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fordfixer
01-31-2009, 11:35 AM
Perseverance pays off for Steelers' Harrison
By RANDY COVITZ
The Kansas City Star
The Steelers’ James Harrison waited for his chance — and he made the most of it when it came.

http://www.kansascity.com/666/story/1010462.html

TAMPA, Fla. | Three years ago, Jerome Bettis, a man they called The Bus, inspired the Pittsburgh Steelers on a run to a Super Bowl championship.

Now, a guy who was on the verge of actually being a bus driver could lead the Steelers to a record sixth Super Bowl victory.

Linebacker James Harrison was not drafted out of Akron and signed as a rookie free agent with the Steelers in 2002. He was released and spent all but one game on the practice squad. He was waived again in 2003 and spent a month on the practice squad before he was released again.

At that point, Harrison, an undersized 6-foot, 242-pounder, thought about getting measured for a different team’s uniform — Greyhound’s.

“I almost quit to become a bus driver,” he reflected. “I was going to get a regular job like everyone else.”

But Harrison came back for one more try in 2004. And there was something about Harrison the Steelers liked. He had a mean streak that fit the tradition of nasty, surly, hard-hitting Steelers linebackers.

“There are 32 teams out there and as long as one likes you, you’re good,” Harrison said. “Pittsburgh liked me enough to keep bringing me back.

Both the Steelers and Harrison were rewarded for their perseverance.

Five years after considering replacing his football helmet with a driver’s cap, Harrison led the Steelers with 16 sacks, seven forced fumbles and was selected NFL defensive player of the year. And now, he’s about to make his first Super Bowl start on Sunday against Arizona.

“It came down to getting the opportunity,” Harrison said. “Once I got the opportunity, it came down to getting better at my craft. If you get a guy who is a first- or a second-round pick, he’s going to get a year, two or maybe three years to develop. If you get a guy who’s undrafted, if he doesn’t come into camp and do something spectacular, he may have the opportunity to play on special teams or be on the practice squad.

“I was thinking that if I don’t get picked up, I’m just going to give it up. I’m not going to be one of those guys who is dragging around for three or five years from team to team just trying to get an opportunity to play. It’s a long road to go, and I just thank God that I was able to make it.”

Harrison, who had a reputation as an uncoachable player, realized he had to make an attitude adjustment if he was going to stick with the Steelers in his fourth attempt.

“The difference is maturity,” Harrison said. “I handled situations a lot differently than my rookie year. The way I took coaching, the way I talked to coaches … that was all different. I had to change all of that because it was basically the last hurrah.

“I’m not the type of person who’s going to do something because you tell me to do it. If you tell me to do it, I may not. If it’s something you tell me I can’t do, then I damn sure want to prove you wrong. … You’re young and you’re stubborn and you just want to do things your own way. That’s just not the way it’s going to work.”

It also took some good fortune for Harrison to make it. The Steelers kept him in 2004 after veteran Clark Haggans broke his hand. Harrison played mostly on special teams in 2004. He made three starts in 2005 but was mostly a special-teams guy as the Steelers won Super Bowl XL, and he made just one start in 2006.

Finally, given a chance to start at right outside linebacker in 2007 after Joey Porter left for Miami in free-agency, Harrison blossomed.