WVU Sports Hall of Fame
Written by John Antonik
Aptly nicknamed "Flash," Harry Clarke's blinding speed, shifty moves and intelligent play enabled him to achieve great success as a collegiate and professional football player. A key player on Marshall Glenn's great 1938 Sun Bowl team, Harry Clarke was certainly one of the most exciting players to ever play at WVU.
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Born December 1, 1916, in Cumberland, Md., Clarke was raised in nearby Uniontown, Pa. After a stellar high school career in both football and track at Uniontown High School, he accepted a scholarship to play at WVU in 1936. After playing a year on the freshman team, he went on to become a three-year starter at WVU from 1937-39.
During the 1938 season, the 6-0, 180-pound back rushed for a then school-record 921 yards. His highest rushing total as a Mountaineer came in 1937 against Xavier, where he carried the ball 28 times for 153 yards. Probably his best game, however, was his 132-yard rushing performance against Texas Tech in the 1938 Sun Bowl.
After graduating from the University in 1940, he was drafted in the 11th round by the Chicago Bears. As a late round draft pick, Clarke did the improbable and made the 1940 Bears team, later considered one of the greatest teams in NFL history. In danger of being cut before the season got underway, Clarke dazzled the Bear coaches with a two-touchdown performance against the New York Giants during the exhibition season to earn a spot on the roster. Rushing for 258 yards and two scores as a rookie, Clarke was the only player to score two touchdowns in the Bears' 73-0 win over the Washington Redskins in the NFL championship game -- the most lopsided championship win in NFL history.
Helping the "Monsters of the Midway" to two more NFL titles before joining the U.S. war effort in 1944, Clarke's finest year as a professional came during the 1943 season. Rushing for 556 yards, third best in the NFL, he also accounted for five touchdowns as a rusher, receiver and kick returner. For his efforts, he was named to the all-NFL team as a running back by both wire services.
While in the service, Clarke was stationed in the South Pacific with the Navy's 4th Fleet. After the war's end in 1945, Clarke returned to the West Coast where he also moonlighted as a player/coach for the San Diego Bombers of the Pacific Coast Football League until he was discharged from the Navy. Earning all-league honors, he led the PCFL in touchdown catches and finished third in overall scoring.
Joining the Los Angeles Dons of the newly-formed All-American Football Conference in 1946, Clarke played three more seasons professionally with the Dons and the Chicago Rockets before retiring in 1948. He finished his eight-year professional career with more than 1,700 yards rushing and 500 yards receiving.
After retiring from professional football, Clarke and his wife Lillian moved back to Morgantown where he worked in the hydraulic business until his retirement in 1978. Inducted into the West Virginia Sports Hall of Fame in 1977, he was also inducted into the Maryland and Pennsylvania halls of fame.
He died December 20, 2005.