“That was the best I’ve ever seen,” said James Farrior.
“James was a member of WWE,” said Max Starks.
“I split a gut,” said Sean Morey. “If you know James, you were like, oh my God, James, you didn’t. But he did, and it was hilarious.”
Okay, so only four Pittsburgh Steelers were surveyed, but all precincts have reported – offense, defense, special teams -- and the booths are closed. James Harrison’s the winner, whether he wants it or not.
“Oh, yeah,” said Harrison. “I thought it was funny.”
It was a move that marked Mike Curtis’s career with the Baltimore Colts, and in a way has stamped Harrison as a b-a-a-a-a-d dude.
He’s always been a bad dude in Pittsburgh. Two years ago the linebackers began calling him “Silverback,” and now Harrison’s rep is nationwide. No matter how many raves he draws for his charity work off the field, or how many autographs he signs, or how often his teammates swear he’s a nice guy, Harrison is a notorious figure throughout the NFL landscape.
“It got him a whole lotta street cred, that move,” said Farrior.
Just think how much “cred” Harrison would’ve earned had he hurt his coach, Bill Cowher, earlier this week in the popular backs-on-backers drill.
Harrison blew by tight end-turned-fullback-for-a-play Heath Miller and screeched around the corner and up into the pocket in pursuit of Cowher. Harrison came in low and instinctively grabbed the first thing he saw – Cowher’s lower leg. Had Carson Palmer had Cowher’s luck, the Cincinnati Bengals would have better championship odds today, but Cowher survived. And two days later, Harrison came again. He bull-rushed and flattened Willie Parker to get to Cowher, who survived. He wisely used a real fullback, Danny Kreider, the next time to stone-wall Harrison on the last rep of Friday’s session.
Was Cowher growing concerned about wild-man Harrison and all of his street cred?
“No,” Cowher said. “It was feast or famine there with James but Danny did a good job slowing him down a little bit. It’s a good drill. James Harrison is having a very good camp.”
The coach loves “Silverback” these days. So do the assistants. So do the players. The feelings weren’t so sincere in 2002 when Harrison was an undrafted rookie. He bedeviled then-
linebackers coach Mike Archer with a surly countenance that seemingly challenged everything Archer tried to teach. In spite of Harrison’s obvious brute strength and raw talent, Archer couldn’t help but count down the days – the minutes – until Harrison was gone.
“The main thing was his attitude, his willingness to learn,” said Farrior. “It was kind of hard for him when he didn’t know what was going on. He didn’t really know how to take coaching, but he’s settled down and learned how to be coached.”
“He always walked around with a chip on his shoulder his first year,” Farrior said. “I remember one time he didn’t know what he was doing and he started yelling, ‘Just take me out!’ This was during the play, and he was like, ‘Just get me out of here! I don’t know what I’m doing!’ I was like, man, what the heck’s wrong with this boy.”
Harrison made the practice squad that year but was gone, along with Archer, by the middle of the 2003 season. Cut by the Baltimore Ravens after a hellish stint in NFL Europe, Harrison was signed by the Steelers as an emergency replacement for injured Clark Haggans at the start of the 2004 training camp. Harrison came into the public eye when he filled in for an ejected Joey Porter in Cleveland that year and recorded a sack on his first series. His next appearance in Cleveland gave Harrison the enforcer label he carries today.
Yet, Harrison, with his new contract and street cred, remains a backup. He’s filling in for Porter now but will go back to the bench sometime next week when Porter returns. It’s an indication of what kind of depth the Steelers possess.
“He’s just as good as Clark [Haggans] and Joey,” Farrior said. “You see that whenever he’s in the game; he’s always making plays. He’s a good player, an impact player.”
Harrison had three sacks last season and improving that mark is his goal this season.
“I feel good,” he said. “Right now I’m a backup but I wouldn’t say I worry about it. When I signed that contract I knew that’s what I would be doing, so that’s something I’m going to have to accept and deal with. As far as being a starter, everybody wants to be a starter, but right now it’s not my role and I’m fine with it.”
“That chip he used to have, well he’s channeled all of that to a good direction,” Farrior said. “The sky’s the limit for the guy.”