I know the wounds are still there and frankly, there probably hasn’t been enough time to heal them. James Harrison’s Monday announcement of his retirement may have ripped out the stitches for some fans. And for a section of that group, Harrison forcing his way out is something unforgivable, like the dude who set up the Fyre Festival or the entire YouTube existence of Jake Paul.
But for those who can be talked to, still mad but willing to lend an ear, Harrison shouldn’t be viewed as a villian. Not forever, at least.
Yesterday should’ve been a happy day for Steelers’ Nation. To celebrate Harrison’s elite Pittsburgh career. Instead, it was…mixed, both from fans and players. Some praised Deebo, like Vince Williams and Lawrence Timmons, while others who have been critical of him predictably remained quiet.
Trust me, I get the anger against him. The way it all went down with Harrison at the end? Doesn’t sound like it was pretty and all sides shoulder some of that blame. Harrison essentially says he was lied to about playing time, but the accusations of him falling asleep at meetings and generally being a bad teammate don’t make up for that. It was an ugly departure; I don’t think anyone could even try to argue otherwise. I’m sure not.
But that ordeal is such a small part of his Steelers’ career. In the long-run, it’s not the one I choose to remember and I think – hope, at least – most will view it the same.
We’re talking about one of the most dominant pass rushers in Steelers’ history. The all-time sack leader whose story is one of the wildest in recent memory. An undrafted free agent, cut by the Steelers several times, sprinkled with stints in Baltimore and the NFL Europe’s Rhein Fire.
At 29 years old, he had just four career sacks. That was tied for 55th in franchise history. From there, his career took off. 8.5 sacks in 2007, a whopping 16 the following year, and by the end, 80.5, the most ever by a Steeler.
He didn’t win with speed or an amazing spin move. It was power and leverage – he won with his dip/rip and speed bull rush, two moves he perfected as well as anyone in the NFL. He was a complete player. Harrison played the run with that same tenacity, and his ability to drop into coverage has forever been underrated. So were his instincts, no more evident than his famous pick-six in Super Bowl 43, a play he wasn’t supposed to drop on but guessed Kurt Warner was going to throw a quick slant. Warner never saw him and 100 yards later, Harrison laid out into the end zone.
This isn’t new information, of course, of how good a player he was or how successful of a career Harrison created. Consider it a reminder, lost in the immediacy of all that went down in 2017 that led to his release and contract with the New England Patriots.
Hines Ward held out. Franco Harris went to Seattle. Terry Bradshaw, Troy Polamalu have had falling outs with the organization. You can weigh those however you like versus what happened with Deebo but the point is, not every career is sparkling from start to finish.
Harrison was a joy, and a force, to watch for his career. He led a dominant defense to a Super Bowl and made one of the greatest plays in it. That’s his Steelers’ legacy, not whatever drama took place to break things off last season.
For me, James Harrison is a Steeler for life.