PITTSBURGH -- James Harrison's career was supposed to end shortly after the Cincinnati Bengals cut him in March 2014 after one season with the team. Five months later, Harrison announced his retirement.
Fast-forward 28 more months and Harrison, at 38, is one of the central figures on the Bengals' scouting report for Sunday's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Paul Brown Stadium.
The man who played a role in cutting Harrison, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, is amazed by Harrison making plays in his 14th NFL season. But he's not necessarily surprised.
"He's incredible. ... He's a marvel," Lewis said. "He's a pro. He's great for football. He teaches these young guys how you go about your business.”
In 2014, Lewis publicly thanked Harrison for the example he set during one season with the team but added, "It's time for us to go a different direction now, with some young guys, but we will all still reap benefits from having had James with us as a Bengal."
Harrison tweeted he had a "great time" in Cincinnati, which used Harrison as a linebacker in a 4-3 defense, not the 3-4 pass-rusher that earned him the 2008 Defensive Player of the Year in Pittsburgh.
When the 2014 Steelers needed depth on the edge after Jarvis Jones' injury, Harrison -- who'd played 10 seasons in Pittsburgh before joining the Bengals -- was an easy call to make. Harrison came out of retirement, and he contributed to a playoff run. A year later, he recorded five sacks as part of a four-man outside linebacker rotation.
Now, he's got five sacks in his past six games and has cemented a role as a starter opposite Bud Dupree. Harrison is playing so well that even his mother can't get him to retire. He's also got 33 tackles, two forced fumbles and an interception despite Steelers coach Mike Tomlin acknowledging that he kept his veteran on a pitch count for half the season.
Lewis seems happy about this, saying he appreciated Harrison's big-brother presence in the Bengals' locker room for young players such as Vontaze Burfict, who, like Harrison years ago, accumulated multiple fines for big hits.
Harrison getting a sack on the Bengals would be a fitting moment for what could be Harrison's final season.