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A Part of James Harrison's Story

The following is an exerpt from Jim Wexell's Steeler Nation, a book I've mentioned on the site several times since it was published late in 2008. It's a fun, informative, thought provoking and quick read. The book is is Jim's chronicles traveling the country watching the team and meeting friends and family of Steelers team members, as well as some of the other unique men and women who collectively make up Steelers Nation.

This is from the opening of the book, about 2008 Defensive Player of the Year, James Harrison, who's in the middle of contract negotiations as we speak.

At the home of Mildred and James Harrison, the signs set the tone.

Warning: Pit Bull dog on premises.

Beware of Dog.

No Trespassing.


They framed the door that Mildred Harrison opened. Shes' the mother of 14 children. She has 28 grandchildren, 10 great-grandchildren and loves to hear people say she looks too young to have put up such numbers.

Her husband, James Harrison Sr., is a tall man, easygoing, a latter-day George Foreman -- strong and confident and warm. It quickly became apparent that James Harrison Jr., the 14th of the 14 kids, has his dads face and his mother's disposition.

'You be nice to people and they take kindness as a weakness,' says Mildred.


Dad said he only had to discipline James once. 'We had two pistols,' he said. 'We had them in our bedroom. I don't know, but some kind of way he got up there, him and his little nephew, and was playing with them. So I sort of whupped him that day real good. My grandson is 30 and he will not touch a gun to this day.'

But James did. And he got into trouble with a BB gun. His high school football team fooled around with them in the locker room, and in his senior year James was accused of shooting one player in the keister.

'They pressed the issue,' dad said. 'James wouldn't say anything. He didn't shoot the boy that pressed the charges. The coach shot him, but James didn't want to tell on his coach.'

The coach?

'He cried,' said mom. 'He didn't want to tell on his coach. He has this thing for football and everything that's connected with football. It's so holy to him and he just didn't want to tell on the coach.'

''The assistant coach,' dad said. 'But they wanted to press all kinds of charges on James. They were goingn to charge him with a felony. I told him, 'Son, you got to let this go. You got to tell it like it is.'

James eventually told authorities who shot the boy in the locker room. The coach was fired by the school and pled out to a misdemeanor.


Zac Jackson covers the NFL for, but once upon a time he played high school football against James 'Silverback' Harrison.

'He was the scariest dude around,' said Jackson. 'He was known in communities for miles around as somebody you didn't mess with -- on the field or off.

'There was an incident with smashing mailboxes. A bunch of Coventry players got suspended. There was some talk about whether James was involved or not, and it turned out he wasn't, but you were much more worried about him smashing your face than you were a mailbox.'

And on the field?

'Coventry beat Manchester one time in 20 years in football and it was James' junior year and it was because he did it by himself. On one play he caught a middle screen and threw the first guy off him and literally jumped over the second guy and took it 50 yards for a touchdown. That was the play that won it. It's funny, because in that Monday night game in San Diego, when James picked up the ball and jumped over Antonio Gates, my phone line starting buzzing with all the Manchester guys saying, 'We've seen that!' The guy he'd jumped over in high school was about 5'4", but Gates is 6'6."

Damn, if Jackson was excited about that regular season moment from Harrison, I can only imagine how he must have reacted when he saw Deebo do this on the biggest of stages.