When you think about Franco Harris, I’m betting you don’t devote a whole lot of time to his tenure up in Seattle. Ruminations of Mike Webster’s career don’t dawdle on his period in Kansas City. And I’m sure even memories of Rod Woodson are almost solely devoted to his era in the black and gold, the only purple being the welts and bruises he left behind on opposing players.
So too it will be, in time, with former Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison, who has retired for the second time. On neither of those occasions did he finish the prior season with the team, preceded both times by the Steelers having released him.
Sure, contextual discussions about Harrison will even decades from now likely recall the way things ended, especially the most recent time, in Pittsburgh and he ended up with confetti streaming down on him as a loser in the Super Bowl with the New England Patriots.
But the casual barstool references in five years’ time are going to be devoted almost solely to how great a player he was and how much of an impact he has had on this parting era of the Steelers’ history, participating in three Super Bowls and helping to get two more rings (even if he wasn’t a starter for the first one).
There is no denying that Harrison was one of the great players of the previous generation. While his time at the top of his game was relatively brief, he was dominant, and forever carved out a legacy in Pittsburgh that will not be undone by a nap.
I don’t care for the way things ended on his part, provided that the events as reported actually unfolded in the manner described, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that there have only been a couple of players I’ve enjoyed watching more over the past decade. Two, specifically: Troy Polamalu and Antonio Brown, whose wizardry will send them to Canton shortly after they are eligible.
All outlets have found it necessary to provide you with a highlight reel of some of his greatest moments, as though we don’t recall them. His breakout primetime game against the Browns more than a decade ago all the way through the final time he got the best of Eric Fisher are indelible marks that are implied under the surface whenever his playing legacy is discussed.
More than anything, James Harrison was simply a player who loved the game and wanted to play. He probably would have retired after his first few seasons of futility if he were not driven to break out, and it finally came half a decade after coming out of college.
The rest—all of the rest, now—is history. It’s academic. Past-tense. His brief tenure in New England will be but a footnote in the grand scheme of things. Nothing will overshadow one of the most clutch defensive plays in NFL history, his 100-yard pick six in the Super Bowl.
That image will be the one that lasts into immortality—not the confetti-laden sulk of defeat in a grotesquely foreign blue-and-white outfit.