Marilla, who divorced Tim's father when Tim was very young and later remarried, says Tim was so hyperactive as a child "that we couldn't make him sit down for dinner. He'd take a bite, run into the other room, then come back for another bite."
She worried about the influences of the inner city, and he worried about the fact that college scouts were not watching him play much at Woodlawn High in Birmingham. So before his senior year, the family sent him to live with his mother's sister's family in Memphis. At Catholic High there Harris attracted the interest of college basketball and football coaches. He spurned football scholarships to UCLA, Ole Miss and Tennessee and a basketball scholarship to Nebraska to stay in Memphis and play at Memphis State, where he made a school record 47 career solo tackles for lost yardage. The Packers chose him in the fourth round of the 1986 draft.
Seven games into Harris's rookie year, Forrest Gregg, who was the Green Bay coach at the time, installed him as the starter at weakside outside linebacker. Harris will be there at least through next season—having signed a two-year, $1,185 million contract in August—and very likely for a decade.
Which means Green Bay should be an uncharacteristically noisy place in the '90s. Harris and his pal Stills can't get used to walking into the Packer locker room before game time because it's so, well, businesslike. "The other players look at us like we're crazy," says Stills. "But you can't play this game like businessmen. You've got to play like crazed dogs. Tim and I come in before the game and everybody's looking real serious, and we'll say something like, 'Woooohoooo! They're firing real bullets today, boys! Let's get 'em!' "
Harris was disgusted by the lethargy he sometimes saw in his teammates last season, and he's not close friends with anyone on the squad but Stills. At one point the pitiful Packers, who would finish '88 with a 4-12 record, were losing to the Lions in the Silverdome at halftime. Says Harris, " Coach Infante came in and told us, 'It's O.K., guys. We're going to get it together in the second half I got up and I started screaming. I yelled, 'It's not O.K.! We've got guys in here feeling sorry for themselves. Let 'em go home and have their wives take care of 'em!' "
Harris apologized to Infante on the plane home, and now he tells the story sheepishly. But Infante says he didn't mind Harris's outburst. "Sometimes you need that," he says.
The Packers had needed a wakeup call like that for years. Not until December of last season, his third as a Packer, did Harris play in a Green Bay win in Green Bay. He's pretty certain that the team's mediocrity in recent years accounts for his lack of renown. As the Packers improve, so will the recognition. "I'm young," says Harris. "It'll come. Even in Green Bay, it'll come."
"The country will know about Tim Harris soon," says Infante. And if it's slow in coming, Harris will just take matters into his own mouth.