Harris Barton, from his right tackle position with the 49ers, protected two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks. Barton likened Joe Montana’s style to that of a symphony conductor, and said Steve Young was more like the leader of a “jam session.” Both quarterbacks produced beautiful music, but they couldn’t have done it without the bedrock-solid beat laid down by Barton over his 12 seasons in San Francisco. Born and raised in Georgia, Barton played college ball at the University of North Carolina. As the 1987 NFL draft neared, the 49ers ignored UNC’s pro day, instead sending assistant coach Bob McKittrick to stroll the North Carolina campus with Harris. Satisfied that this young man had the requisite character and desire to compliment his obvious gridiron skills, the 49ers selected Barton in the first round, No. 22 overall. He justified the team’s faith and judgment by playing 12 seasons and starting 138 games, including 89 in a row. Barton was runner-up NFL Rookie of the Year in ’87, earned a Pro Bowl berth in ’93, and was named All-Pro in ’92 and ’93. When Barton finally walked away from the game, he was wearing three Super Bowl rings–from the ’88, ’89 and ’94 seasons. A notoriously-obsessive preparer and worrier, Harris would arrive at the stadium six hours before kickoff, sit at his locker and stew, then channel that volcano of anxiety into ferocious and effective blocking. What he did for the team was never best measured by statistics and honors, but rather by the amount of soul and spirit he infused in the offensive lines that paved the way for a 49ers’ dynasty. Harris’ proudest achievement: “That I was able to contribute to the team.” In retirement, Barton became a successful asset manager and a leader in charitable causes, including his champion charities, which funds brain-tumor research at UCSF, in honor of his parents. In 2011 Barton was inducted into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. Harris lives in Palo Alto with wife Megan and their four children.
Narrative by Scott Ostler