After retiring from Vikings due to medical issue, Mike Harris now seeks return to NFL

As an NFL uniform inspector, former offensive lineman Mike Harris is on the field for each Minnesota Vikings home game. He invariably thinks about what it would be like to still be playing.

Former Minnesota Vikings offensive lineman Mike Harris, currently an assistant football coach at Macalaster College, performs NFL uniform inspections before the start of a 2019 game at between Minnesota and Denver at U.S. Bank Stadium. (John Autey / St. Paul Pioneer Press)
We are part of The Trust Project.

As an NFL uniform inspector, former offensive lineman Mike Harris is on the field for each Minnesota Vikings home game. He invariably thinks about what it would be like to still be playing.

Harris was forced to retire from the NFL in 2017 after five seasons because of a congenital brain condition. He played for the Vikings from 2014-15, including starting all 16 games at right guard in 2015, and he spent 2016 on the non-football illness list.

"Every game I’m out there at U.S. Bank Stadium, hearing that (Gjallarhorn) blow, hearing the crowd going, I miss being on the field playing,’’ said Harris, in his first season working for the NFL to make sure players don’t have uniform and equipment violations during games.

Harris said there remains hope he could play again. He will go to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester in January and have tests done with the hope doctors will clear him to again take the field.

"That would be a cool comeback story, wouldn’t it?’’ Harris said. "It would truly be a miracle. But anything’s possible. I just turned 31, so I’m a little bit older, but my body feels great. The only thing that made me retire is just one little thing in my brain, but the rest of my body is excellent.’’


The 6-foot-5, 310-pound Harris, who also played for the San Diego Chargers from 2013-14, had a medical episode during organized team activities in June 2016 that led to his retirement. Following a practice, he returned to his home in Eden Prairie, Minn., to study his iPad and suddenly his vision became blurry, and he "felt like I was having a stroke,’’ Harris said.

Tests conducted at the Mayo Clinic eventually determined Harrison had a congenital condition known as brain arteriovenous malformation. The Mayo Clinic website describes it as "a tangle of abnormal blood vessels connecting arteries and veins in the brain.’’

There initially was hope Harris could return to play until doctors told him he had to retire. Harris had a procedure in 2017 to fix the defect and was told there was just a 5 percent chance of a recurrence.

Harris said the chance of a recurrence dropped a year ago to 2 percent, and he is hoping it will have fallen even more when he has his annual checkup in January. If he were to have a recurrence, Harris believes he would suffer double vision, migraines and high blood pressure.

Harris knows it’s a long shot that, even if cleared, a team would sign him. But he’s not letting that deter him.

"It’s a risk, it’s a big liability, but I feel like going to the Mayo Clinic, being around the best neurologists, if I get cleared by them, I’d get cleared by anybody,’’ Harris said. "But I’m willing to go anywhere. XFL. Canadian (Football League). I just feel like my skill and size is an asset.

"I think about playing again every day. I know it’s a long shot, but I’m not going to quit. I’m not going to completely hang up my cleats.’’

Harris is getting plenty of encouragement in his quest to play again. Harris, who serves as a trainer, has spent three days a week over the past two months working with former University of Minnesota quarterback and NFL tight end MarQueis Gray at the Training Haus in Eagan.


Gray suffered a torn right Achilles tendon in a September 2018 practice while with the Miami Dolphins and has had two surgeries since. Gray, who got to know Harris well when he played eight games for the Vikings in 2014, is hoping to return to the NFL next season.

"He’s getting me back in shape, and I believe he has every right to make a comeback,’’ Gray said. "He’s looking good. He’s still strong. Hopefully, it will work out and he’ll be able get back in. We’re all hoping for him.’’

Former Vikings punter Greg Coleman also is providing support. Coleman is the Vikings’ radio sideline analyst and also works as an NFL uniform inspector.

"If he got cleared, he might be a long shot, but I’m pulling for him and I’m in his corner,’’ Coleman said. "It would be an incredible story.’’

For now, Coleman has been impressed with the job Harris has been doing as a uniform inspector. While Coleman is in charge of monitoring Vikings’ uniforms at home games, Harris does it for visiting teams.

All NFL uniform inspectors are former players. After John Swain, a former Minnesota cornerback, stepped away from handling the visitors, Vikings hall of fame defensive tackle John Randle and Coleman were among those who recommended Harris last summer to take his place.

"It’s working out well (for Harris),’’ said Coleman, an inspector for more than 20 years. "He’s just recently out of the game, so he knows all of the nuances, all of the tricks of the trade these (players) will try. He’s approachable, but you look at his presence and he’s a no-nonsense guy, so he’s been doing a great job so far.’’

Including two preseason games, Harris will be on the sidelines for the 10th time at Minnesota’s regular-season finale Sunday against Chicago at U.S. Bank Stadium. His job will be to make sure Bears players comply with rules.


Harris checks players during warmups to ensure jerseys are tucked in, socks are the right color, and socks are high enough and pants low enough so that no skin is showing. He looks to make sure players have chin straps buckled, are wearing proper cleats and not wearing tinted helmet visors without prior approval from the NFL.

Any violations Harris sees, he provides a list to a team designee, often the equipment manager, with the request they be fixed before the game starts. Then Harris again checks for violations during the first half.

If there are still violations, Harris reports them to the team designee at halftime. He then continues his vigilance in the second half.

Harris takes photos of possible violations. He said there usually are about five per game that aren’t corrected.

After the game, Harris provides a form to the NFL with all possible violations listed and checks a box reading "corrected" or one reading "not corrected.’’ The NFL decides which players are fined, and Harris never knows anything about that.

"It’s going really well,’’ Harris said. "U.S. Bank Stadium is a great place to be, and I’m enjoying my job and I’m very grateful for it. Most guys are pretty clean. The biggest issue I’ll get is socks. You get guys that want to do their own thing with them.’’

Harris said he hasn’t encountered any significant issues. He did write up Arizona Cardinals rookie quarterback Kyler Murray for wearing a bandanna under his helmet that protruded out during an Aug. 24 preseason game.

During warmups before the Sept. 8 regular-season opener, Harris made note of Atlanta Falcons star receiver Julio Jones wearing an unapproved red and black helmet visor. However, it wasn’t worn in the game.

When the game ends, Harris’ work still isn’t done. He monitors media interviews to make sure players aren’t wearing gear that has a competing logo. Players are allowed to wear gear with the logo of the NFL or of Nike and New Era, which have deals with the league.

"The league is not about promoting other brands,’’ Harris said.

Harris said being on the sidelines has been invaluable for making contacts with coaches and officials with various NFL teams. Regardless of whether he returns to the NFL as a player, Harris’ eventual goal is to be a coach in the league.

Since his retirement, Harris has gotten into coaching. He was the offensive line coach for Hopkins High School in 2018 and recently completed his first season in that role for Macalester College.

"It was great,’’ Harris said. "I had my own office, and I got to come (to Macalester) and teach my guys.’’

Harris has another goal of eventually opening a training center for offensive linemen. When he works out with Gray, plenty of what he does is related to blocking

"He’s helping me regain my confidence in the run-blocking, pass-blocking aspect from an O-line perspective,’’ Gray said. "Being a tight end, you’ve got to run block as well as pass block.’’

Gray got to watch Harris up close when they were teammates on the Vikings. He liked what he saw.

"He was a very good player, very powerful, very explosive,’’ Gray said.

After being undrafted out of UCLA, Harris started at tackle in 12 of the 20 games he played with the Chargers from 2012-13. After being waived and claimed by the Vikings, he started at tackle in five of the 12 games he played in 2014.

Harris was moved to guard in 2015 and was a big success. He started all 16 games on a team that won the NFC North and played every snap during the season.

"He was just hitting his stride,’’ Coleman said. "It takes an offensive lineman a few years to really get all of the nuances to gel with the other offensive linemen. … He got stronger, he got faster, he got smarter. He was just coming into his own when the (medical issue) took place.’’

Now, Coleman is pulling for Harris to return to the NFL and defy the odds.

"There are a lot of great players that had a long shot (to return), regardless of whether they had issues, injuries or what,’’ Coleman said. "But that’s why they have a Comeback Player of the Year award.’’

What to read next
The Honkers missed out on the postseason again this year, but still brought plenty of excitement to Mayo Field once again.
A big sixth inning helped Rochester overcome a three-run deficit and finish off the sweep in Waterloo.
Rochester natives, longtime friends and tennis stars Jessie Aney and Ingrid Neel will be joining forces as they'll play doubles together in next week's Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati. The tournament is being run by Rochester native and former professional doubles standout Eric Butorac.
The Austin Bruins spent most of this week at Riverside Arena or at a hotel in Austin, as they held their annual Orientation Camp, where players were "off the grid" in order to bond as a group and learn what will be expected of them in the 2022-23 season.