When Jerome Bettis was excluded from the Pro Football Hall of Fame for yet another year last week it drew the righteous wrath of Steelers nation, and put the spotlight on a battle that has been waged for what feels like centuries now, namely that of the Pittsburgh Steelers Versus injustice, corruption and the Hall of Fame voting committee. Obviously, I am being hyperbolic, and the Blofeld led SPECTRE are not conspiring to keep Bettis down, but the "Steelers curse" is very much alive and kicking today. Legendary players, at least In Steelers nation’s mind, who have been denied the Hall of Fame include L.C Greenwood, Andy Russell and Donnie Shell. If you wish to be really, really picky you may claim Kevin Greene, and throw him in there as well.
Now of course you can say that these players simply didn’t deserve to get in, but seriously it has gotten to the point where it’s hard to deny, especially when an actual HOF voter announces there is in fact a "Steelers bias". I was never really aware of Donnie Shells existence until this great article (from a great series) by bryand99 which you can read here. Seriously, this guy doesn’t deserve to be in the HOF? You are better than that
SPECTRE HOF voting committee. Makes you wonder if Troy and Ben really will be 1st ballot after all…
Anyway that’s not the point of this article; the point is to make a HOF case for one of my all-time favourite Steelers, James Harrison. Now I’m not entirely sure what criteria the current committee use, or whether there even is one besides hoping the guy representing you gives a good enough speech to sway voters, but I have my own expert criteria which includes: Longevity, Stats, rings, impact, personal accolades, signature moments and last but not least, "that special something". So here goes, once you’re finished reading this kindly forward it to the selection committee and we will get the ball rolling nice and early for Silverback.
Longevity- When discussing James Harrison , we might as well address the elephant in the room first. Harrison was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2002, and didn’t really contribute until 2005, where it was marginable at best. 2007 was his first taste as a starter, and that’s where he began playing at a level worthy of HOF consideration. So that gives him 7 years of playing time, and really only 6 if you take away the wash out that was his season with the Bengals this year. This will be the one thing that will make it easy to dismiss Harrison’s candidacy. The lack of longevity is principally cited as the reason Terrel Davis, an All-Pro running back, has not been inducted. He had 3 great seasons and one average, but succumbed to injury and finished his career after 7 years, the last 3 of which were very poor. However, I would argue the two are different. Harrison played 5 great seasons between ‘07/ ’11, and a mediocre 6th. Consider what he contributed in ‘05/ ‘06 and whatever he manages to accomplish from now on and I would argue that should if not remove then at least distance him from the Terrel Davis line. In reality, he played double the amount of great seasons Davis has.
Stats- For his Career James Harrison has 645 tackles, 66 sacks, 6 interceptions and 29 forced fumbles. Longevity comes into play here as well for obvious reasons, the less seasons a player has the less impressive his stats, however these are still pretty impressive. The number of tackles might be somewhat inflated because he was a longtime special teams player, but still a very impressive number. Harrison was a great pass rusher, evidenced by his sack totals. It’s nowhere near an all-time great by any means, but for arguments sake let’s say he manages to notch 4 more in his Career taking him to 70. That puts him "only" 26 behind HOF’er Warren Sapp, who played for 12 seasons, and whose virtually sole job was to rush the passer. The 6 interceptions certainly help but are not eye popping. The forced fumbles on the other hand are extremely impressive. James Harrison started 131 games for the Steelers, and in 29% of those games he forced a fumble. Only Greg Lloyd (35%) has a better percentage among Steelers players. The strip sack is amongst the most beautiful plays in the NFL and James Harrison had the tomahawk chop down to perfection. The record for most forced fumbles resides around the 40 mark, so 29 is not exactly world beating but impressive none the less. Harrison’s stats do not suggest he is a HOF’er by themselves, nor would they ever considering the length of his career, however they do not exclude him from the conversation either, which I believe is vitally important. Overwhelmingly impressive stats is obviously not Harrison’s trump card, but these stats are not extremely poor, and I wouldn’t say they can be used deny him entry to the conversation. In addition, although it should never be considered in the voting process, acquiring these stats through effectively 6 seasons as a starter is beyond impressive
Rings- Despite what football purists and the "It’s a team game" crowd say, rings are important. They mark a player as reaching the top of his profession. If the sole aim of football is to win a championship, then rings should play a key role in deciding who is HOF worthy. Harrison has two, which is two more than a lot of candidates and some HOF’ers. He was a contributor in 2005, and to say he was instrumental in 2008 is an understatement. He also got to a third Superbowl, which never hurts. If Wallace hadn’t dropped that pass, and Ben had successfully driven up that field, Canton would have needed to build another Steelers wing to the Hall of Fame. But I digress, two rings=very good, and certainly HOF worthy
Impact- Here, like Terrel Davis, is where the backbone of Harrison’s case lies. He was a beast. An adept coverage linebacker, a fantastic pass rusher and an ever better run stopper, Harrison was a protypical 3-4 OLB. For 5 years he was amongst the top two OLB’s in the NFL, and he was probably the best. To go further, he was amongst the top 3 linebackers in the league. To go further still he was amongst the top defensive players in the league. To go right out there I’ll say James Harrison was one of the best players in the NFL for half a decade. Offenses had to account for him every game, in rushing, in coverage and in pass protection, that’s how much of an impact he had. He was the best player (sorry Troy) on one of the greatest defenses of all time in 2008, a defense that had a big say in winning a Superbowl. Just looking at his 2008 DPOY season, 16 sacks, 7 FF, 1 int, 60 tkls, that’s the definition of impact. Although he didn’t quite reach those heights the rest of his career, he maintained that level of play consistently for 6 years. Between 08’/11’ the Steelers had the best Linebacking corp in the NFL. It may have been led by James Farrior, but it was spearheaded by Harrison. That counts for a lot in my estimation. He was the best player on the best unit in football. There is no doubt in my mind Harrison played at a Hall of Fame caliber, and had a Hall of Fame level impact when he played.
Accolades- Harrison’s DPOY is huge for this discussion. By definition you only get one a season, so winning it is a big deal. His 2008 season was sensational, culminating in a SB, and proof that he was the best defensive player in football. Winning a DPOY puts him in rare company, and winning it the same year as the Superbowl win puts him in rarer company still. Hall of Fame players are recognized at the best whilst they are playing. You should be able to look at them and say he’s playing like a HOF’er, which was the case for Harrison. He was also a 5x Pro Bowler from 07’-11’, and a 4x All Pro. That’s one more All Pro nomination than Lynn Swann. As far as I’m concerned, Harrison has the required accolades to be considered at least a fringe candidate.
Signature Moments- Signature plays are important because they are what linger in fans memories. Often, they come in big games. The bigger the game, the bigger the signature so to speak. Often they are "clutch" plays. When the teams needs a play, when it feels like the game is turning on one moment, a player will step up and do something, anything to make a difference. They are for me, legacy cementers if you will. Harrison has a few of these plays in his locker. A couple sacks, couple of forced fumbles, a couple of personal favorite strip sacks. But none, and I mean none in the history of the sport by any player, rings a bell quite like this. The fact I don’t even need to describe the play or the situation should speak for itself. I don’t know what I enjoy more, the return or the half hour spent recovering. It does not get any better than that. Signature moments are important for Hall of Fame candidacy, and Harrison has one of, if not the best ever.
"That something special"- Something special is just what it sounds like, an undefinable quality that separates them from the crowd. It doesn’t have to be unique, just something that’s distinctive about them. Whether it’s Ben’s distinctive backyard style, or Polomalu’s hair full of crazy approach, I like my Hall of Famers to have something about them. Now it is Harrison’s great misfortune that his second name did not rhyme with "mean " or some other similar adjective, cause he was a scary, nasty b****ard on the football field. He brought the pain, and quarterbacks and running backs knew he brought pain. He was and is terrifying. James Harrison slams foolish Cleveland Browns fans, he laughs in the face of despotic Commissioners as fines pile up and he doesn't visit the President of the United States (twice) if he feels like he doesn't want to. That attitude, that aggressiveness, that ability to inspire fear in your opponent and most likely your teammates as well, that is "something special"
So there you have it, a case for James Harrison as a Hall of Famer. Now, none of this is to say I ever expect Harrison to become a Hall of Famer, because I do not. But I hope the above argument would at least hold water, and that Harrison may at least one day be a Semi Finalist.