James Harrison: 'You Just Keep Going'

SCI's Gwen Arbuckle talks to a Steelers icon about life, football and the winding down of an all-time great career.

James Harrison is so well known as a man of few public words that, while other – at times – less noteworthy players are literally surrounded by media, he's able to slip in and out of the only real media opportunity each day without a single question being asked in his direction.

Some people say he can be a tough nut to crack, but as they say, still waters run deep.

“You always see from the outside, you always think he’s got this tough exterior," said Pittsburgh Steelers teammate Cameron Heyward. "But when he talks, he just shows sincerity and humility along with it, where he wants what’s best for the team. There’s no thought in my mind where I think about him ever not having the best intentions. The thing about James is he’s going to do what’s best for this team."

If you want to see how the man feels and what he values, look to his social media. There you will find number 92 without a filter, and prolific in his opinions.

“It’s just fun," Harrison said. "Just a way for me to let out whatever it is I want to say or do and people can see it."

He plays it off, but seems to know that it speaks volumes. On Wednesday, for example, he practically broke the Internet with a video of his punishing abs workout. His official statement of finalizing his latest contract? An Instagram. But flip through his social channels, and he makes it clear what he values most: his family, his health and his team.

When asked about his family, it becomes clear that his commitment to them is unbreakable. Especially his sons, Henry and James, ages 5 and 7.

“It’s coming to a point where football’s going to have to go,” Harrison admits.

“They want you at home a little more now that they are older. They’re doing things, starting to do track and football and stuff like that. A lot of that stuff I’ll probably miss because a lot of it is on Saturdays."

But equally strong is his commitment to his teammates, even after he retired the first time. After being released from the Bengals in March of 2104 and no effort was made by the Steelers to bring him back to finish his career, he was ready to call it a day. But the game wasn’t over yet. The defense suffered injuries, specifically to Jarvis Jones, which brought Harrison back into play in late September.

“When I was retired, I was fine with it. I came back because Ike (Taylor), Troy (Polamalu) and Keisel asked me to. I talked to them and they wanted me to come back. And I felt like if I didn’t come back, I was letting them down. I didn’t want to let them down,” Harrison said.

Commitment to health? Well, that’s just part of doing business if you are going to cut it at his age. And also why he was so productive last season, in spite of flipping out of retirement and into heavy gridiron combat without warning as outside linebacker with a lot of miles behind him.

“Right now I feel good," he said. "I’m healthy and God has blessed me to play this game longer so I’m going to continue to play until I feel like I’m at that point where I’m good with (leaving)."

This season, Harrison will likely be putting the finishing touches on a career that brought him many accolades, including five straight Pro Bowl starts (2007-11), two Steelers MVP titles (2007 and 2008), Defensive Player of the Year and Linebacker of the Year by NFL alumni (2008).

One can tell that by the way the years fall, things might have slowed down. But he finished last year in a way that was far more productive and with many more minutes on the field than planned, starting in four games, playing in 11, with 5.5 sacks and tying Jason Gildon for the most multi-sack games in team history. He also reached the the Steelers' second all-time slot with 69.5 sacks over his career.

Harrison admits that it means a lot when your players vote you the best guy on the field. But ...

“The (accolades) that mean more to me are the Super Bowls. Those are the things that matter. That’s the ultimate goal of playing football is to win a Lombardi. We’ve done that twice (during Harrison’s career) and fell short one time. But that’s the goal year in and year out."

Prediction for what is intended to be his last year?

No prediction. It’s Deebo. Expect the unexpected.

As far as what comes after, things are much less up in the air.

“Nothing to do with football,” he said emphatically.

“I have a few real estate ventures right now, so I’m doing OK. Close to 300 units, so I’m doing all right.”

For now, though, Harrison is quietly doing his thing, and providing for the younger guys the way he says others have provided for him in the past, and waiting for the moment where he has to step up and shine -- not so he can show off, but to remind the young ones how this football stuff works. But whatever happens, Harrison feels that his life has played out exactly as it should, and his future will be exactly the same.

“I’m proud of what I accomplished. The route I had to get there? That’s different for different people,” he said.

“No regrets. Everything happens for a reason. Right, wrong or indifferent, the good, the bad. You just keep going."

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