Harry "Flash" Clarke played on Chicago Bears championship teams in 1940, 1941 and 1943. He was a two time All-Pro with the Bears. He is also a member of West Virginia University’s all time team for the years of 1930-39.
Clarke grew up in Uniontown, and played high school football for the Uniontown Red Raiders. Clarke recalled his high school days. "We never did have a great team until Pauly Fagler came in from South Union.
“My last year we had a fairly good team. I think we only lost one game that year. So, from there I went into college. I went to West Virginia."
WVU was not Clarke’s first choice as a college.
"I had an appointment with Jock Sutherland. He was head coach at Pitt back then," Clarke said."Pitt was number one the last maybe five or six years when I was in high school. They were great. They always had great teams. Anyone around Uniontown or western Pennsylvania always wanted to go to Pitt because they had a lot to offer.
“I had an appointment with Jock Sutherland, the headman. I drove from Uniontown to Pittsburgh after I got out of high school. Back then they didn’t have good cars like they do now. That was a long trip. I had a 2 o’clock appointment with Sutherland. I was there for maybe about 2 hours waiting for him from about a 2 o’clock till it was getting to about 3:30 to 4:00. I was getting kind of edgy, I was getting ready to go home.
"About that time this fellow comes in and says,"Sonny, who are you waiting for? You’ve been here quite awhile." I said, "Yeah, I’ve been here 2 hours." I said, "I came to see Coach Sutherland." I said he was going to straighten out my scholarship here at Pitt. So he told me, 'he’s out playing golf and won’t be back today."
So I said, "Well, if that’s what he thinks of me, I’m just going home and he can just forget all about me.
“But the next Monday he was up in Uniontown at the high school and wanted to see me. I just told him I wasn’t interested any more. I said I thought I would be going to West Virginia. That’s the way it ended up."
Clarke never regretted his decision to go to West Virginia and had a productive career with the Mountaineers.
"Yeah. My sophomore year we played in the Sun Bowl. Our record was 8-1-1, which was a good record. The only team that beat us was Pitt. The second oldest bowl back in that time was the Sun Bowl - Rose Bowl, Sun Bowl. We won the bowl game 7 - 6 (Over Texas Tech)." Clarke rushed for 132 yards. "I ran 92 yards for a touchdown, but they had to call it back. We really enjoyed the trip and everything."
Clarke netted 921 yards rushing as a junior at WVU, which stood as the school record for several years.
After Clarke graduated from West Virginia in 1940 he was drafted in the eleventh round of the pro football draft by the Chicago Bears.
"I roomed with Joe Stydahar one year," Clarke said. "Joe came back to WVU to finish his degree. Joe was a big Bear man, one of the best. And Joe said," Harry, with your credentials and everything, I’d like to see you go to the Chicago Bears. I think you couldn’t do much better elsewhere." So, through Joe and George Halas I ended up with the Bears."
Clarke did not make an impression on Halas at first.
"When I was watching a scrimmage there, Clarke remembered. "I said, "Coach, I’ve been standing here a long time. When am I going to get a chance at it and show you what I can do?" He said, "You just wait there and I’ll tell you when you’ll get your chance.
“So back and forth we’re scrimmaging and a big guy named Joe Maniaci caught a punt and was coming down the sideline and I thought maybe I’d just put a flying block into him. When I hit Joe, he weighed about 235. He was a big, big man. That was big back then. When I woke up my eyes were crossed. Halas said, "Gee whiz, Clarke, if you’re eyes are crossed maybe you’re too light for this game." But that was just one of the incidents I had with George that came up."
Halas eventually grew to like Clarke and decided to keep him on the team after Clarke performed well in a couple of exhibition games.
"They had four games in the east, exhibition games," Clarke said. "They would make that trip, go back to camp and then start the season. Halas called me in and he says, “Clarke, I think you’re kind of light for this game." I said, I weigh about 183 to about 187." He says, "I’ll tell you what, we have a farm team at Newark, New Jersey, go play those four games in the east. Then at the end of the trip you can be dropped off at Newark and stay there until you get some weight on you." I said, "Geez that would be another year I have to wait.
“We played the Giants and I had a real good game against the Giants scoring twice. And then against the Redskins I had a couple of touchdowns. When we got to Newark, I was just sort of rattled and you know, kind of felt bad. So Halas came over and said, "well, looks like you’re going back to Chicago." That made me a happy man."
The Bears won NFL Championships in 1940, 1941 and 1943. When you look at those teams they didn’t call them the 'Monsters of the Midway' for nothing. They had players like Sid Luckman, George McAfee and "Bullet" Bill Osmanski. It was like an All Star team in the locker room.
Clarke had a good relationship with star quarterback Sid Luckman.
"Sid was a good friend of mine, Clarke stated. "I always thought a lot of Sid. He used to tell people and different coaches that he used to have a favorite pass play, "stop and go" or "hook and go." He always said that I ran that pattern better than anyone did on our squad.
“So I felt pretty good about that. Until the day he died he always said ‘Here comes old hook and go or stop and go Clarke.’ He and I got along real well."
1940 is a championship game that is remembered for the 73-0 rout of the Washington Redskins. Clarke was the only player in a game that included 12 future Hall of Famers to score more than one touchdown.
"I think my first touchdown was around 44 yards, Clarke recalled. "And then we had a chance to score more, but towards the end of the game the referee came over and called both teams together and says, "From now on when you make a score or a touchdown you’ve got to either pass for the extra point or run it because this is the last ball we have." Back in those times when the ball would go in the stands, that would be it, the fans kept it.
“I scored the last touchdown. It wasn’t much of a run, maybe one yard. I was thinking about that and I guess the referee was right. If we would have kicked it the game would have been stalled or called. Time ran out on this last play. We were lucky that we didn’t have to worry about losing the ball."
His finest season with the Bears was in 1943. He rushed for 556 yards, third best in the NFL, and was named to the all-league team. He also averaged an NFL-high 15.8 yards on punt returns.
After his career with the Bears, Clarke left in 1944 and went to the Navy for 3 years and then came back with the old All America Football Conference and the Los Angeles Dons.
The interesting thing about the Dons was their ownership. They had a star studded ownership.
"Yes we did," Clarke laughed. "Three of our owners were famous. There was Bing Crosby, Don Ameche and Bob Hope. Bob Hope and Don Ameche came to the games more than Bing did. Bing was always on the golf course. Bob Hope was quite a fellow. So was Don Ameche.
“I was captain my first year out with the Dons. Don Ameche would always have a meeting every Monday after the ball game. If you lost, he wanted to know why you lost and how you could have avoided it. And if you won he gave you congratulations and everything that went with it.
“After I got out of football he set me up with Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. My wife said, "Honey, you traveled a lot when you were just playing ball and now you’re traveling more with that beer job." I’d go to all the 48 states that I had to cover. I stayed with them three years then got in business for myself."
Clarke returned to West Virginia and went into business.
"I got into the hydraulic business, Clarke said. "From there I branched out and had a part ownership in a golf course right outside of Morgantown. I fool around with golf a little now. I’m just sort of retired and taking it easy."
Clarke is left with his memories and his scrapbook.
"I’ll flip the pages and look things up," Clarke mused. "Salary wise back then was very small. Any more these guys sign a contract and they give them a million dollars just to sign. My top wage was around $12,000. That was pretty good money back then. But I wouldn’t change a thing I’ve got some great memories."
A native of Cumberland, Md., Clarke owns the distinction of being a member of Halls of Fame in three states: West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania. He was inducted into the WVU Sports Hall of Fame in 1993. Clarke passed away on December 30, 2005.