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James Harrison officially retires a Pittsburgh Steeler

James Harrison's NFL career has been a long journey that was completed Friday when the linebacker returned to Pittsburgh to officially retire as a member of the Steelers.

Karl Walter

By Dale Grdnic

PITTSBURGH -- James Harrison's 11-year NFL career was filled with big plays, but Pittsburgh Steelers president Art Rooney II called his 100-yard interception return for a touchdown in Super Bowl 43 the greatest play in Steelers Super Bowl history and probably the greatest play in Super Bowl history.

Steelers strong safety Troy Polamalu believed Harrison's mad dash that capped the first half was the reason the Steelers beat the Arizona Cardinals that day.

"I know that people want to point at Santonio's catch in the end zone (Santonio Holmes' game-winning touchdown catch), but it was a 14-point swing,'' Polamalu said. "So, that play (by Harrison) won us the Super Bowl.''

Harrison played for the Steelers from 2004-2012. He re-signed with them Friday and then retired as a Steelers player. Polamalu, Ike Taylor, Brett Keisel and assistant coach Joey Porter, who Harrison eventually replaced in the starting lineup, attended his retirement press conference.

"If you all are looking for tears, you ain't gonna get it,'' Harrison said. "I'm just happy to get the opportunity to come back and finish up where it all started. ... I had some great times here with Troy, Keisel and all the way back to Peezy (Porter) and Ike.''

Harrison played one game for the Steelers in 2002 and then was out of the NFL temporarily, but he played for the Rhein Fire in NFL Europe in 2003, after which he returned to the Steelers in 2004 to develop into one of the NFL's top defenders for nine straight seasons until 2012. His final NFL season was with the Cincinnati Bengals, but he returned to Pittsburgh Friday to retire with the Steelers.

"It's fitting,'' Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. "He was one of the toughest, nastiest, best teammates that you could play with. He gave everything he had on and off the field, and I respected the heck out of him. And not just because he was a MAC guy, but because he did everything at such a high level.''

Harrison, the classic overachiever, was undrafted out of Kent State from the Mid-American Conference in 2002 and was cut several times early in his career by the Steelers and Baltimore Ravens. This spurred him later to big games against the Ravens, including two on Monday Night Football.

In a 2007 game, Harrison tallied nine total tackles, 3.5 sacks, three forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and one interception. The following season, he recorded 10 total tackles, 2.5 sacks, two other tackles for a loss and a forced fumble in a big win against the Ravens.

Steelers backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski faced Harrison several times as an opponent and recalled the matchups.

"He was a beast out there on the field,'' Gradkowski said. "He brought that defensive mindset that you love. ... I remember I faked a naked (bootleg) against him, and he kind of took it.

"Another time. I faked it, and he was right there. So, I said: 'Oh, shoot. I better make him miss.' But he's definitely a guy that you didn't want to go head-to-head against. It was great to see him come out of the MAC and do so many good things. Another MAC guy in the NFL.''

The Steelers first got a look at what Harrison could do during a 2004 game at Cleveland when starting outside linebacker Porter was ejected for a pre-game fight with Browns running back William Green. Harrison eventually replaced Porter as a full-time starter after the 2006 season.

"I appreciate Joey fighting and everything to give me that start,'' Harrison said. "That time in Cleveland, that's the first time they got a glimpse of what I could do. So, I appreciate Joey Porter for that. He's my greatest supporter.''

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was not, however, as Harrison was among the most-fined players in the league.

"I'd like to thank Roger Goodell for being my biggest adversary,'' Harrison said in an unsolicited response to close his press conference.

Harrison finished his career with 66 sacks (64 with the Steelers), including a top mark of 16 in 2008, 29 forced fumbles and six interceptions (five with the Steelers). He received first-team All-Pro honors twice by the NFL.

Notes: CB Brice McCain (groin) and WR Lance Moore (groin) did not practice Friday and have been ruled out for Sunday. ... WR Martavis Bryant (shoulder) and C Cody Wallace (finger) were limited Friday. Bryant is doubtful, while Wallace is questionable. ... TE Matt Spaeth (hamstring), ILB Sean Spence (knee) and LS Greg Warren (knee) practiced all week and are probable.