Mike Tomlin On James Harrison: ‘His Existence Doesn’t Fall Into Convention’

Before we dive too deep into the draft season, I wanted to circle back a bit and talk about—well, the oldest player on the roster, outside linebacker James Harrison. His head coach recently talked about the man who is still playing a demanding position at a high level as he approaches the age of 40.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have quite simply depended upon his services in the past couple of years since he—well, retired. And he is already projected to continue the 2017 season the way he left off in 2016, having regained a starting position that he was already deserving of before he actually got it.

Mike Tomlin talked about what he has meant to the team, and also about the reality that, though he is playing at a high level, it’s not clear how much longer that will continue, and that it may depend upon careful moderation of his play and practice time, no matter how exquisitely he takes care of his conditioning.

“We all have to acknowledge that James has already conquered the odds”, Tomlin told reporters during the owners’ meetings, picked up by the Trib’s Joe Rutter.  “He doesn’t fall into convention. His existence doesn’t fall into convention”. That is an interesting way to phrase it, but an accurate one. Nothing about his career has been conventional.

Harrison entered the league as a hot-headed undrafted free agent out of Kent State all the way back in 2002. He was viewed as a tweener who wasn’t tall enough to play the position, but he had a tenacity to his business that had the Steelers bringing him back in the spring every year even though it took him a couple of years to actually make the roster.

Harrison was in the Raven’s organization in 2003, who shipped him off to Germany to play in the now-defunct NFL Europe. How many players currently active can say that they played in NFL Europe? How many alumni of that league went on to find the sort of success that Harrison had later on in his career?

After his flirtation with the Ravens and in Europe, he circled back to the Steelers, however, finally making the roster in 2004 and becoming a special teams standout. He would serve as a backup for the next few years, with a couple of highly significant cameos in the starting lineup, before inheriting Joey Porter’s coveted spot—Porter, who is barely a year older than him and who is now his position coach. Because of course he took his position coach’s job in his convention-defying career.

In his second season as a full-time starter in 2008, Harrison cemented himself as the best defender in football, with the trophy to prove it, and set the Steelers’ single-season sack record. Between then and now, he has played for yet another division rival, retired, and then come back to set the team’s career sack record. And then he decided to come back for more.

Yeah, I think Tomlin was right. James Harrison’s existence is in constant retreat from the conventional.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.

  • PompeyGoat

    “How many alumni of that league went on to find the sort of success that Harrison had later on in his career?”
    Hmm Kurt Warner is the only obvious one that springs to mind plus a couple of kickers who don’t really count!

  • Uncle Rico.

    Steelers should thank their lucky stars Clark Haggans broke his hand right before camp in 04. Otherwise Harrison would be over halfway towards a bus driver’s pension in Columbus right now.

  • Charles Mullins

    It would be great if he retired a Brown.

  • Bryan Ischo

    Huh? Why?

  • Charles Mullins

    Then he will have played for the entire AFC North.

  • Joseph Shaw

    Missed one.

  • Joseph Shaw

    Ah, wait–he WAS in the Ravens system for a bit, wasn’t he? But I don’t think he ever played…

  • Charles Mullins

    “Harrison was in the Raven’s organization in 2003, who shipped him off to Germany to play in the now-defunct NFL Europe.”

  • The Truth

    Yet Tomlin kept benching him in favor of the terrible Jones.

  • Joseph Shaw

    He has an expansive amount of pulchritudinous energy remaining in his protoplasm.

  • Joseph Shaw

    Yeah, had forgotten about that one. Did he ever don a Ravens uniform? That’s a photo I’d like to see…or maybe not.

  • Charles Mullins


  • Charles Mullins

    Search “James Harrison Rhein Fire” you will see a couple.

  • Joseph Shaw

    Strangest thing I’ve seen all day! LOLOLOL…thanks for sharing.

  • Darth Blount 47

    Much like Keith Richards… James Harrison cannot be killed by conventional weapons.

  • Garrett Hunt

    How many other players in NFL history have been on the roster for 3 afc north teams? If there is anybody else I bet they were also one tough sob

  • dany

    I just hear the Darth Vader mask noise every time I see James and his black visor helmet

  • RevDrEBuzz

    My mind is a raging torrent, flooded with rivulets of thought cascading into a waterfall of creative alternatives.

  • Conserv_58

    Whenever I see his menacing thousand yard glare I hear, Ivan Dragov, of Rocky IV fame, saying, “I. Must. Break. You.”

  • Conserv_58

    Keith Richards has his blood replaced regularly because of the toxic cocktail of drugs and alcohol he ingests. He won’t die because he survives on formaldehyde already.

  • Conserv_58

    Of course he did. He was involved in their training camp before being sent packing.

  • Conserv_58

    Actually, Matthew if I’m not mistaken, James’ becoming a full time starter wouldn’t have happened when it did if fomer Steelers’ LB, Clark Haggans didn’t hurt his hand lifting weights in the off season.

  • Dean O’Brien

    “James Harrison’s existence is in constant retreat from the conventional.”

    I’m not sure I would use the word ‘retreat’ and ‘James Harrison’ in the same sentence!