Syracuse University Magazine

Sure-Handed Harrison Enshrined as NFL Great

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The third time proved to be the charm for Marvin Harrison ’95. In his third year as a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Syracuse’s all-time leading receiver earned the ultimate on-field honor in February when he was selected for induction into football’s most exclusive club. On August 6, Harrison was formally enshrined and his bronze bust presented at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio. Harrison joined seven others, including his coach with the Indianapolis Colts, Tony Dungy.

The induction capped a remarkable football journey for Harrison—one that started in his native Philadelphia, continued at Syracuse University, and concluded in the NFL with the Colts. In addition, he added to Syracuse’s indelible legacy in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Harrison, who coincidentally wore No. 8 for the Orange, became the program’s eighth inductee. “Being inducted into the Hall of Fame isn’t something that happens overnight. I’m very thankful and very grateful that this has happened,” Harrison told the capacity crowd in Canton. “I’ve worked extremely hard to get to this point.”

After a redshirt season in 1991 and contributing mainly on special teams the next year, Harrison broke into the Orange’s starting lineup in 1993. He used his soft hands and breakaway speed to catch 41 passes for 813 yards. His 19.8 yards per reception led the team, as did his seven touchdown catches. The following year, Harrison led the BIG EAST in receiving yards per game (76.1) and recorded four 100-yard games. He also showcased his ability as a return man, running back 18 punts for 165 yards to finish second in the BIG EAST in punt return average (9.2). 

In his senior season, Harrison became the target of a redshirt freshman quarterback named Donovan McNabb ’99. The combination was magic. Harrison set the school single-season record with 1,131 receiving yards. He posted six 100-yard games and propelled the Orange to a 9-3 record and a top-20 finish in both national polls. The Orange capped the season with a 41-0 thrashing of Clemson in the 1996 Gator Bowl, with Harrison establishing SU bowl records for receptions (7) and yards (173) in his final game in a Syracuse uniform. He also caught a pair of touchdowns.

In the 1996 NFL Draft, the Indianapolis Colts made Harrison the 19th overall pick. He contributed immediately, catching more than 60 passes in each of his first two seasons. In 1998, quarterback Peyton Manning joined the Colts and, much like when McNabb took over as Syracuse’s signal caller, the results were explosive. Manning and Harrison hooked up for an NFL-record 953 completions in their 11 years together, including 112 touchdowns, another league record for a quarterback-wide receiver tandem. In 2006, the pair guided Indianapolis to a Super Bowl victory over the Chicago Bears.

The Super Bowl title was one of many highlights in Harrison’s sparkling 13-year career. He was named to eight Pro Bowls and recorded eight 1,000-yard receiving seasons before retiring after the 2008 season. Harrison’s best season was 2002 when he shattered the single-season record for catches (143 receptions for 1,722 yards).

Harrison finished his pro career with 14,580 yards, which ranks seventh on the NFL’s all-time receiving yardage list, and he is one of only two players in league history to amass 14,000 receiving yards for one franchise. His 126 touchdown grabs are fifth all-time.

“You don’t go into the NFL saying, ‘I want to make the Hall of Fame.’ You want to make it to the NFL, you want to play well for your team, play well for your fans,” Harrison said. “All the pieces fell into place for me to where I was able to show my talent.”

Charming indeed.      —Mike Morrison