There are a ton of James Harrison stories. Most of them today center around his non-stop work ethic, lifting boulders in weight rooms or tossing around medicine balls on the volleyball court. On the field, he’s remembered for his strip-sacks, vicious hits, and most famously, a certain pick-six in a Super Bowl.
Less often are the stories about the beginning of Harrison’s career. So it was a treat to hear former Buffalo Bills’ guard Ross Tucker share one of those on his podcast. Last week, he was chatting up Mark Schlereth, one of the best linemen in his day, swapping stories about playing against great defenders. Tucker chimed in with learning who Harrison was, way back in 2004.
“When I was playing in Buffalo in 2004, we were playing the Steelers in Week 17. They wanted us to run a counter scheme…a counter, the guard kicks out the end guy. I had watched tape and the Steelers had this guy, we never really heard of, he had been playing the last two weeks. He was #92. But we didn’t even know his name yet. All I remember is watching the Giants tape and Jason Whittle pulled from left guard, which is what I was playing, to go kick him out. And Harrison came down the line as hard as he could, horizontal to the ground at about three feet off the ground, he hit Jason Whittle so hard, that Jason Whittle got knocked backwards.”
Harrison has been one of the best linebackers at setting the edge in addition to getting after the quarterback. The rare blend of strength, leverage, and tenacity made him a nightmare for guards like Whittle. And Tucker, who was begging his coaches to block Harrison a different way than trying to kick him out.
“We’re watching the tape, and Trey Teague, Trey’s our center, and Trey looks at me and says, ‘you better cut his outside leg.’ And I said to [offensive line coach] Jim McNally…look at the way he’s closing here. I’m going to cut his outside leg so we can bounce this out. And he’s like, ‘No, Tuck, you gotta kick him out.'”
Tucker says he fruitlessly argued with his coach, exasperated and knowing there was no chance he was going to be able to take on James Harrison straight up.
“Look at this, he’s killing dudes,” Tucker said, referring to Harrison.
I wish Tucker would’ve finished up his story of if he had to square up to Deebo. The Bills did have moderate success on the ground that day with Willis McGahee averaging 4.4 yards per carry and two rushing touchdowns. I wasn’t able to find any clips of those two going at it though the footage I did find reminded me that Harrison was playing LOLB opposite Joey Porter in those days.
The story is a great one and serves as a reminder that while Harrison may not be well-liked by opponents, he’s respected. And definitely feared.
Check out the full podcast below.