Sunday, August 31, 2014

Harrison was one of a kind for Steelers

By Scott Brown
August 30, 2014

PITTSBURGH -- The closest I ever came to experiencing what an NFL quarterback faced when playing against James Harrison came in October 2008. 

A couple of days earlier, the Pittsburgh Steelers had beaten the Jaguars in Jacksonville, but Harrison had been furious after the 26-21 win -- and rightfully so since he had been held more times than a newborn baby. 

As the visiting locker room at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium started to empty, Harrison groused to longtime Steelers beat reporter Mark Kaboly and me during an interview that maybe the officials had money on the game. 

We wrote it. Roger Goodell read it. And Harrison received an envelope from Park Avenue. 

It included a $25,000 fine and a letter explaining that he would be making a generous donation to one of the charities that the NFL supports because of something I had written. 

Yeah, yikes. 

I had the good fortune the first time Harrison did a group interview after getting fined to be on the other end of the Steelers' locker room since one of my colleagues was in on the scrum. 

I felt really lucky when I was later informed that Harrison had said, “Which one of you m-----f------ is Scott Brown? You owe me $25,000.” 

That was the last I heard of that debt, though I did briefly consider walking up to Harrison one day and handing him $25,000 in Monopoly money. I wisely figured that joke might not play well for several reasons. 

James Harrison was ornery. James Harrison was intimidating. And James Harrison was unpredictable. 

Let me add this in the wake of Harrison announcing his retirement Saturday morning via social media: James Harrison was one of the greatest success stories in the fabled history of the Pittsburgh Steelers. 

Let that sink in a little bit. 

And then consider that Harrison was cut three times by the Steelers before finally sticking with the team in 2004. 

He bided his time on special teams for three seasons before the Steelers unleashed a raging bull on the rest of the NFL. 

Harrison both terrorized and tormented quarterbacks after taking over at right outside linebacker for perennial Pro Bowler Joey Porter, earning the nickname "Deebo" from his teammates after the terrifying neighborhood bully in the movie "Friday." 

Harrison piled up 54 sacks from 2007-11, and his 64 career quarterback takedowns for the Steelers rank fourth in team history, two behind a guy named Joe Greene. Harrison became a perennial Pro Bowler, and the former undrafted free agent won the NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award in 2008 after registering 16 sacks. 

Harrison turned in one of the greatest plays in Super Bowl history at the end of that season when he returned an interception 100 yards for a touchdown. 

The Steelers don’t win a sixth Super Bowl title if Harrison doesn’t weave his way down the field, pinball off Arizona Cardinals tacklers and then collapse in the end zone with no time left in the first half. 

We may never see a play like that again. 

If it was an original, so was Harrison. 

He played with an edge. He also played on the edge, something that turned Harrison into the unwitting face of Goodell’s crackdown on helmet-to-helmet hits. 

His clashes with Goodell -- Harrison blasted the commissioner in a 2011 Men’s Journal story for which he later apologized -- may complicate his legacy a bit when it comes to the NFL. 

That is not the case with the Steelers, which is why so many fans were clamoring for the team to re-sign Harrison when he made it clear he wanted to return to Pittsburgh for one more season. 

It doesn’t look like he will get that second act with the Steelers. 

But what a first act it was for the inimitable James Harrison.

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