This week James Harrison had his introductory press conference with the Cincinnati media and for me, the sting of losing Harrison came back to the surface again. I never thought I would agree with Bengals CB Adam “Pac Man” Jones about anything. According to NBC Pro Football Talk.com Jones said this about Harrison: “He gives you that swagger and that seal. When you mail out the letter you have to make sure you put a stamp on it. Well, he’s the stamp.” The Bengals were already good. The Bengals defense only lost Manny Lawson this off-season through free agency but replaced him with Harrison. In recent years the Bengals defense has been consistently one of the best defenses in the NFL but definitely seemed to be lacking something. Yes Harrison just may be that “stamp” the Bengals need to push through the wall the Bengals know as the Wildcard round.
The only good news in all of this for the Steelers and their fans is the Bengals run a 4-3 defense. Reports are the Bengals are moving Harrison to the left side in their 4-3 defense. Harrison has played his whole career at outside linebacker on the right side of Pittsburgh’s defense. It is hard to know at this point whether Harrison’s play at a new position, in a new scheme with new terminology can be as effective as he was in the 3-4. Bengals Defensive Coordinator Mike Zimmer is one of the best in the league (and it is a mystery how he has not been offered a head coaching position) and surely will find ways to try and utilize Harrison effectively.
Overlooked Factors of Leaving Pittsburgh
Something else that comes into all of this that is often overlooked and to me, is one of the biggest reasons why free agent signings don’t work out, will be Harrison’s comfort zone. Right now his whole comfort zone has changed. It has been turned upside down. Most people don’t like change especially when things are going well. Particularly athletes. Never underestimate what these changes can do to psyche of any individual especially someone as regimented as Harrison. A new team, new city, new neighborhood/home, new locker room, new teammates, new coaches, new practice schedule, different way of practicing and new training staff are just some of the reasons why players are taken out of their comfort zone. Some players never make the adjustment thus the reason they fail after leaving the team they had so much prior success with. Add in learning a new position in a different scheme with new terminology. It will take Harrison some time to adjust, time which he may not have and the Bengals may not give him.
Harrison’s Presence In The Bengals Defense May Be More Intangible
The Bengals defense may be good but it is hard to name anyone outside of ILB Rey Maualuga or Geno Atkins who may be the best defensive tackle in the league and a player the Steelers have yet to contain. No player on the Bengals will outwork Harrison on or off of the field. No one will prepare better than him. He has an ‘at all costs’ burning desire to succeed. Harrison was always a great teammate and played selflessly. He was not a “look at me” guy. He was not a showboat. He let his play speak for himself. Harrison brings to the Bengals a championship mentality and the work ethic it takes to achieve it. Harrison will be a leader by example. Adding Harrison and everything he brings to that locker room can only help the Bengals.
James Harrison’s career is full of accolades. But this is about what he specifically brought to the Steelers that can’t be measured in statistics or awards. The loss of Harrison will linger for many reasons. What does is say that the 2 teams most interested in signing Harrison, the Ravens and the Bengals were the Steelers two biggest competitors? Harrison still has gas left in his tank and was one of the best defensive players the Steelers had last season. He was the Steelers intimidator. Just the site of him put fear into opponents, particularly quarterbacks. He played with a chip on his shoulder. He has an edge to him on and off of the field that not many people have. He is a physical force. He is mean. He is nasty. He is tough. He is feared and voted as such by his peers. Harrison kept alive Greg Lloyd’s “I wasn’t hired for my disposition” attitude the Steelers fans loved. Harrison has swagger and it was contagious to his teammates and the fans.
There is no one on the Steelers team capable of replacing the loss of James Harrison’s intangibles. If you doubt what I have been saying about James Harrison then listen to what his fellow NFL players and others have said about him:
- In a 2009 ESPN player survey James Harrison was voted the AFC North’s Toughest Player.
- In November 2010 according to the website “Bleacher Report”, James Harrison was one of the NFL’s 10 hardest hitters.
- In October 2011 in a Sports Illustrated players poll James Harrison was voted as NFL’s meanest player. Harrison received 35% of the votes and was the easy winner over Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, who finished second with 15% of the vote.
- October 2011 on the ESPN television show “SporstsNation” Hulk Hogan proclaimed James Harrison as “The baddest dude in the NFL”.
- In January 2012 ESPN polled 20 Hall of Fame players who voted James Harrison to the “Any Era” team, players that were so tough they could play in any era.
- In August 2012 an ESPN poll that asked NFL players, “Who is the most violent, dangerous player in the NFL?” Harrison was the runaway winner, with 67.5 percent of the vote.
If Harrison is the Stamp For The Bengals Then He Was the Steelers Postman
Harrison particularly played his best against the hated rivals. The Ravens always brought out the best in him. Harrison is a Raven’s killer. Besides being the author of the greatest defensive play in Superbowl and NFL history Harrison was also the author of the greatest defensive performance I ever witnessed in the NFL. Monday night November 5, 2007 Heinz Field against the Ravens, Harrison piled up 9 total tackles, 3.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery, and 1 interception. That is a whole career for Ziggy Hood. He went on to be voted by his teammates to be the Steelers MVP that year. In 2008 he was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Rain, snow, hot, cold, place, grass, field turf, mud, opponent, day or time James Harrison showed up to play and he delivered for the Steelers.
How Do The Steelers Replace What Harrison Brought?
Is it possible replace the leagues meanest, toughest, most violent and dangerous player? No. During television interviews this off season I watched Troy Polamalu, Ryan Clark and Ike Taylor all express disappointment in the loss of Harrison. All three expressed just how much Harrison meant to the defense as far as his play and the intimidation factor he brought to the Steelers defense. All three in a politically correct way said what Harrison brought could not be replaced.
As a fan I personally have not felt this way before about the loss of a player. It feels to me like some of the worst game losses I have suffered through as a Steelers fan. The ones that don’t go away like the Sunday night loss at home to the Ravens in 2011. I can’t watch anything that has to do with Super Bowl XLV against the Packers. Both New England AFC Championship games which are made even worse after the fact because they occurred during “Spygate’. The Broncos (97′) and Chargers (94′) AFC Championship games. The 82′ playoff game against the Chargers. The 76′ Raiders AFC Championship game. All games they either should have won or were the better team that cost them Superbowl appearances and victories. There are others but those are the ones that will never go away.
Those game losses are how I feel about losing Harrison. I may not carry it with me for the rest of my life but I will for several years to come. Harrison should have finished his career a Pittsburgh Steeler. It appears that he, his agent and the Steelers all are at fault for that. They should have found a way to work it out. He was one of their best players-ever. He was the epitome of what being a Pittsburgh Steeler is. Like the losses that still eat at me till this day, the loss of Harrison will be stamped on my soul and the soul of many in Steeler Nation. Adam “Pac” Man Jones was right.