If you’ve followed the NFL in any capacity over the last 10-15 years, James “Deebo” Harrison has been one of the most polarizing figures in the league. From vicious hits on unsuspecting opponents to body-slamming unsuspecting fans, he was nothing short of a mad man on the field. Even as a Steelers fan, it was tough to support him sometimes for his on the field antics and an off the field domestic violence charge that was later dropped. One thing was for sure, he was a force to be reckoned with on the gridiron. Now, he’s provided NFL fans with some much needed entertainment. Coming at a time where any type of sports gossip is as good as an NBA playoff game. I guess.
Harrison sat down with former Steelers’ lineman Willie Colon on his “Going Deep” podcast, and had some interesting points to make/clarify.
Vegas on Thursday, Heinz Field on Sunday
Back before there were thousands of investigative journalists equipped with a social media app and a camera phone, the Steelers were partying nightly. “From 2002-2006, man there wasn’t a night I wasn’t out…The thing is, we were burning it from both ends, we would go out with the owls at night but soar with the eagles in the morning.” He mentioned flying to Vegas during the week just to party.
At least those teams kept it professional on the field during those years, having won the Super Bowl in 2005. Colon and Harrison both reiterated the fact they would have been toast by the veterans if they missed practice the next day. That simply wasn’t an option. “If anytime the nightlife (was) messing up with what we’re doing here, you gotta cut it.”
Finally in 2006 the partying caught up with him and he couldn’t do it anymore. No one is immune to bad hangovers when they hit their late 20s, not even James Harrison. This proved to be a fruitful decision for him as he won Defensive Player of the Year in 2008.
Tensions with Tomlin Part 1
It’s no secret that Steelers fans have had their problems with Mike Tomlin over the years. Despite having a >.600 winning percentage over 13 seasons with the Steelers, it’s hard to ignore some of those talented teams’ shortcomings. According to Harrison, tensions started immediately upon Tomlin’s arrival.
In 2007, after Bill Cowher retired, the Steelers hired Tomlin as the new head coach. Additionally, starting OLB Joey Porter left to play for the Dolphins. Harrison assumed he had a starting job locked up as an OLB, but with the first two picks in the draft, Tomlin and the Steelers selected two talented OLBs: Lawrence Timmons & LaMarr Woodley.
“All of a sudden, I’m in OTAs, and I’m splitting time with Lawrence Timmons. Right then and there, chip the size of a mother-(expletive)!” Timmons then proceeded to suffer a groin injury that sidelined him for a few weeks. This allowed Harrison to claim the OLB spot and when Timmons returned, he moved to ILB. “From day one,” Harrison continued, “as soon as he went one and two, he (Tomlin) ain’t for me.” Harrison isn’t sure where the doubt came from, but he knew it wasn’t because of Defensive Coordinator, Dick Lebeau.
Tensions with Tomlin Part 2
After a brief period with the Bengals in 2013, Harrison came back to Pittsburgh in 2014 for 3 semi-productive seasons. In 2017, Tomlin told him his snaps were going to be cut considerably. The Steelers had two younger guys ready to claim the starting OLB spots: Bud Dupree & TJ Watt. Harrison wasn’t going to sit around and be that veteran leader if he knew he would play less than half the snaps per game. “Well I’ma tell you this right here right now. If I ain’t playing, I ain’t staying. So if the game came and he didn’t have me dressed to play, I left…I was trying to do whatever I (could) to try and make him release me.”
Behind Enemy Lines
Later in December, the Steelers finally parted ways with Harrison and granted him his release from the team. Immediately, in quintessential Belichick fashion, Bill Belichick calls up Harrison and offers him a spot on the Patriots. It worked out well for Harrison. He claimed a prominent role and came very close to winning yet another Super Bowl with New England.
Had the Patriots won the Super Bowl, Harrison said he would have played another season. “To be honest with you dude, if I had got that one dude, I woulda came back for another one and it woulda been outta spite.” As a Steelers fan who bases most of his sports tendencies out of spite, I’m going to say I’m happy he didn’t win that Super Bowl! Spite is a great thing, isn’t it?
Not Holding a Grudge
Despite how things ended with the Steelers, Harrison isn’t holding a grudge with the organization. “I had great experiences in Pittsburgh, I still like the Steelers, I like the Rooneys. I even had heart to heart talks with Art (Rooney) about the situation and everything else and I’ma keep those conversations between him and me about what was going on with ourselves. But I’m thankful for everything that they’ve done for me. I’m even thankful for Mike T, the things that he’s done for me. But at the same point in time, we have our little differences and that. But that’s not something that’s going to terminate my relationship with Pittsburgh or the Steelers. All in all, it’s thumbs up. “
Some Final Quotes from Harrison
On his deal with wide receivers after Harrison ended Eric Decker’s season with a low hit:
WR: “Don’t hit me like that.”
Harrison: “Ok, if you pay my fine I’ll hit you high.”
WR: “I got your fine.”
After hitting Mohamed Massaquoi:
“I hit that man with about 50 percent of what I had and I just hit him because I wanted him to let loose of the ball. If I knew they were going to fine me $75k I would have tried to kill him”
On not going to the White House after either Super Bowl:
“It wasn’t something that I needed or I wanted to see to fulfill any desire that I had to do that…Because right now that position don’t look like a great one, now do it? You wanna go meet the President now?”
James Harrison wreaked havoc on opposing offensive players for roughly 14 seasons in the NFL. He was brutal, vicious, and had no regard for human life on the field. Off the field, Willie Colon made a point to address that he still is a great guy. “It’s hard to meet real authentic people. When the lights are on, or when they’re off, they remain the same. He’s true to himself and true to his family.”
He definitely was one of the most exciting defensive players to watch during his prime. You knew that if he was on the field, offenses were going to have to adapt to his presence. It’s a shame how things ended in Pittsburgh with him. I’m just happy he provided us with one of the single greatest moments in Super Bowl history (among others).
Ok, maybe it is THE greatest moment in Super Bowl history.
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