Harris Barton was a pillar of strength on the San Francisco 49ers’ offensive line during their glory years in the late 1980s and mid-1990s.
With Barton helping protect quarterbacks Joe Montana and Steve Young, the 49ers juggernaut won three Super Bowl titles in a seven-year span from 1988 to 1994.
Barton helped San Francisco win many battles on the gridiron.
However, it’s his ongoing crusade against brain cancer that made him a household name off the football field.
Barton’s parents both had brain cancer – a twist of fate that urged him to launch Champion Charities in their honor in 2004.
Truly, Harris Barton isn’t just a San Francisco 49ers legend. He’s also a champion advocate in the truest sense of the word.
Harris Scott Barton was born to parents Paul and Joan in Sandy Springs, GA on April 19, 1964.
Barton is Jewish and grew up in the Atlanta area. He started playing football when he was five years old.
At the time, Barton saw a sign in Sandy Springs, GA that encouraged youngsters aged five to eighteen to come out and register for football.
That sign changed the course of Harris Barton’s life forever.
He attended the former Hebrew Academy (now known as Atlanta Jewish Academy) from fifth grade onward.
Barton then enrolled at Dunwoody High School in Dunwoody, GA.
#OTD in 1993 the @49ers crushed the @RamsNFL 35-10. Harris Barton, 10-year @NFL starter, played on the O-Line. Born in #SandySprings GA. attended Hebrew Academy of Atlanta, now known as the Greenfield Hebrew Academy & Dunwoody High School. Went to @UNC . cc: @atljewishaca @NFLPA pic.twitter.com/vXintQIQhG
— This Day in Jewish Sports History (@thetribeinsport) November 28, 2018
It was during Barton’s high school years when doctors first diagnosed his father with brain cancer.
Barton was an offensive lineman for the Dunwoody Wildcats. Barton earned DeKalb County MVP honors after his senior year.
Barton told The Southerner in 2019 around fifty different schools recruited him.
He decided to attend the University of North Carolina.
“I was recruited by fifty different schools, but I chose North Carolina for the education and the opportunity to get into a tough, out-of-state school,” Barton told The Southerner.
Barton became one of the all-time great Tar Heel gridiron warriors during his four-year stint at Chapel Hill, N.C.
College Days With The North Carolina Tar Heels
Harris Barton majored in finance at the University of North Carolina.
He would put this to good use at the end of his 12-year NFL career.
Barton was a four-year starter for Tar Heels head football coach Dick Crum from 1983 to 1986.
Barton started his college football career at center but eventually moved to his more natural offensive tackle position in his sophomore season in 1984.
North Carolina won eight games in Barton’s true freshman season in 1983.
Unfortunately, the Tar Heels lost to the Florida State Seminoles in the 1983 Peach Bowl in blowout fashion, 28-3.
North Carolina regressed in the next two years. The Tar Heels averaged just five wins in 1984 and 1985. They also didn’t receive a bowl invite during that stretch.
The Tar Heels were a tad better in the 1986 NCAA season. Their 436 yards of total offense led the ACC and ranked sixth in the country.
North Carolina’s 252.5 rushing yards per game also ranked them 10th in the nation.
It's time to have Harris Barton to honor in North Carolina for the College Football Hall of Fame Frame. Here he is in 2018, with wife Megan and four children Anna, Paul, Ellie and Jack. The oldest two played lacrosse in UNC. pic.twitter.com/inX9WUcwOv
— Destiny Hogue (@Dah15destiny) October 16, 2021
Harris Barton’s exemplary work on the O-line helped the Tar Heels become an offensive juggernaut.
The Tar Heels won seven games and received an invite to the 1986 Aloha Bowl.
Alas, the 16th-ranked Arizona Wildcats beat the high-scoring Tar Heels in Harris Barton’s final college football game, 30-21.
Nevertheless, Barton became the ACC’s Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman and a First-Team All-American at the end of the 1986 NCAA campaign.
Barton also excelled in the classroom. He became an NFF National scholar-athlete that year.
Harris Barton went on to become one of the greatest offensive linemen in San Francisco 49ers franchise history.
Pro Football Career
The San Franciso 49ers made Harris Barton the 22nd overall selection of the 1987 NFL Draft.
Barton became just the second offensive lineman the 49ers drafted in the first round. San Francisco selected Auburn Tigers center Forrest Blue 15th overall in 1968.
Barton was a highly-touted prospect 20 NFL teams sized up prior to the draft.
Ironically, the 49ers weren’t one of them.
Barton won San Francisco over when offensive line coach Bob McKittrick visited Chapel Hill, NC.
Instead of working out Barton, McKittrick enjoyed a tour of the North Carolina campus courtesy of the All-American offensive lineman.
Barton showed McKittrick the basketball gym, football field, and other campus attractions.
“We just talked,” Barton told 49ers.com some twelve years later. “I had no idea they were going to draft an offensive lineman.”
Next thing Barton knew, legendary 49ers head coach Bill Walsh – the brains behind the famous West Coast offense – rang him up on draft day.
— Carolina Football (@UNCFootball) May 1, 2015
ESPN first covered the NFL Draft in 1987. Barton was with his family members and friends at an Italian bar that had ESPN on cable television.
Barton loved the chance to play with superstar quarterback Joe Montana and safety Ronnie Lott – two teammates who eventually became his business partners some two decades later.
The young offensive lineman was also thrilled to play for a perennial Super Bowl contender in San Francisco.
Barton had never been to San Francisco before. He flew out to the Bay Area the day after the 1987 NFL Draft and fell in love with it, per The Southerner.
Barton replaced Pro Bowl offensive lineman Keith Farnhorst, a 14-year veteran who played his last season in 1987.
Barton told 49ers.com in 2009 Farnhorst was completely gracious about the transition. He even described Farnhorst as a “fantastic gentleman.”
Aside from Farnhorst, other 49ers’ offensive linemen such as Randy Cross, Fred Quinlan, and Bubba Paris welcomed Barton with open arms.
Barton promised himself he would show the same courtesy and return the favor to an up-and-coming rookie offensive lineman when he was on the verge of retiring.
Barton became an immovable force in the 49ers’ offensive line for the next twelve seasons.
His nephew Wills Barton said his uncle, who stood 6’4″ and tipped the scales at 286 lbs. during his pro football career, had been the biggest individual he’s ever seen.
“He’s the most immovable person that I’ve ever been around,” he told The Southerner in 2019. “If he’s blocking you, there is absolutely no way you’re getting past him.”
Montana and another Hall of Fame quarterback, Steve Young, benefited the most from Barton’s presence on the 49ers’ offensive line.
With Barton in tow, they didn’t have to worry about the incoming pass rush. He and the other offensive linemen gave them a clean pocket to work with.
Barton enjoyed the honor of playing with the two Hall of Fame signal callers. He also learned they were not only great players, but were also men of character.
When Barton saw the likes of Montana and legendary wide receiver Jerry Rice doing extra sprints and studying film all day long, he realized he needed to work harder than them, per The Southerner.
Barton’s rookie year was cut short because of the NFL players’ strike. When play resumed in 1988, Barton replaced Farnhorst as the starter at tackle.
Barton joined a formidable offensive line that featured Guy McIntyre, Jesse Sapolu, and Steve Wallace.
The quartet helped the San Francisco 49ers win back-to-back Super Bowl titles as the 1980s wound down.
For his part, 24-year-old Harris Barton earned a Super Bowl ring in just his second pro season.
#49ers tackle Harris Barton tells of how his quarterback, "Joe Cool", Joe Montana calms the troops before embarking on their game-winning 92-yard touchdown drive in the waning minutes of Super Bowl XXIII.
OTD in 1989 pic.twitter.com/jWeqyyUDdP
— Kevin Gallagher (@KevG163) January 22, 2022
The 49ers went 10-6 in the 1988 NFL campaign. They beat the upstart Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl XXIII, 20-16.
Quarterback Joe Montana’s 10-yard pass to wide receiver John Taylor in the fourth quarter sealed the win for the 49ers.
Barton didn’t expect San Francisco to emerge victorious.
“I had no idea we were going to win,” Barton told The Southerner in December 2019. “We had as good a shot as any. Montana was cool as ice; and there were 23 seconds to go in the game with the win.”
No wonder football experts called Montana “Joe Cool”: he was the epitome of grace under pressure. Harris Barton helped protect one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the National Football League.
The 49ers won their second straight and fourth overall Super Bowl title in 1989.
Behind third-year offensive lineman Harris Barton’s stellar play, San Francisco romped over the opposition that year.
Barton and Co. squared off against Reggie White’s Philadelphia Eagles on September 24, 1989.
Barton successfully thwarted White’s famous rip-and-club move that made offensive linemen look downright silly.
The 49ers had a 14-2 win-loss record in the regular season and faced John Elway and the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXIV.
This one was never close from the opening whistle. The 49ers won easily, 55-10.
Harris Barton already had two Super Bowl rings in just his third year in the pro football ranks.
“It was a dream come true to be in the league three years and to have won two Super Bowls,” Barton told the 49ers’ official website in 2009.
San Francisco was still an elite team in the next three seasons. The 49ers averaged almost thirteen wins per season from 1990 to 1992.
Unfortunately, they couldn’t get past the NFC Championship Game during that three-year stretch.
Barton admitted to Sports Illustrated’s Austin Murphy he was jealous of his 49ers teammate Steve Wallace when he earned a Pro Bowl berth after the 1992 NFL season.
When Barton found out Wallace made it to the Pro Bowl, the former checked in at the team office daily at 7 a.m. He studied video for an hour and hit the weights for an hour.
When Barton was about to finish his last few sets, his 49ers teammates began filing in.
Barton’s efforts paid off: he joined Wallace in the NFC roster of the 1993 Pro Bowl.
When Murphy interviewed Barton, it had just been several month’s since the latter’s father passed away due to brain cancer. He was fifty-six years old.
Barton told SI.com his Pro Bowl selection paled in comparison.
“For six years, people had been asking me, ‘Harris, if you make the Pro Bowl, is it going to change your life?'”
“I realized how unimportant it is. I learned to appreciate my family.”
The unthinkable happened ten years later: Barton’s mother Joan passed away due to the same disease. She was sixty-two years old.
Paul and Joan Barton’s ordeals with brain cancer motivated their son to launch Champion Charities, a non-profit organization that raises funds to combat the disease, in 2004.
Barton continued playing at a high level from 1992 to 1993. He also became a two-time All-Pro selection during that span.
Harris Barton also helped take care of future San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan.
Shanahan was in high school when Barton and his 49ers teammates Tom Rathman and Deion Sanders took him out to dinner during training camp.
His father, Mike Shanahan, served as San Francisco’s offensive coordinator from 1992 to 1994. Whenever he had training camp meetings at night, the three 49ers stalwarts took care of his son.
Barton, Rathman, and Sanders brought the young Shanahan back before players’ bed check.
The young Shanahan came back and told his dad the three teammates “are really good guys,” per The Athletic’s David Lombardi.
Barton had a rough start to the 1994 NFL season – his eighth in professional football.
He tore his left triceps tendon in the season opener against the then-Los Angeles Raiders. Barton had to sit out the next seven weeks. Harry Boatswain replaced him at tackle.
Despite Barton’s injury, San Francisco still won thirteen games in 1994.
The 49ers annihilated the then-San Diego Chargers in Super Bowl XXIX, 49-26.
Harris Barton was a three-time Super Bowl champion.
San Francisco averaged twelve wins per year in Barton’s final four seasons in the National Football League.
Regrettably, they couldn’t advance past the NFC Championship Game from 1995 to 1998.
— Mindy Diamond 💎 Brack (@mindykdiamond) February 1, 2013
Harris Barton eventually decided to retire from the NFL at the end of the 1998 NFL season.
Barton was a stonewall on the 49ers’ offensive line for 12 years and was a cornerstone of their three Super Bowl-winning teams.
Without Barton, nobody knows how the 49ers would’ve fared from 1987 to 1998. With him around, they dominated the NFC year in and year out.
Harris Barton is a true San Francisco 49ers legend in every sense of the word.
Harris Barton, his wife Megan, and their four children Anna, Paul, Ellie, and Jack reside in Palo Alto, CA.
Shortly after Barton’s retirement, he and 49ers Hall of Fame safety Ronnie Lott founded Champion Ventures – a hedge, private equity, and venture capital fund company – in 1999.
They eventually recruited their teammate Joe Montana several years later. They renamed the company HRJ Capital to reflect their first names (“Harris,” “Ronnie,” and “Joe.”).
The 2008 recession hit the company hard, leaving $338 million in commitments without funds, per Bloomberg (via SFGate.com).
— Boost VC (@BoostVC) January 27, 2014
Barton is the founder and managing director of H. Barton Asset Management. The company manages $30 million worth of funds that focus on giving investment capital to VC-backed technology businesses.
Before Barton founded H. Barton Asset Management, he was a founding member of HRJ Capital, an investment firm that specializes in private equity funds.
Barton and Lott founded Champion Charities in 2004.
The charity has raised more than $30 million in its efforts to fight brain cancer and assist individuals afflicted with the disorder as of 2019, per The Southerner.
Barton is also a motivational speaker who helps and inspires disadvantaged youth.
Barton became a board member of the Roberts Enterprise Development Fund (REDF), a company that specializes in financial and intellectual capital as well as social enterprise, in 2007.
The Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame enshrined Baron in 2018.
The College Football Hall of Fame inducted Harris Barton three years later.
Barton became the sixth Tar Heels player to earn that distinction. He followed in the footsteps of former North Carolina football greats Art Weiner, Don McCauley, Charlie Justice, William Fuller, and Dre’ Bly.
“I’m truly humbled today,” Barton told the Tar Heels’ official athletics website. “Being inducted into the Hall of Fame for college football is an honor I never dreamt of. I’m honored to represent the University of North Carolina.”
What's it like playing in a loaded celebrity field at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-AM? 3x Super Bowl winner Harris Barton shared a memorable experience of being paired up with Bill Murray!#BillMurray | @49ers | @attproam | @JasonSobelTAN | @chantel_mccabe pic.twitter.com/75yuIaBBNt
— SiriusXM PGA Tour Radio (@SiriusXMPGATOUR) February 2, 2022
According to the 49ers’ official website, Barton likes to play golf in his downtime. He’s a regular fixture of the PGA’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am Tournament.