Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Ode to a vicious psychopath

The Steelers released everyone's favorite psychopathic linebacker. It wasn't unexpected. Harrison's play has fallen off the last two years, partially due to his age, partially due to a very clear, though not unwarranted, declaration by the the league that it doesn't approve of the violence with which Harrison plays the game. Officials routinely looked the other way when offensive linemen held him. When he did break through the protection, the punishment he doled out often resulted in fines.

He was a bad, bad dude. But he was our bad dude.

This team is in need of a pretty extensive rebuild, both in the linebacking corps and the secondary. To keep Harrison around for another year for the more than $6.5 million he was due doesn't make much sense for a team looking to rebuild its defense. Between his age and the league constantly out to paint him as the face of the product it's trying disingenuously to distance itself from, I don't think the Steelers will miss Harrison too much. I'm sure we'll touch on this more as the draft nears and we see which linebackers the team carries into the season, but for now, let's just celebrate the man.

Before Harrison became the flesh-devouring monster we've all come to know and love, I put together a primer on Harrison and why you should love him. I e-mailed it around a little, mainly to engage a particular girl in a football conversation, but never posted it. Here now, to serve as a look back on the great years of havoc and bloodshed, is an updated version of the James Harrison primer from September 3, 2008:

Some information on the Steelers' James Harrison, and why you should love him:

Harrison is known as the Steelers' team gym rat. When asked about his weight-lifting abilities on a recent airing of the Hines Ward Show on Pittsburgh local station KDKA, he replied that can bench 465 pounds and squat 700 pounds.

Harrison gained some attention and popularity when he bodyslammed a Cleveland Browns fan in a 41-0 Pittsburgh win. The fan charged the field, Harrison grabbed the intoxicated fan as he approached his teammates and took the man to the ground. Harrison restrained the fan until authorities took him away.

They call him "Silverback," because, as a Mr. Clark Haggans once said: "They're big, strong gorillas from the Congo, the silverback gorilla. They spend their days swinging on trees and breaking stuff. All the other apes and everyone in the jungle are afraid of him."

This from a 2006 piece by Jim Wexell about one of the Steelers' other players, Joey Porter, being named the NFL's most feared defensive player:

I mumble something to Porter about the award, something about wanting to get Harrison's thoughts, something about a bullseye on his jersey, never really asking him outright if he thinks he deserves his new moniker. I just don't want to eat a Peezy sandwich today, thank you very much.

"I don't understand your question," Porter said. "If you want Silverback's thoughts, go ask him."

Okay. If you say so.

Harrison dresses in the near corner of the locker room and he's in his chair. He's seated, but bending over and untying his shoes. Practice had just ended and that's when the locker room heats up. Most reporters ask their questions before practice. The players are more pensive then. But after practice the pads are coming off, the kickers are throwing balls around, the players are happy, loud.

Um, James, I'm doing something on Joey's cover about being the most feared man in the NFL.


Yes, that's an all-caps scream. He wanted to make sure I heard him because he wasn't going to sit up until he completed his task.

, I'm wondering what some of the other linebackers think.


Well, what do you think about him being named the most feared man in the NFL?


Um, I thought you might receive some consideration for that.


Let's call it a day on that happy note then. Thank you.

And this? This is the probably the best. From a November 27, 2005 profile of Harrison by the Tribune-Review's Joe Bendel:

"I don't trust you," Harrison told a reporter during a recent one-on-one interview. "Why? Because you're a reporter. Everything in the newspaper, half of it is B.S."

"I trust my teammates ... to a certain extent," he said, matter of factly.

"I need them, that's true," he said. "I trust my teammates to do everything they need to do on the field. But I'm saying outside of football, do I trust anybody? No."
What about his mother, Mildred, who has seven biological children (James included) and 15 overall? 

"No," said Harrison...

As his siblings got older and moved out, James was left on his own with his parents. He soon developed a core of 5-6 friends and made it a point to keep an eye on everyone in the neighborhood.

In one instance, he was forced to confront the local bully, who finally pushed James to his boiling point. Moments later, the bully was out cold.

"I hit him with a brick," Harrison said. "My momma told me to pick up the nearest thing to you and hit him with it, so I did. I didn't have to worry about him no more. I never saw him again." 

Harrison went from a brick to a BB gun his senior of high school, which got him into major trouble. As Harrison tells it, he shot the gun at some teammates in the locker room at Coventry High, where he was one of a handful of black students. Harrison claims he was just being playful, but a teammate brought assault charges against him, and Harrison faced six months in prison. The charge was later reduced, and he was forced to pay a $100 fine.

From a 12.19.08 piece on the Steelers' defense by ESPN.com's Dave Fleming:

They rapped for the cameras. They flexed. They posed. Smith said he had been working on his Zoolander Blue Steel look all day. And when the players found out the shoot was intended for a possible cover (I'll never tell), half of them jumped down and started doing push-ups to bulk up for the newsstand.

"Smile," the photog yelled to Harrison.

"I don't smile," the 'backer replied.

"What do you think of the super spread that Texas Tech runs?" I asked him a few minutes later during a break.

"Texas Tech? Who's that?" he asked.

Come on, man. Be cool.

"Seriously, I don't watch football when I go home, man," Harrison insisted. "I don't watch ESPN or none of that -- I watch cartoons."

This last one is especially sweet.

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