He is the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, and is a main staple in what is known as “The Steel Curtain II” defense. He has recorded 24 ½ sacks the last two seasons. Not to mention, he is a two-time Super Bowl champion, and the scary thing is he just finished only his second year as a starter. James Harrison is a household name in Pittsburgh, and across the NFL. Little do people know, Harrison’s career in the National Football League has been full of ups and downs, and his road to glory has been anything but easy. But, with the nickname “Silverback”, one would have to believe Harrison has to have thick skin to handle the adversity he has faced throughout his career.
James Harrison played his college football at Kent State, and went undrafted in the 2002 NFL Draft. Harrison came to the Steelers as a rookie and was signed on to the practice squad. Harrison’s lack of speed and small stature led many to believe that he could not be a player in the NFL. He also had difficulty grasping the complexity of the playbook. The Steelers would cut Harrison during training camp of that season. In fact, Harrison would end up being cut a total of four times over the next two seasons, three times by the Pittsburgh Steelers and once by the Baltimore Ravens. After being cut the fourth time, Harrison believed that his dream of playing in the NFL may never take shape. He would pursue a career in truck driving, and received a commercial driver's license.
In 2004, Steelers’ linebacker, Clark Haggans, suffered an injury while weight lifting. The Steelers had a problem; they needed a linebacker before training camp started. This led to James Harrison returning to the Pittsburgh Steelers for a fourth time, and this time, he was there to stay. For the next two seasons Harrison found his role playing special teams. He recorded three tackles in Super Bowl XL, to win his first Super Bowl ring. During his time playing special teams, Harrison may best be known for his “tackle” on a Cleveland Browns fan that ran onto the field and interfered with the game between the Steelers and Browns on Christmas Eve, 2005.
The start of the 2007 season saw a new regime begin with the Pittsburgh Steelers. The retirement of Bill Cowher, brought rookie head coach, Mike Tomlin, to the city of Pittsburgh. New leadership meant the departure of some players from the Bill Cowher era. One of these players was all-pro linebacker, Joey Porter. The controversial release of Porter gave Harrison exactly what he had been waiting for, for three years, a starting job in the NFL. Harrison replaced Porter at the outside linebacker position. It was on November 5th, 2007, when the world was introduced to James Harrison. In a Monday Night Football game against the Baltimore Ravens, Harrison had 3 ½ sacks, caused two fumbles and had an interception. The Steelers went on to defeat their division rival in a 38-7 blowout. Harrison went on to have an impressive season posting over 60 tackles, and having 8 ½ sacks.
The 2008 season was one for the ages for James Harrison and the Pittsburgh Steelers. He was such a dominating force all season, and was absolutely unstoppable at times. Harrison set a new all-time sack record for the Pittsburgh Steelers with sixteen to his name. He was also a turnover machine, forcing a total of seven fumbles. In 2008, James Harrison earned the much deserving, Defensive Player of the Year Award. He is the first undrafted player to ever win the award. Even with the winning of such a prestigious award, Harrison’s 2008 season will be most remembered for what he did on the grandest stage of them all, Super Bowl XLIII. With the Steelers leading 10-7 late in the second quarter, the Arizona Cardinals were driving deep in to Pittsburgh territory with a chance to take the lead at halftime. What would follow will live in Pittsburgh Steelers’ folklore forever. Quarterback, Kurt Warner, threw a pass in the end zone that was intercepted by James Harrison, and returned 100 yards for a touchdown, the longest play in the history of the Super Bowl.
The story of James Harrison is truly an amazing one. From an undrafted rookie, who nobody thought could play in the league, to a two-time Super Bowl champion, 2008 Defensive Player of the Year, and whose name will live in NFL history books for years to come. I believe at this time, it is a safe bet to say this story is heading towards having a happy ending.
Michael C. Smith aka MCS513