Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison (92) walks off the field following a 24-9 win over the Cleveland Browns in an NFL football game in Cleveland, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2016. (David Richard/AP Photo)
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When James Harrison was under the impression last week he had broken the Steelers' career sacks record, part of his reaction was extending his arms out wide and looking to the sky.
When it actually happened Sunday, Harrison's on-field reaction was much more reserved. But that doesn't mean he still wasn't — figuratively or literally — looking to the heavens.
Harrison's third-quarter sack in a 24-9 victory over the Cleveland Browns gave him 77½ in his Steelers career, surpassing Jason Gildon on the team's all-time list.
“We're proud of him,” fellow linebacker Ryan Shazier said. “It's no surprise to see the things he's achieving.
“It means the world.”
In the postgame locker room surrounded by teammates, Harrison showed just how much it meant. The stoic veteran, his teammates said, got emotional.
“I was thinking about my father,” Harrison said later, again appearing to get somewhat choked up. “How he's not here for it.”
Harrison's father passed away in May.
Several teammates mentioned the emotion shown by Harrison, whose workout regimen is legendary.
“He's one of the best that I've ever seen,” said quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who has been Harrison's teammate for more games than anyone on the roster. “I'm glad he's on my side. He probably won't like me saying this, but he got a little emotional here over it.
“It was pretty cool. We all respect him a lot, so we're so happy for him.”
Roethlisberger said the lone regret was Harrison didn't break the record at home. Harrison almost did — and many teammates maintain he should have been credited with doing so.
Harrison was deprived of half a sack in the third quarter of the Nov. 13 home loss to Dallas when he and Stephon Tuitt each wrapped up Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott.
“We said last week, ‘You gave us the long (extended arms) — and it didn't count,” fellow linebacker Arthur Moats said. “ ‘And now this week you get it, and you are just like, alright, whatever,' but afterward, when we came into the locker room … you could tell he was definitely happy.
“It's something he's worked extremely hard to accomplish. So for him to get that, he kind of just let it out, ‘Yeah, I did that.' So it was good.
“As a (linebackers') unit, and even as a team as a whole, we were all congratulating him. It was a big deal.”
For a while this season, it seemed Harrison might not attain the record. He entered the season 2½ sacks behind Gildon. Harrison was without a sack through seven games, but had two in a loss to Baltimore two weeks ago.
Coach Mike Tomlin on Sunday implied Harrison's lack of early-season production was, in part, because the Steelers were limiting his snaps so the 38-year-old would be more fresh late in the season.
Harrison this week practiced with the first-team defense for the first time this season. He started for just the second time this season and seventh time in 36 games since coming out of retirement early in the 2014.
“What are we preserving him for?” Tomlin said rhetorically. “That's why we played him today in the manner in which we did. I see him every day, so I am less amazed by him. Maybe I should be amazed by it, but we know that his production is not haphazard. It's not something mystical. He works extremely hard and does so on a daily basis.
“Happy for him, proud of him. The guys got a little emotional in there today because they have so much respect for him and how he goes about his business.”
Harrison called the displays of adulation from his teammates, “a tremendous honor.” Moats said Harrison promised the other outside linebackers he would buy them a luxury watch when the record was broken.
“I'm not trying to be a real vocal guy. I just go out there and try to lead by example,” Harrison said. “I go out there and do it — and hopefully guys see that and they want to follow suit.”