Mention the names of Roger Goodell and James Harrison to any Steelers’ fan in the same sentence and you’re likely to get an earful of fire and brimstone. The long-time Steeler was ground zero for the Commissioner’s assault on the violence of the game and because he was a guy on our team, we were as miserable as he was.
After warnings, fines and suspensions, many of which were borderline incidents in the first place, Steelers Nation had seen and heard enough of Roger Goodell and so to had Harrison. “Deebo” once said in a magazine article that he “wouldn’t piss on Goodell were he on fire.” To the credit of Goodell, he let it go.
The acrimonious feelings of Steelers’ fans towards Goodell were, for the most part, justified. He was going after a former defensive player of the year for being “too brutal” and “too violent.” As we now know, this was all part of the NFL’s plan to get violence out of the game as the concussion issue (and lawsuit) was beginning to take center stage.
Admittedly, I hated to see what was happening to the game I grew up with. Big hits and intimidation were part of it but as I have evolved to understand those things can exist without head shots, so too did James Harrison.
If you go back to the time when Goodell’s reign of terror on “Deebo” began, Harrison was often known to hit high on ball carriers and would many times lead with his head and arms in what would sometimes resemble an explosion. These were the hits that Goodell and the league wanted gone.
I still contend that for most players it would be a difficult transition. I also argued that where better tackling techniques should be being taught were in youth leagues. There, you could still mold kids and enforce good tackling. Professionals had already been doing it so long I didn’t think they could change and some haven’t.
James Harrison did however and I can’t imagine it was easy.
Harrison doesn’t bring any less force, power or overall violence then he did in previous seasons it’s just that he’s learned how to protect himself and others. Take for instance Sunday’s game at Denver. From his outside linebacker position, Harrison closed down the line of scrimmage as a Broncos’ ball carrier headed away from him.
The running back made the mistake of cutting back in the direction of Harrison and there was number 92 coming like a freight train. In seasons past, Harrison would have likely been looking to take the head of the runner off but not anymore. Harrison could see the clean shot in front of him and rather than go high, he dropped his hips, lowered his shoulders and drove through the midsection of the runner. It was a perfect tackle.
Harrison would probably be the first to tell you he still drops his head too much at times but if there was one guy who I never thought would change his ways it was him.
I credit Harrison for adjusting his style so late in his career. It could not have been easy in a number of ways but he did and it’s been accomplished without sacrificing the violence and intimidation he brings to the game.