Former Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison just announced via social media today that he is retiring from the NFL. The 36-year-old was originally signed by the Steelers as an undrafted free agent, and most recently played for the Cincinnatti Bengals. He said in a statement on Facebook and Twitter:
I have made the difficult decision to retire as of today. My love for my family and the need to be there for them outweighs my desire to play the game. I have missed too many experiences with them because I devoted SO much time to my career. My love for the game isn’t strong enough to make up for missing one more birthday or first day of school. I am retiring as a man who is truly grateful for all of his blessings. I am sincerely thankful to the people who have supported me over the years, first and foremost my family, the Rooney family and my Steeler family, also Mr. Brown, the Bengals organization and fans, and last but FAR from least, Steeler Nation. Thank you.
Harrison was released by the Bengals earlier this offseason and has spent the year quietly training and biding his time. He just recently visited with the Arizona Cardinals and former Steelers coach Bruce Arians, but he left yesterday without a contract.
Not long after departing the Cardinals facilities and returning home, Harrison Tweeted last night: “Money can buy me a lot of things but it can’t get back these times!”
Harrison joined the Steelers in 2002 via Kent State, and was cut several times along the way, even spending time in the old NFL Europe, playing with the Rhein Fire. He spent time during the offseason of the 2004 season with the Baltimore Ravens before wending his way back to Pittsburgh that same year, where he made his home and played until last year.
As so many players in his position do, Harrison cut his teeth on special teams while flashing potential here and there in his limited opportunities on the field. He got his first NFL start in 2004 when Joey Porter was ejected for fighting before the Steelers’ game with the Cleveland Browns, during which he recorded six tackles and his first sack.
Three years later, Harrison would be the one to replace Porter under new head coach Mike Tomlin, and would go on to earn five straight Pro Bowl nominations and four All-Pro appointments.
During that span, he became one of the greatest and most feared players in the NFL, eventually becoming the poster boy for the league’s new contact rules for defenseless players and racking up fines in the process.
During the 2008 season, Harrison had a truly remarkable year, recording over 100 tackles and a career-high and team record 16 sacks, forcing seven fumbles and recording an interception and a safety in the process.
On the eve of being named the league’s Defensive Player of the Year, he made one of the great plays in Super Bowl history when he intercepted a Kurt Warner pass at the goal line and returned it all the way for a touchdown as the first half ended.
Harrison’s last few years with the Steelers became hampered with nagging injuries and proved to be the only thing that could stop him. In 2012, his pride got in the way when he refused to accept a pay cut from Pittsburgh’s front office, forcing them to release him. He spent last year playing for the Bengals.
For his career, he accumulated 647 tackles, 66 sacks, six interceptions, 29 fumbles, and the love of a fan base that cherishes its tradition of hardnosed linebackers. Harrison will always be embraced by Pittsburgh, even if he couldn’t finish his career with Dick LeBeau and the Steelers.