Saturday, March 9, 2013

James Harrison Says Goodbye To Steelers, Fans

~ "How do I say goodbye to what we had?
The good times that made us laugh
Outweigh the bad."

That tweet was sent out by one Mr. James Harrison this morning as he wanted to be the first to say goodbye to his fans in Steelers Nation. It's the end of an era. One that Pittsburgh Steelers fans are mourning. One that comes all too often in this business.

But the business side will wait for now. Let's first reflect on the all-too-brief career of the man who went by many epithets. He was Deebo. As in, "(Red!) You got knocked the fu** out!" He was 'one of the scariest men in the NFL' in a poll taken one year. He was also 'one of the dirtiest players in the NFL' according to another poll.

To me, though, he will always be the Silverback. The man who made his debut when Joey Porter, another in a long line of scary Steelers linebackers, was ejected from a November, 2004 Cleveland Browns game an hour prior to its start. In that game, Harrison recorded his first career sack and had six tackles. After the game, one of the Browns' coaches went up to then-coach Bill Cowher and asked him who 'that No. 92 was,' saying that they 'couldn't do anything against him.' It was a sign of things to come and they and the rest of the NFL would soon find out who No. 92 was.

Harrison first signed with the Steelers as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2002 out of Kent State. He played one game that season while wearing No. 93, as No. 92 was still worn by outside linebacker Jason Gildon. He was cut after that season and spent time with the Baltimore Ravens and also with NFL Europe.

Once back with the team in 2004 he would fight to get playing time behind Porter and Clark Haggans. 2007 is when he finally did, as it was first year as a full-time starter with Porter being cut. His coming out party came on Monday Night Football against the Ravens, when he had nine tackles, three and a half sacks, three forced fumbles, one fumble recovered, and one interception. The Silverback was born.

Harrison has been quoted as saying that, if he had not gotten signed, he would have retired from the game to pursue his dream of becoming a veterinarian. Instead of healing animals, he would go on to hurt and make sick dawgs, tigers and ravens for years to come.

Harrison would start for six years (2007-2012) and would record 64 sacks in the regular season, 29 forced fumbles and enjoyed a 62-33 record. All told, Deebo started 95 of 131 games. He also played in 12 postseason games, notching 23 tackles and six and a half sacks, including three Super Bowls and two victories. He mainly played special teams in Super Bowl XL, but had a slightly bigger impact in Super Bowl XLIII:

That 100-yard interception return for a touchdown vs. the Arizona Cardinals was the longest play from scrimmage in Super Bowl history. And it is a play no Steelers fan ever gets tired of seeing.

~ "I thought we'd get to see forever
But forever's gone away...
I don't know where this road
Is going to lead
All I know is where we've been
And what we've been through."

Harrison was a workout warrior, was fearless and was truly fearsome. As ESPN's Jamison Hensley wrote, "let's be honest: No one is going to replace Harrison's toughness, mean streak and steely-eyed stare that struck fear into anyone lining up across from him. Harrison was more than a pass-rusher. He was a quarterback crusher." The Silverback, despite what many tried to purport, was not a dirty player, either. He just played as it was meant to be played: hard and viciously, yet within the rules (except when a certain commissioner decided to change interpretations of rules in mid-season). Playing the game the way another Kent State linebacker said it should be played.

"I believe the game is designed to reward the ones who hit the hardest. If you can't take it, you shouldn't play." - Jack Lambert.

No one hit harder than Deebo. He made no apologies for being who he was, which was a block of granite-like freak of nature. If I were to use a movie reference, I'd paraphrase the Terminator: "He doesn't feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And he absolutely will not stop!"

Well, there was one time when he felt remorse. He expressed remorse over the plight of the opposing team's player and quarterback.

"I don't want to hurt nobody. I don't want to step on nobody's foot or hurt their toe," Harrison said at Media Day of Super Bowl XLV. "I don't want to have no dirt or none of this rubber on this field fly into their eye and make their eye hurt. I just want to tackle them softly on the ground, and if you all can, we'll lay a pillow down where I'm going to tackle them, so they don't hit the ground too hard....Mr. Goodell."

That bit of tongue-in-cheekery was in response to all of the attention he'd gotten from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to the tune of four fines for illegal hits against quarterbacks, fined twice for unnecessary roughness and was suspended once for basically being a 'repeat offender.' Most of which was undeserved. (BREAKING NEWS: Goodell fines Harrison for hitting free agency!)

Now, though, we're having to accept that the much-maligned linebacker won't any longer be around. The Silverback will wear Black and Gold no more.

- courtesy of Matt Vargo

~ "If we get to see tomorrow
I hope it's worth all the wait..."

In six years of being a starter, Harrison missed nine starts - four games for a broken orbital bone, three games because of knee surgery, one game because of suspension, and he sat a Week 17 game in 2008. Unfortunately, seven of those that were due to injury or surgery have come in the last two seasons.

The business of the NFL has reared it's unforgiving head once again, causing the Steelers and Harrison to part ways. Harrison didn't feel he should take a pay cut, and the Steelers didn't feel he was quite the same player anymore, at least not one warranting the $10.035 million Salary Cap hit. To be exact, the Steelers just couldn't afford the combination of salary, injury and age. If It Ain't Steel said last summer that this would most likely happen. -

Per Pro Football Talk, the Steelers offered Harrison a reduction of approximately 30% of his $6.57 million base salary and an opportunity to earn it back via incentives. -

Per Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Harrison told Bob Pompeani, KDKA TV Sports Director, that "he has 2-3-4 more years left in him.” So with Harrison believing that and deciding to wade out into the free agent waters, Steelers fans are left with their memories. Memories of his two 1st-team All-Pro selections, of his five Pro Bowls and of his countless bone-jarring hits.

It's hard to let go of the players that mean that much to us. We get emotionally involved, making it hard to say goodbye. And, to finish the lyrics that were the running theme of this piece, "it's so hard to say goodbye to yesterday" ... and to the Silverback.