Alvin Harper is back in the Dallas Cowboys' fold after 15 months away from football. He isn't in midseason physical form after signing a contract last Thursday, but there was nothing wrong with his mouth today as he talked about his last job as a reserve wide receiver for the Washington Redskins in 1997.
Harper never has been shy about expressing his opinions. The day the Redskins released him Dec. 1, 1997, he essentially called Coach Norv Turner a liar. During a lunch break here today, as the Cowboys prepared to play the Redskins Sunday at Texas Stadium, he was at it again.
Harper insisted he would get no special satisfaction from playing against Washington, or from scoring a touchdown. But with little prompting, he then took another shot at his former coach, who also was Dallas's offensive coordinator for Harper's first three productive years in the NFL.
"Norv knows he didn't do me right, didn't really give me a chance," Harper said. "I told him to release me if you're not going to play me because I know I can go somewhere else. The only time I really talked to him about it was when he released me, and I didn't really have any words for him. They lied to me."
Harper, 31, is likely to play Sunday for the Cowboys (3-2), who are depleted at wide receiver because of injuries and suddenly struggling on offense, with only two touchdowns in their past two games.
Harper was signed to add depth after Michael Irvin suffered a neck injury two weeks ago that will sideline him at least two months. On Monday night, in a 13-10 loss to the New York Giants, reserve wide receiver Wane McGarity suffered a dislocated shoulder and will be out two to three weeks.
"We'd like another week or two before we throw [Harper] in there," Cowboys Coach Chan Gailey said today after practice. "But he's got to go."
Harper's version of why things didn't go well in Washington after he signed a three-year, $3.55 million contract before the 1997 season contains plenty of revisionist history. He claims Turner told him before the start of training camp that year he and Leslie Shepherd would compete for a starting wide receiver spot.
"He brought us both in to a meeting and said no one is the starter now, and we'll evaluate it equally from here," Harper said. "But I never got equal anything."
Asked about Harper's comments today at Redskin Park, Turner declined to comment.
In reality, Harper sprained an ankle in training camp that slowed him considerably, and Shepherd simply beat him out with more consistent play. Harper was used during the 1997 season as a role-playing deep threat, and when Shepherd was injured late in the season, Harper also hurt his foot and was unavailable to replace him.
After a December loss to the then-woeful St. Louis Rams, when he was thrown to only once, Harper said, among other things: "It's ridiculous the way I've been used. . . . If I'm out there 60 plays, there's no way I'm not going to make some plays." The next day, Turner waived him, citing Harper's lack of production. For the season, he had caught two passes for 65 yards in 12 games.
Harper was claimed by the Saints for the final three games of 1997, but never activated. The Saints cut him early in training camp in 1998, and he returned to his home in Fort Washington and started working full time on his golf game.
But last month, Harper apparently had a change of heart, and perhaps, in attitude. In mid-September, Harper called Stephen Jones, the Cowboys' executive vice president, and wondered if the team would give him a tryout.
"He initiated it," Jones said today. "He said he'd been working out and getting in shape and wanted to try again. He said he felt like he had matured and was ready to focus on football again. I don't know what happened anywhere else, but we thought it was worth taking a look."
Harper said he got the itch to play again by watching football on television.
"I knew there were guys out there I could beat out again," he said. ". . . I was looking at the players who played my position. There is some ungodly material out there."
Harper worked out for the Cowboys Oct. 5. Irvin was injured three days later, and Harper was signed to a three-year contract for a minimum salary of $400,000, loaded with incentives.
"The situation I'm in I never thought I'd be in again," Harper said. "Walking in that stadium Sunday, I'm going to feel like a rookie. I think my skill level is the same as it was in Washington. I just never had the opportunity there. It's going to be fun. Maybe I can make a touchdown and dunk one over the goal post."