James Harrison is an outside linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and he is our profile in manhood for the week. Harrison was widely dismissed as being too small and too weak to play linebacker in the NFL and went undrafted in 2002. He spent the next two years being repeatedly cut by both the Steelers and the Ravens practice squads, and was forced to play for a time in NFL Europe. After years of struggling to get picked up by an NFL team, Harrison began to take snaps on field for the Steelers and slowly earned his place with the black and gold.
In 2007, after five years of uncertainty and average play, Harrison’s refusal to quit earned him a starting spot and he had a breakout season. Since then he’s been a five time pro bowler, an NFL defensive player of the year, won two Super Bowl rings and had arguably the most impressive play in Super Bowl history when he intercepted Kurt Warner in the red zone, dodging Cardinals as he ran the ball back 100 yards for a touchdown.
Being cut by multiple teams, Harrison almost quit several times to become a veterinarian – but if he did that he wouldn’t be our profile in manhood for the week. In the end he persevered and proved everyone who had doubted his size and strength wrong. But his professional accomplishments aren’t why he’s worthy of our time all these years later.
In 2013 Harrison was released by the Pittsburgh after he couldn’t agree on a new contract and he spent a year playing for the Cincinnati Bengals before being unceremoniously cut by them. He could possibly have found another team after the 2013 season, but his sons wanted their father to be close to home. Rather than chase more money and continue playing, he announced his plans to retire and signed a one day contract so that he could officially retire as a Pittsburgh Steeler.
Now, a man of his accomplishments would be well justified in feeling ill used by the management of both teams. Football can be a cold business, even to players like Harrison who spend most of ten years with the same organization. But Harrison is an outstanding individual. Just a few months after he officially retired, the Pittsburgh Steelers were in a tough spot. Their once vaunted linebackers were a joke and they had lost several starters to injuries.
Old buddies from the Steelers called him at 4:00am knowing the now retired football player would be wide awake and in the gym. Even during retirement his work ethic put most men to shame. The Steelers needed help, and after asking his family, Harrison would answer the call for near the minimum salary. While no longer able to match his pro-bowl performances of years past, Harrison provided leadership and a spark that had been sorely missing in the Pittsburgh defense for the past several years.
Today, Harrison is creeping up on 40 years of age and is still ready to don his uniform for one more season with his brothers.
His willingness to come to his old team’s aid at a massive discount is worthy of respect, but not why we’re profiling him. The reason we feel he’s worthy of our admiration this week is that after all his contributions the Steelers are paying him far less than what he commanded in the past and he plays anyway. They may cut him this offseason or in camp, but you’ll find him posting workout video after workout video nonetheless. The man will not quit- he knows what he wants and he’s going to take it.
The man is no saint, and there are plenty of people who can attest to his many flaws, his savage hits, his angry and checkered past. But James Harrison is our man of the week because of his legendary work ethic, and his devotion to things that are bigger than himself – his family, and his team. He’s well worthy of being a profile in manhood.