Harris, Sig : Jews In Sports @ Virtual Museum

Harris, Sig

Sigmund Harris

Harris was one of the greatest college football players in the early 1900s. Selected as quarterback on Knute Rockne's All-Time Jewish Team, Harris was also Minnesota's punter, punt returner, and defensive safety! Except for a 6-6 tie with Michigan in 1903, Minnesota won every game during the 1903 and 1904 seasons, almost all of them commandingly. In 1904, Minnesota outscored its opponents 725-12 (all 12 points were scored by Nebraska), and demolished Grinnell, 146-0. The 6-6 tie with Michigan, incidentally, was also the game which inaugurated "The Little Brown Jug" rivalry that continues today.

Birth and Death Dates:
b. July 2, 1883 - d. November 8, 1964

Career Highlights:
Born in Iowa, Harris's father was a Polish Jewish immigrant and his mother was from Chicago. When he was young, his family moved to Minneapolis, where "I went to Cheder. There was no other organization for Jewish education in those days. I lived some distance from the Jewish population in town. I always felt that I considerably missed Jewish life in not being in closer touch with our people." Interested in football from a young age, he played for the Minneapolis Central High School team and distinguished himself in 1900 against the University of Minnesota football team (the Gophers began each season with games against local high school teams) when his Central team held the powerful Gophers to a scoreless tie.

The following year, Harris enrolled at the Minnesota College of Engineering and Mechanical Arts and that season was the second-string quarterback behind "Gloomy Gil" Dobie, who later became a famous coach. In 1902, Harris became the team's starter and led the Gophers to a record of 10-2-1. They pounded Grinnell, 102-0, and defeated Phil King's Wisconsin team, 11-0. Harris later said of playing quarterback, "In those days, the quarterback usually called all the plays. Coaching from the sidelines was penalized. I took the ball from center on all plays except on punts when I, as punter, recieved a direct pass from center. I did not often carry the ball from scrimmage. I was the safety man on defense and handled the punts for return...I was not considered a very fast man. The thing I took greatest pride in was my punting."

In 1903, Sig was named first team Fielding Yost All-American, third team Walter Camp All-American, and first team Camp All-Western. He led Minnesota to a record of 14-0-1 as they outscored their opponents 656-12! The Gophers only tie was against Fielding Yost's Michigan squad that had not lost or tied in 29 games. In one of the most exciting college football games in history, the game ended 6-6 when Minnesota fans rushed onto the field and the game was called soon after because of darkness, even though minutes remained on the clock. The next day, a Minnesota custodian found a drinking jug left near the Michigan bench. Minnesota officials wired their rivals that Michigan could have the jug back by beating the Gophers on the football field, and the "Little Brown Jug" rivalry was born.

Many considered Minnesota's 1903 backfield among the greatest in history, but in 1904, the squad was even better. That season, the Gophers defeated all 13 opponents by a combined score of 725-12 and Sig was named third team Camp All-American. After graduating in 1905, Harris became an assistant coach at Minnesota, a position he held until 1920. He enjoyed other stints as an assistant with the Gophers (including with the 1936 National Championship squad), but was never offered a head coaching job. Harris said, "I never felt any anti-Semitism in my long contact with college football. I followed Minnesota football since I was 12-years-old. I guess Minneapolis football became a part of my life." George Barton, former sports editor of the Minneapolis Tribune said that Sig "was a dynamic little man who literally breathed Minnesota spirit, and was known and admired by thousands of alumni." Harris is a member of the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.

Dubuque, Iowa

Career Dates:
Sig played quarterback for the University of Minnesota Gophers from 1901-1904. He then became Assistant Coach at Minnesota from 1905-1920, and again from 1929-1941.

Physical description:
5'5 1/2", 140 pounds

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Great Jews in Sports by Robert Slater (New York: Jonathan David Publishers, 2000)
encyclopedia of JEWS in sports by Bernard Postal, Jesse Silver, and Roy Silver (New York: Bloch Publishing Co., 1965)

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