For the Pittsburgh Steelers, there are not many left on the roster who can remember all three of the team’s most recent Super Bowl appearances. 38-year-old outside linebacker James Harrison, who was primarily a special teams player for the first one, and the Defensive Player of the Year, is hungry for the taste of one more Super Bowl run, according to defensive coordinator Keith Butler.
Butler, who was Harrison’s position coach for most of his career aside from the linebacker’s one-year layover in Cincinnati and the former’s promotion beginning last season, spoke about the one player that he has worked with longer than any other, saying, “I’m glad he’s back”.
Of course, it should not be surprising that Harrison, like any professional athlete, is driven to taste one last title run in his waning years, nor should it be surprising that Butler would have wanted his most productive outside linebacker to return. But back to Butler’s comments.
“I thought he would come back”, he said, echoing similar comments that head coach Mike Tomlin and general manager Kevin Colbert made throughout the season leading up to Harrison’s ultimate decision to return in 2016. He added, though, that “he sees the potential of this team just like we do”, after the Steelers came three minutes away from advancing to the AFC Conference Championship for the first time since 2010.
“He probably looked at it from a different perspective than before”, Butler commented regarding Harrison’s outlook on his playing career as he hastens ever closer to his last snap. “The older he’s gotten, and I wouldn’t tell him this, the wiser he’s gotten. I think he wants to come back and get one more shot as winning a Super Bowl”.
Harrison has two Super Bowl rings and has been a starter in two Super Bowls, but the last taste of that title game left the Steelers feeling rather bitter as the confetti fell on their heads not meant for them, but rather for their opponents, an uncommon experience for a roster built around many two-time Super Bowl winners, Harrison among them.
The veteran linebacker’s tenure on the roster is far from charitable, however, and Butler made that clear, saying, “I sure want him to be a part of it because he has done a lot for this franchise”, resting on the implication that he will continue to do so, as he did last year with five sacks in a rotation.
His leadership in the linebacker locker room has been a major piece of the puzzle in the Steelers’ attempts to integrate the next generation of linebackers into the fold, chief among them Ryan Shazier and Bud Dupree, two of their three most recent first-round draft picks.
If Harrison is to get to a fourth Super Bowl appearance, then it will have to come with a lot of help from these young linebackers that he is having a direct hand in molding, along with Butler and the rest of the defensive coaching staff. But he is their example, the man to model themselves after, so that they, too, can raise the Lombardi.