Can we agree James Harrison is the most interesting player in Steelers history, maybe the most interesting athlete in Pittsburgh sports history?
Harrison was interesting on Christmas Eve in 2005 when he body-slammed a Cleveland Browns fan who made the awful mistake of running onto the field. “I didn’t know if the guy had anything on him or whatever,” Harrison said. “With his back to me, I thought I could take him down safely without risking injury to myself or my teammates and hold him there until the proper authorities arrived.”
Harrison was interesting in 2010 when he talked of his knockout hits on Cleveland’s Joshua Cribbs and Mohamed Massaquoi. “I don’t want to see anyone injured, but I’m not opposed to hurting anyone. There is a difference. When you’re injured, you can’t play. But when you’re hurt, you can shake it off and come back. I try to hurt people.”
Harrison was interesting later in 2010 when he talked about the brutal nature of football and his willingness to risk his long-term health to play it. “I’m not worried about that. It’s part of the game. We signed up for this. It’s not a touchy, feely game. I’ve said it many times. I’m willing to go through hell so my kids don’t have to.”
Harrison was interesting after the 2010 season when he used his podium at Super Bowl XLV to mock NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who had fined him $100,000 during the season. “I don’t want to hurt nobody. I don’t want to step on nobody’s foot and hurt their toe. I don’t want to have no dirt or none of this rubber on the field fly into their eye and make their eye hurt. I just want to tackle them safely on the ground and, if y’all can, lay a pillow down where I’m going to tackle them so they don’t hit the ground too hard, Mr. Goodell.”
Harrison was interesting a few months after that Super Bowl when he went after Goodell in a Men’s Journal story. “If that man was on fire and I had to [urinate] to put him out, I wouldn’t do it. I hate him and will never respect him.”
Harrison even was interesting in 2015 after a helmet-to-helmet hit by Cincinnati’s Vontaze Burfict knocked the Steelers receiver Antonio Brown out of the playoffs. Proving he is no hypocrite, Harrison said, “Personally, I don’t think it [was a penalty] because I don’t think you can get out of the way fast enough.”
Back in the news: Now, Harrison is back in the news. He is nothing more than an NFL Players Association pawn in yet another power struggle with the NFL, but it is an interesting role nonetheless. The league has informed Harrison it wants to interview him as part of its investigation after an Al Jazeera documentary late last season linked him and other players, including Peyton Manning, to performance-enhancing drugs. The NFLPA has told the players they don’t have to do an interview because the primary source of the documentary quickly recanted and admitted to lying.
“I have nothing to hide,” Harrison told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Ray Fittipaldo last week. “I will do an interview, but I’ll do it with my stipulations.”
Harrison said the interview must be done at his house on a day of his choosing before training camp opens later this month. He also said Goodell has to be there. It would have been shocking if he didn’t find a way to include Goodell, who also suspended him for a game in 2011 because of a hit on Cleveland quarterback Colt McCoy.
“I can’t be penalized. I never took a PED,” Harrison told the Post-Gazette. “A guy can make up a story all he wants. Anybody can make up a story. You have to have evidence for it to go anywhere. And the NFL has no evidence.”
Great fun: All of this makes for great fun.
Can't wait I can’t wait to hear an update July 28 when the Steelers report to Saint Vincent College in Latrobe.
But I really can’t wait to see what Harrison does on the field this season. That’s where he’s most interesting. We should never lose sight of that with all of the off-the-field entertainment he provides.
Do you remember Harrison’s career game against Baltimore in 2007 when he had 3½ sacks, eight solo tackles, an interception, three forced fumbles and a fumble recovery? Steelers icon Jack Lambert sent him a handwritten note of congratulations after that one. How about Harrison’s 45½ sacks from 2008-11? Or his 2008 season when he set the team record with 16 sacks, led the NFL with seven forced fumbles and was defensive player of the year? Or his 100-yard interception return for a touchdown against Arizona in Super Bowl XLIII, the greatest play in Super Bowl history?
The Steelers had hoped to limit Harrison to 25 snaps a game in 2015, but he refused to cooperate. He played about 60 percent of the snaps and was the team’s best outside linebacker. He had three sacks in a win against Indianapolis. He had a sack and seven tackles in a playoff win against Cincinnati. He sacked Manning in the postseason loss to Denver and had three tackles for a loss.
Significant announcement: That’s why Harrison’s recent announcement that, at 38, he will return for a 14th NFL season was significant. It wasn’t just good news for the Steelers, it was great news for their younger players. Harrison is a terrific role model for a couple of reasons. One is his relentless intensity. “You get hit by James, you feel it. It’s over,” former teammate Ryan Clark said. “He’s not playing around out there. It’s no joke to him.” Two is his incredible work ethic, which is matched on the team only by Brown’s. “It’s crazy,” linebacker Bud Dupree told SiriusXM NFL radio last week. “He spends tons of money on his body to say healthy. He puts his body number one. Things like that rub off on young players like me.”
Harrison enjoys being a mentor. Many of his teammates have trained with him in Arizona in the offseason.
“They got great results,” Harrison said. “When you get great results and things are working, you’re going to go back.
“It’s to advance you. Anything that’s going to help you to get better, it’s not going to be easy to do. It should hurt. If you can go through a workout and not get sore, you’re not pushing yourself hard enough.”
No one will ever accuse Harrison of being a slacker.
Or being dull.
I hope he plays 10 more seasons.
Ron Cook: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @RonCookPG.