They are so much alike, in fact, that the captions under Harris' and Waters' mug shots were transposed in the NFC title game program.
Waters and Harris are company men, members in good standing of Tom Landry's Flex Defense—locally known as "The Machine" or "The System." As such, they submit, as do all good Cowboys, to long hours of homework—studying film and computer readouts. They hear defensive sets come in from the bench (just as Roger Staubach does on offense) and accept them on faith. Yet within those company-created bounds, where every component is supposedly built of interchangeable parts, there are considerable differences between them.
Waters—who like Harris is 30 years old—is an intense, quiet, analytical man who takes the game nearly as seriously as Landry himself. He is, in more ways than one, a "deep" defender.
"Charlie studies that computer output longer than anyone else on the team," says the more freewheeling Harris. "By game time he probably knows what the offense is up to more than they do themselves. He can expect a run and 'cheat' up to the line. Even though he's more restricted, in that he has to cover both run and pass, he studies so much that he can anticipate what a team will do in a given situation and play it accordingly. As the free safety, I have to wait a second before I decide whether to go for the ballcarrier or drop for a pass. He can gamble more than I can."
Waters, who came to the Cowboys nine years ago as an ex-quarterback and wide receiver from Clemson, believes that his balance is his greatest strength.
"It's not how hard you tackle," Waters says, "but how efficiently. If I've got the angle on a running back or a receiver, I'll hit him as hard as anyone can. But if I don't, I'll just try to bring the guy down. I study time-space relationships on the field. If a receiver explodes to a certain point where he thinks I'll hit him, and then I'm not there, I can use his own momentum to bring him down. I feel like I blend well with our defense. I don't do an outstanding job in any one area, but I'm as good as the players around me."
Such 19th century self-deprecation might be pleasing to Landry and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, but it rides like a hair shirt on the back of mustachioed, wisecracking Cliff Harris. A free agent when he came to the Cowboys from tiny Ouachita Baptist University in southwestern Arkansas, Harris takes pride in his ability to hack it with pro football's most demanding team, and his skill at hacking up opposing ballcarriers as well.
Though he communes with the computer on a dutiful, pro forma basis, Harris also relies on some Kung Fu condition that Cowboy coaches call "Tiger's Eye Awareness"—the ability to react instantly to any movement around him. Like Swann in his freewheeling rapport with Bradshaw, Harris is a man who feels a situation more sensitively than he thinks it.
Still, like anyone in The System, Harris does spend some time analyzing the opponent: mainly, he concerns himself with the rival quarterback's head. "I study his emotional responses," says Harris. "How he reacts when he's intercepted, sacked, or after he completes a pass. We have access to tight films shot from the end zone, and watching them is almost like being in the game itself. I try to read the quarterback's emotions, and from that I try to figure out what he's feeling. It helps me."
Waters and Harris complement one another on that score. "Cliff is forceful where I'm yielding," says Waters. "He can often dictate what an offense will do. It's a territorial game for Cliff."