On reflection, it was probably at the indoctrination ceremony of the University of Miami's prestigious Iron Arrow society in 1974 that Dennis (Herc) Harrah formed a philosophy of life, which could be reduced to: Either lighten up or hand me the beer opener. Why Iron Arrow tapped Herc (short for Hercules) is a mystery. After all, it generally draws its members from the school's brightest lights—future lawyers, budding politicians and the like. Herc once put his fist through the door of the campus police department, if that sheds any light on the man. He also used to take the money the university gave him for books, buy the nicest ones he could find—business-law texts were especially choice—keep them a few weeks and then sell them back for beer money. Practical Business 101, as it were.
One thing Herc excelled at was knocking the lunch out of other collegians on Saturday afternoons, which explains why he was about to become a bona fide "Eye-urn Arruh," as he put it. One by one, Herc's fellow inductees came to the podium, where they were asked to answer a number of questions about the school's history, recite the Iron Arrow incantation and then, standing with their backs turned, cast an ancient Indian arrowhead into the Sea of Life, a body of water whose whereabouts remains unknown to non-Iron Arrows.
This ritual was just a formality for most inductees. Herc, however, was not terribly well prepared. He didn't fare so well on the quiz, fanning on every question. ("Hell," he says, "if I'da known there were going to be questions. I'da brought a crib sheet.") He was woefully unpracticed at the incantation. And when it came to casting into the Sea of Life, he used the snapped-off head of a 19-cent arrow from K Mart.
The Iron Arrow president was outraged, as were many others of the tribe, but Herc was unremorseful. In fact, he laughed in their blue faces. "The man told me I was the sorriest excuse for an Eye-urn Arruh anybody'd ever seen," says Herc.
From then on, Herc decided that "if I'm awake 15 hours, I want to laugh for 14 and maybe eat the other." And the best way Herc knew to do that was to continue knocking the lunch out of guys. This fall he celebrates his 13th year of doing exactly that as an offensive guard for the Los Angeles Rams. He has been All-Pro five times and in 1985 was voted to the alltime Rams team. In fact, nobody has done it better while having as much fun as is earthly possible without being shot or killed. Not that Harrah hasn't come close.
There was the time three brothers in a biker bar in Harrah's hometown, Charleston, W.Va., walloped him over the head with pool cues 15 times, which pretty much settled a dispute about who got to play the next selection on the jukebox. There was the time Herc crawled out of a brand-new Blazer after rolling it down an embankment. There was the time he smashed his Dodge Dart into a tree on the Miami campus, after which he snuck out of the car and removed the plates. The car sat next to the tree for most of the semester. And there was the time Claude Humphrey of the Philadelphia Eagles coldcocked him for going after Humphrey's bad knee one time too many.
These incidents aside, though, it has been good, often clean, fun. Like the time in Atlanta when Herc and his roomie, guard Russ Bolinger, had been out having a few refreshments. They barely made it back to the room before the midnight curfew. To make sure the players were tucked in for the night, an assistant coach went around to each room accompanied by a hotel security guard. The hotel was one of those jobs with a 20-story lobby. Well, on this night, the guard, a beefy type, got a little ahead of the coach and barged into Herc's room without knocking. "You go back outside and knock!" said Herc.
Using very few words, the guard indicated that he had no intention of complying. Herc and Bolinger leapt out of their beds, wrestled the guard to the floor, grabbed one ankle each and proceeded to dangle the man 14 stories above the lobby until they decided his apology sounded sincere. Only then did they save the man from the Express Check-Out.
O.K., maybe some people don't think Herc's act is all that funny. The Dallas Cowboys' Randy White, for instance, seemed unamused when Harrah put heat balm in his jock one day before the Pro Bowl. White jogged out to practice and, after about five minutes, came sprinting back in, peeling off clothes. Shortly thereafter Herc found himself up against a wall, two feet off the ground with White's knuckles around his throat. Strange, the myriad other guys whose jocks Herc has treated with heat balm think the prank is funny.
"I am the No. 1 guy in the country for putting heat in people's jocks," says Harrah. No question about that. He has even tried—though in vain—to leave his high-temperature calling card in Rams coach John Robinson's underwear.