Undrafted out of Kent State in 2002, Harrison bounced between the practice squads of the Ravens and Steelers before eventually landing on the Steelers active roster in 2004.
It was the perfect situation for James Harrison, and that's not written as the complaining fan.
James Harrison, a.k.a. Silverback, a.k.a. Deebo, the guy cut multiple times by the Steelers and the arch rival Ravens, may as well have been cut at the knees and yanked backward by his facemask, there is a sense of him that shows he won't be denied.
Undrafted out of Kent State in 2002, Harrison bounced between the practice squads of the Ravens and Steelers before eventually landing on the Steelers active roster in 2004. It was obvious from his special teams contributions he had talent - he was eventually named the captain of that unit - but there has always been something else with Harrison. Built as if he's chisled out of stone with a nasty glare to go along with it, very few play the game harder and with more intensity than Deebo.
I leaned forward from my couch in each passing situation Collins had, just waiting for Harrison to add another footnote to his growing legacy. The player who best embodies the Pittsburgh Way of Football was about to get him some history. When he finally did, my unfortunate first comment was "no chance there's a holding penalty, either."
It just wouldn't be a Harrison milestone if he had to do it the easy way.
I'm not one to complain about officiating, but the Steelers went 27 quarters between offensive holding flags on their opponent. Harrison has managed 16 sacks this season even despite this somewhat unusual (and not entirely believable) stat. He goes about his job in a workmanlike manner, and isn't the guy officials hear a whole lot outside of the standard jockeying for favorable calls.
It's so typical of Harrison's quiet-but-outstanding career story. If he wasn't behind the loud Joey Porter, or the second choice of himself and Bart Scott in Baltimore, he had some other obstacle he had to get around one way or another.
He wasn't happy about it, but he didn't waste a good deal of time complaining. He just went out and made the next play.
He stuck it to Baltimore last year, fear you not. On Monday Night Football, in front of the team's 75th Anniversary Team, Harrison cranked out one of the finest individual defensive performances the league has ever seen - 10 tackles, three sacks, three forced fumbles and an interception - as the Steelers steamrolled the flailing Ravens 38-7. I'm sure he had a thought or two about former Steelers coach, Bill Cowher, toward whom he generally holds some animosity. After all, Harrison felt Cowher chose veteran Clark Haggans over Harrison to start over 2005 and 2006.
When anti-Steelers fans called "fluke" on Harrison's All-Pro season of 2007, Steelers fans cheered, because at the very least, haters finally knew who Harrison was. Just a year prior to that, it was hard finding anyone outside Steeler Nation who understood just how cool this guy is. His breakout season was like a personal victory for those who followed the team intently. We read the stories of how the locker room erupted when he was named team MVP that year, a wonderful statement in the locker room that the team recognizes Harrison's accomplishments in the same way the fans do.
He was arrested in the off-season when an argument between he and his girlfriend boiled over, leading to a domestic dispute. Harrison immediately admitted fault, and instead of calling his lawyer, he called Dan Rooney to explain the situation. He immediately took responsibility for his actions. People make mistakes, but the important trait winners have is ownership of those shortcomings. He manned up to it, and paid his debt to society and to the team.
While any reasonably minded person won't condone his actions, they should respect the fact he did everything he could to admit fault and accept the consequences like a man - even after he may not have acted like one.
In a league where stupid mistakes are rarely accepted by the offending party, Harrison showed a vicious grace and humanistic side that still made you want to root for him.
Such a glorious record, the franchise's single-season sack record, now belongs to the guy who came up the hardest way possible. And the sack that broke the record came through the means most typical for Harrison;
With someone else doing everything he possibly could - right or wrong - to stop him. And he accomplished his goal anyway. That's so Harrison.
Congratulations, James. We don't have a more perfect representative of this place in Steelers history.