Patriot Games Can’t Diminish Harrison’s Place in Steelers History
James Harrison intimidated opposing players in a way not seen since the days of Jack Lambert and Mean Joe Greene.
When he first heard James Harrison had orchestrated his release from the Steelers and signed with New England, Brett Keisel wasn’t pleased, either.
“I can promise you I was just as upset as anyone else was when he left,” Keisel acknowledged.
It didn’t last.
Eventually, Keisel accepted what turned out to be Harrison’s last stand with the appreciation of a former teammate.
And with the support and loyalty reserved for a true friend.
“It’s not like I have a great rapport with the New England Patriots,” Keisel explained this week upon the occasion of Harrison’s second and final (he says) retirement from the NFL.
“But I also know the business side of it and I know, especially as you get older in your career, your opportunities become limited and you only have so much time left.
“James is a player and especially later in his career he just wanted to play. And for whatever reason it just wasn’t happening (with the Steelers this season). We forget sometimes ––
I’m guilty of this, you love the team so much it’s a part of your life –– but James knew the end was getting near. He had to give himself the best opportunity. He made the decision he did and he helped that team reach the Super Bowl, which is the ultimate prize.
“He literally gave everything he had until the very end. He did no different when he was wearing the Black & Gold. It meant something to him. I’m speaking for me but he’s a Steeler, he’ll be remembered as a Steeler and he’ll retire as a Steeler.
“His greatest moments were as a Steeler.”
There were so many of those, from his personal assault on Baltimore to his unfathomable 100-yard pick-six in the Super Bowl in Tampa to the time that drunken idiot got body-slammed in Cleveland.
Not quite enough to make the Pro Football Hall of Fame, in all likelihood, but more than enough to cement Harrison’s place in Steelers’ lore.
Harrison’s legend is about so much more than an undrafted afterthought who got cut repeatedly before eventually becoming a five-time Pro Bowler, a two-time first-team All-Pro and the 2008 AP Defensive Player of the Year.
Beyond the run-stuffing and sacks, Harrison personified an attitude that defined the Steelers.
“No question he intimidated people,” Keisel continued. “During his stretch, during that time there wasn’t really a more feared person in the league, I don’t think, than him.
“James liked people to be nervous, that was kind of his card that he liked to play. All of us that knew him knew his quirks, what he was like, what he did. But if you didn’t know him it was intimidating. He had that personality, ‘That guy is a bully, he’s going to come get me and I better be ready.’
“We were dominant. We could make offenses quit running the ball. You could see the body language. You could see when running backs would look across the line and you could tell it was a running play and they didn’t want to get the ball. Once those eyes go, you know you’ve got them. And then (Larry) Foote starts talking and James (Farrior) starts talking, (LaMarr) Woodley. It was just the swagger we played with that Coach LeBeau (former defensive coordinator Dick) brought to us, ‘Make them one-dimensional and we can do anything we want.’”
Nobody had embraced that and made it translate the way Harrison did for the Steelers since Jack Lambert and Mean Joe Greene.
Added Keisel: “You want guys that care. You want guys that give great effort. You want guys that it means something to them because they’re going to bring everyone else up to
“It was a special time to be a part of that group, to go out there and kick a lot of ass.”
As it relates to Harrison’s legacy, spending a year with the Bengals or a couple of weeks with the Pats at the end isn’t even worth mentioning, in retrospect.
Steeler Nation will remember that eventually.
Count Keisel among those who will never forget.