harris' treatment by the Rams and the media.

In fairly short order, Jaworski was traded to the Eagles, the Rams picked up Joe Namath from the Jets and Harris was traded to the Chargers, where Prothro was then the coach. After his trade, a bitter Harris told Bayless, "I'm not sure people will ever accept or write the fact that a black quarterback can make it in pro football."

Jaws would go on to lead Philadelphia to Super Bowl XV; Namath would retire after only four games with the Rams; and Harris would play three undistinguished seasons in San Diego, mostly as a backup to Dan Fouts.

Harris: The Rams made me, but they also ruined me. I was never the same. My passion, my motivation was gone. After all I'd been through, I didn't want to go through any more.

McCutcheon: I totally understood the way he felt. He had done everything humanly possible to win the job. He was worn down by the whims of the front office; he was fed up with the racism of the fans. Any one of us would have said the same thing had we gone through what Shack went through: What's the use?

Knox: To this day, I think James Harris could have been one of the NFL's all-time great quarterbacks.

ON THE NORTHEAST CORNER of the National Archives Building in Washington, D.C., is a 1935 sculpture of a woman called Future, with an inscription from Shakespeare's "The Tempest": What Is Past is Prologue.

Inside the building are such documents as the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Emancipation Proclamation. And on this autumn evening, in the McGowan Theater of the Archives, a panel discussion -- "Breaking the Line: Sports as a Catalyst for Social Change" -- is being hosted by Samuel G. Freedman.

That's why James Harris is in D.C., to serve as a living document alongside black college football historian Michael Hurd and retired federal special agent R.C. Gamble, a former running back for South Carolina State and the Boston Patriots.

It's a lively discussion covering the struggles at Grambling, the legacy and future of the HBCUs and the encouraging number of black quarterbacks in the NFL.

Harris also talks about his struggles as a pioneer, that long-ago trip to Michigan State, the fear he felt in his first huddle with white players, the advice and support Eddie Robinson gave him, the shoddy treatment he got in Buffalo.

That walk into the furnace singed Shack a bit -- "My dream of becoming an NFL quarterback became a nightmare," he tells the audience -- but it also made him a powerful champion of possibility. He and fellow Grambling alum Doug Williams -- who became the first black QB to play in a Super Bowl (XXII, with the Redskins) and remains the only black QB to win one -- run a nonprofit foundation dedicated to helping mentor and develop minority students.

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