"Buffalo" Bill Harris Passes Away
BOULDER — "Buffalo Bill" Harris, a star running back for the University of Colorado football team in the early 1960s who would later head the school's Alumni C Club, passed away Tuesday in Marina Del Rey, Calif., after a long illness. Surrounded by family, he was 79.
Harris was named Alumni C Club director in May 2001 and would serve in the position for over nine years, the longest tenure of anyone in the position since it was created in 1996. He had returned to CU the previous October to work in CU's Alumni Association office, specifically to strengthen the Black Alumni Association on campus. He continued to work in that capacity after moving over to athletics.
As a player, he earned the nickname "Buffalo Bill" and lettered three times from 1961 through 1963; he led the team in rushing as a junior with 582 yards in 1962. He is one of 56 players in school history to have rushed for over 1,000 yards in a CU career (eighth at the time when he graduated and still 30th on the list with 1,486). His 2,411 all-purpose yards amassed via rushing, receiving and returns is 32nd (he was sixth on that list at the end of his career).
Following his playing days at CU, he was drafted by the NFL's New York Giants (14th round, 193rd pick overall); he went on to play three years in the Canadian Football League, first for Ottawa (in 1964) and then Calgary (1965-66). He would finish earning his bachelor's degree in Education at Montclair (N.J.) State University in 1968, and went on to earn his master's in both Sociology and Business from MSU in 1972.
"Bill just loved the University of Colorado, being a part of it and what he considered the CU family it represented for him," his wife Sue said. "It gave him such an opportunity for his life going from New Jersey to Colorado and meant everything to him.
"On his recruiting trip, (Coach) Sonny Grandelius picked him up at the airport in Denver and on the way to CU, parked at the crest of the turnpike into Boulder. When Bill got out at the scenic overlook spot, he told Sonny, 'This is for me.' And the rest is history."
His long-time friend of 62 years, John Meadows, was in the 1960 football recruiting class with Harris and had remained close to him ever since.
"Bill and I came to CU as freshman football players, and we became immediate friends," Meadows said. "Bill is one of the nicest, caring and loyal friends one could ever have. He was able to work with anyone because of his innate ability to get along with everyone. He was the most forgiving person I have ever known. Like the saying goes, we were like brothers from another mother."
"We have lost a true Buffalo, easily one of our all-time greats," CU athletic director Rick George said. "But more than that, Bill was a tremendous person who had such an engaging personality. Simply a friend to everybody."
"When I became the executive director of the Alumni C Club in 2019, there was one name I heard over and over, Bill Harris," Kimbirly Orr said. "Bill was beloved by the membership of the Alumni C Club and many members of the Board of Advisors. It is with a heavy heart we share in Sue and her family's grief."
Harris was also a long-time member of the selection committee for CU's Athletic Hall of Fame, and also served on the subcommittee for the annual Veteran's selection for the Hall.
His family relocated back to Colorado in 2000 from Englewood, N.J., where he had resided since 1974 and worked as a healthcare executive for over 25 years. He spent most of that time as an administrator at the Bergen Pines County Hospital and then as vice president of operations for the Bergen County Regional Medical Center. He was also active in the community, ranging from serving on the New Jersey Supreme Court Arbitrary Committee and Community Chest work to 14 years coaching Little League baseball.
Harris was also active in the National Football Foundation and College Football Hall of Fame chapters in both New Jersey and Colorado. A board member for several years for the Bergen County chapter, he received their Distinguished American Award in 2001.
He was born May 30, 1942 in New Jersey and graduated from Hackensack (N.J.) High School. Considered to be one of the best running backs ever produced in northern New Jersey, he scored 290 career points including a then-record 162 with 27 touchdowns as a junior in 1958. He was named to the Bergen Record's All-Century Team and was the leading vote-getter for the 1950s All-Decade team.
A U.S. Army veteran, he served in Korea, in which one of his assignments included patrolling the 38th parallel.
Harris, who will be cremated, is survived by his wife Sue of nearly 54 years (they met at CU in a Western Civilization class in Old Main); son Trevor, grandson Max and granddaughter Lila; and a brother Darryl; he was preceded in death by a daughter, Lisa. A memorial service is in the planning stages for later this spring.
"An Ode to William 'Head' Cornelius Harris."
(By classmate, track team member and 2016 CU Athletic Hall of Fame inductee, Jim Miller, as texted to the family.)
"Bill had a big head, a bigger heart, big muscular legs which were quick and fast with which he would burst up the middle or slant off tackle for significant gains leading CU to the 1962 Orange Bowl. Head was a New Jersey Hall of Famer. His friend and former high school peer, Bill Parcells, once quipped that Bill Harris was a man among boys when he often scored six or seven touchdowns a game as the running back for Hackensack High School.
At Ricardo place, his mother's biscuits were to die for; his dad, Neil, had a friendly laugh; and his PRIDE was great for brother Darryl, a fellow "New Jersey Hall of Famer" and state champion high school basketball coach.
We were walking on campus one beautiful spring day when Head said "Milla, I met this co-ed in biology class. She's so fine," he said "(What's her name?), Sue." From then on, it was Bill and Sue; Sue and Bill. We never saw Billy with another woman. Billy dedicated his life to his clan: Sue, Lisa, Trevor, Max, and Lila. They were his life!
Head was full of love. He LOVED the University of Colorado and Boulder. With the force of his personality, popularity, and leadership abilities honed as a hospital administrator, he almost single-handedly resurrected CU's Alumni C Club from the dust bin. Alumni would join, donate, and participate just because Bill asked. He loved to laugh and reminisce about life on campus and CU's football of the '60s; what a great Assistant Athletic Director.
In one way, he reminded me of my father, who was born in 1906 and grew up with sayings such as, "early to bed early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise. "My father said to me," if you can't say anything good about someone, don't say anything at all. " Well, I never heard Bill Harris spend time downgrading another person. He surely did have opinions about behavior, but he focused on the good memories he had of people and the good in them.
Head, while we will miss you, you are alive in our hearts. We know you are now with your buddy Spider (Jim Davis) preparing for mischief, with Lisa watching."