He was not part of a famed draft class. Heck, he wasn’t even drafted. He was cut, signed and cut again but he persisted with the same intensity with which he rushed the passer. What James Harrison was, was a football player and he made himself into a damn good one. Harrison announced this morning that he was officially retiring and despite his participation with that hated team in Boston his reputation as a Steelers’ great should remain intact.
I am of the opinion that Harrison retires as one of the last of the original warriors of the game. He became the poster boy for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s war on “illegal hits” and to his credit, Harrison actually changed the way he hit people over time. But for anyone of my age and older, Harrison represents the football we grew up with decades ago.
Right or wrong, safe or not, football was meant to be a collision sport and nobody embodied that in his generation the way “Silverback” did. The former Kent State product played with great hostility and seemed to view each individual play as a single battle within a 60 minute war. This is not to suggest other players of his generation were not great defenders but few were feared the way “Deebo” was.
The 2008 NFL Defensive Player of the Year authored what many believe is the greatest play in Super Bowl history with his 100-yard interception return for touchdown in Super Bowl XLIII against Arizona. While that will always be his claim to fame he had many terrific plays which more often than not involved a sacking of the quarterback.
Some Steelers’ fans are still upset and disappointed in Harrison. After being released late in the season, Harrison signed with the hated Patriots. Once the Steelers were eliminated, fan hatred towards Deebo increased because the thought of him winning a Super Bowl with the Evil Empire was more than many could handle. A lot of fans have forgiven him and I think much of it has to do with the fact he lost but let’s clear something up.
The Steelers did not handle Harrison’s situation as well as they could have. Art Rooney II said as much in his end of season comments. James Harrison believed he could still have an impact and I for one agreed with him. I saw no reason for him to not get some snaps especially late in games but clearly the Steelers had moved on.
You certainly have every right to still have issues with Deebo but I’ve let it go. Football is a business and that’s what it all came down to in the end. Harrison retires as the organization’s all-time sack leader and not even his stop in Cincinnati can change that.
James Harrison played football the way I always thought it should be played and you’ll never ever hear him apologize for it. For all of the negatives one could compile, Harrison’s place in Steelers’ history is safe in my mind. He’s earned it.