Ronnie Harmon -- More Than a Third Down Back

Ronnie Harmon played in the NFL for twelve seasons after being selected 16th overall in the 1986 NFL Draft by the Buffalo Bills. Now at Western Illinois and ready to talk again, his demeanor is refreshingly honest. With the Chargers sitting at 0-5...

Are you ready to go on third down for the Chargers this year?

"See there you go again with that third down business," Harmon says laughing.

Harmon was a terror on third down. In 1992, a Pro Bowl year for Harmon, he had 79 receptions for 914 yards. His 79 hauls placed him 6th in the league in receptions, this from a running back. In the first 11 years of a 13-year career, Harmon averaged over 50 receptions a season.

His 582 career receptions left him fourth among all running backs in NFL history, behind only Marcus Allen, Roger Craig and Keith Byars. He also accumulated 6,065 receiving yards and 2,774 rushing yards.

Some would argue backs like Harmon and Byars paved the way for a new breed of running backs. Ones who could not only pound the ball, but contribute as a receiver with 50+ receptions a year.

"I don't think I had anything to do with that. They used me as the coordinator thought I would be best at like any team would do.

"I was just able to take advantage of the situation I was put in."

Just like any other back, Harmon thought he should have been used more in the running game. Call it the competitive nature of all athletes, but a healthy 4.5 yards per carry contributed to that theory.

"What athlete doesn't? That is open and shut – every athlete wants more."

So, based on that answer – you weren't happy with your role?

"No, everyone knew I didn't enjoy it. Even the media knew it. That is why they wanted a story about it. It was common knowledge that I didn't enjoy it, but it didn't matter whether I enjoyed it. That was my job. They weren't paying me to like it. They were paying me to play football.

That winning attitude earned Harmon team MVP in both 1991 and 1992, and earned him Pro Bowl status in 1992. Harmon was instrumental in the Chargers' drive to the Super Bowl in 1994, and went on to finish his career in 1997 as one of the most productive backs to ever play in the NFL.

"It helped because now I have to explain to kids that you have to have certain roles that you have to play, whether you enjoy it or not. So, it was a helpful thing.

"Once you get on the field, you are not thinking about your role. Days adding up leading to the game, that you wish you could be more involved in the gameplan. That is the most difficult part, not the game itself. Just all the days that you have leading up to it. You have time to sit back and think about it.

So you were disgruntled then.

"I wasn't disgruntled, I was more – I am looking for a word – I can't find a word to describe how I felt. I loved football that is why I am doing what I am doing. In life, you always try to look for more opportunities in things that you think you can do. That is what people in life fight towards. To do things that they can do and more of it. That is what life is about. You try to do something that you love.

The visor:

"Do you know that I was the first running back to wear a visor?

The smart aleck in me tells Ronnie, "That is why I am asking."

"Did you know I was the first? Can you name anyone else at that time that was wearing a visor? After that, everybody wore a visor.

I know he was not the first player, but the first back to wear one and I don't think he believed me.

"My friend, Martin Bales, he was at Buffalo with me. Then he went to San Diego and I went to San Diego and I saw him with a visor on. So I decided to wear one because I had never seen a running back with one on and then after that it helped me so much, I never wanted to take it off.

"I could se where I was going without anyone seeing my eyes. I was basically surveying the whole defense.

"What are your reasons for wearing it. That was my reason. I had a purpose. I found a purpose in wearing it and not just looks or anything, but I had a purpose. It helped my game. Anything that could help my game, I would wear.

Tinted visors are no longer allowed in the NFL, save special requests. It may be the very reason Ronnie explained for the banning of tinted visors.

The NFL has granted running back LaDainian Tomlinson permission to wear a tinted visor over his face mask.

Tomlinson was given the OK because his eyes are sensitive to bright sunlight.

Tomlinson has battled the problem since college. He has said he used to get severe headaches without the protection.

Speaking of which, have you watched LaDainian Tomlinson at all?

"No I haven't seen him. I have seen him in a highlight here or there. I haven't actually sat down and watched him play. I heard he is very good. Hopefully he can continue to do the things that they brought him there to do."

I guess Ronnie will not be coming to bail the team out this weekend in Cleveland.

Tomorrow we discuss the Super Bowl and he talks about a play in Buffalo that he has refused to discuss in the past. And he still claims he hates these interviews.

Denis Savage can be reached at

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