When James Harrison announced his retirement from the NFL on Monday after 15 seasons, it was not the first time, or even the second, that he had contemplated moving away from the sport that had occasionally bothered him, even when he mastered that. However, this was the only time he was able to follow his own terms, as he won two Super Bowls in Pittsburgh, one of them largely due to an impressive play he wrote, and almost won a third in New England the last season, when he still thought he would have a few more seasons in his body, before realizing that he had already lost enough time at home with his children while spending hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars preparing his body for the rigors of more games .
|James Harrison has made a career to prove that people are wrong. From the last not selected moment to the Defensive Player of the Year, the Steelers playoff now silences his skeptics as a Patriot.|
Harrison's determination to do things his way defined his career as much as the frown that was his public persona. His senior high school coach had once said that Harrison was not going to do what you wanted him to do. I was going to do what I wanted to do. That was to silence the pessimists in his life, and there were many, starting with the coach of Pee Wee who informed Harrison's father that his son was not trying hard enough, and continuing with a career that began when Harrison was not selected. . . Like his teammate of a few months, Tom Brady, Harrison was driven by a fierce desire to prove that his unbelievers were wrong, even after they had been at the top of the NFL.
Brady camouflages his will and his fury with a mega-watt smile. Harrison did not bother with those subtleties or even with some of the conventions of team play. At virtually every stop, I sometimes drove the coaches crazy. There was an arrest after a domestic dispute with the mother of her son after they allegedly discussed baptizing the child. He challenged a high school coach to a fight. At Kent State as a walk-on, he faced early with coach Dean Pees, who demanded that he raise his grades. When he did, he wrote his new grade point average on each of the coaches, and then he approached Pees so much that he would appear unannounced at his house and ask his wife what it was for dinner. Harrison thought about quitting to get a regular job after rejoining the NFL Europe practice squad, from team to team and vice versa. When he had trouble learning Dick LeBeau's defense in Pittsburgh, he stopped in between practice plays and demanded to be taken off the field.
In 2010, when he unwittingly became the face of the NFL's early offense on head shots after a collision with Cleveland wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi, he was so furious about the $ 75,000 fine and the signal from the league that he was doing things wrong that his first instinct was to resign. His teammate of the Steelers, James Farrior, later said he tried to convince Harrison to come to his house before doing something drastic.
When it became clear last season that the Steelers had it only because of an emergency and that it was unlikely that it would. Playing, he almost gave up on the team, with his teammates accusing him of leaving the stadium as soon as he discovered that he was inactive for a game and not practicing or attending meetings. Harrison admitted that he asked for his release several times. It was a jarring end to a timeshare in Pittsburgh, one that included the 2008 Defensive Player of the Year award and a 100-yard interception return for a touchdown in Super Bowl XLIII that helped win the championship.
But it also allowed Harrison to guide his own exit from the game that seemed so good, an irony since he had been told from college that his body type was inadequate: he lacked the height to be a linebacker and the weight to play on the line. With the help of bracelets, he learned the loads of LeBeau and became a quarterback terrorist, the bag leader of all time in a place called "Blitzburgh" with an underappreciated ability to fall into the cover. He could go down more than those who tried to block him, and he was fast (he ran the 100 meters in high school) and athletic (he could walk on his hands). He was, for about five years, the most intimidating defensive player in football. It ends with 84.5 sacks, 34 forced fumbles and eight interceptions.
"I saw him ruin fucking games," said former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis.
Harrison did it one last time in the AFC Championship Game in January, when Harrison came screaming from the edge to the team with Kyle Van Noy to force a loose ball by Blake Bortles that nearly ended the chances of the Jaguars from Jacksonville.
as he had done throughout his career, Harrison reflected on all the young players who came after him trying to take his place, in all the draft picks that had gone through the NFL while he had stayed . His career had come down the hard road, and when Farrior said long ago that Harrison played angry, it was a compliment. Harrison was never as bad as his face made him look, he, for example, smiled with his children, but he was crazy about soccer most of the time, and he made the rest of the NFL pay for it.  "You always want to prove that people are wrong, you do not want to correct them, especially when they tell you something you can not do," Harrison said days before going to the Super Bowl last season.
To whom, exactly, did he want to prove he was wrong, so late in his own personal game?
"Anyone who doubts my abilities"
Follow Judy Battista on Twitter @judybattista .