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02-05-2011, 01:53 AM
Steelers’ Harrison may be as feared as he is outrageous
The Kansas City Star
http://www.kansascity.com/2011/02/04/26 ... eared.html (http://www.kansascity.com/2011/02/04/2633712/steelers-harrison-may-be-as-feared.html)
Don Wright
The hit that launched countless arguments: Steelers linebacker James Harrison unloaded on Cleveland wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi.

James Harrison had 10 1/2 sacks and two interceptions this season. He’s also the player who typified the NFL’s crackdown on illegal hits. “My style of play is how you are supposed to play the game,” he says.

DALLAS | Pittsburgh linebacker James Harrison’s career can be defined by round numbers.

$100,000 in fines.

100-yard interception return in Super Bowl XLIII.

100 tackles

10-plus sacks a season.

Harrison, a linchpin of a Steelers defense that will be making its second Super Bowl appearance in three years on Sunday, was the poster child for the NFL’s crackdown on helmet-to-helmet hits and other violent tackles this season.

Harrison’s fines reached six figures, and he’s still seething about it.

“I don’t want to hurt nobody. I don’t want to step on nobody’s foot and hurt their toe. I don’t want to have no dirt or none of this rubber on the field fly into their eye and make their eye hurt,” Harrison said quietly and sarcastically into a microphone at Media Day this week.

“I just want to tackle them softly on the ground and, if y’all can, lay a pillow down where I’m going to tackle them so they don’t hit the ground too hard, Mr. Goodell.”

That’s how bitter Harrison is toward commissioner Roger Goodell, arbiter of the fines levied throughout the season.

“They took $100,000 out of my pocket,” Harrison said.

Yet Harrison, a one-time practice-squad player who blossomed into the 2008 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, turned all the attention he received for his hard-hitting play into a positive.

Fans reached into their pockets and sent contributions to help pay his fine, and with the money, he started the James Harrison Family Foundation, which helps disabled children and their families. Harrison matches each contribution that is made.

“They actually send money to the NFL offices … about $2,700 that they ended up sending to the Beaver County YMCA, where I had a program called James Harrison’s Sacks for Kids that we gave Christmas gifts to underprivileged families, to people that couldn’t afford it, for the holiday season,” Harrison said.

“They sent that to them, and I had some fans that sent things to me that I put in to the foundation.”

Harrison, who ranked fourth on the Steelers with an even 100 tackles this season and had a team-high 10 1/2 sacks — becoming the first player in club history to post at least 10 sacks in three consecutive seasons — says he did not let the fines or possibility of a suspension alter his approach to the game.

At one point, he threatened to retire, but said that was just a 24-hour thing and cooler heads prevailed.

“I didn’t change the way I played,” Harrison said. “Maybe the first couple weeks. … I just didn’t put my face in the fan, so to speak, in certain situations. Other than that, I’m back to playing how I played. You’re looking at maybe five or six plays in the course of 900, 1,000 plays a year … and they’re trying to pick out five or six plays … that were questionable. …

“If you go through the course week-in and week-out that guys play in, I believe if you look at the film you’ll see guys that hit quarterbacks the same way that I do if not worse, and they aren’t flagged and they aren’t fined either. Like I said, they needed somebody to implement their rule, and they decided to come make it me.”

Harrison agrees with the premise that defenseless players ought to be protected from helmet-to-helmet hits, but he thinks there needs to be some common sense applied.

“Rule changes are good for the game, but there are certain things that you’re going to have to take into account when you see a guy hit someone,” Harrison said. “You can’t just have a flat-out rule that says if you hit someone in the head, you’re fined, because the majority of the time you have guys that are protecting themselves.”

That’s what happened when Harrison struck Cleveland’s Mohamed Massaquoi, which drew a $75,000 fine.

“He’s going to duck his head to protect himself, and we hit helmet-to-helmet,” Harrison said. “He ducked his head to protect himself, and I lowered my target area, and we ended up hitting shoulder to helmet area, and he sustained a concussion. They’re saying that that’s my responsibility to readjust to an adjustment that he has made at the last second. You just can’t do it.

“The game happens so fast that most of the time it’s a bang-bang play, and you don’t have time to adjust to an adjustment that a guy has made.”

When Harrison went to New York to appeal and discuss the fine for that hit, he asked league officials this question: “If I’m going to hit a receiver and he ducks his head at the last minute and we hit helmet-to-helmet, is it my fault?’”

Harrison said Merton Hanks of the league office said: “‘Yes, it’s your fault and you will be fined.’”

Harrison, who will be paid about $3.55 million this season, will more than recoup his fines if the Steelers win the Super Bowl. The winner’s share is $83,000 per player, and combined with playoff money earned for winning the AFC North and two playoff games, the Steelers will pocket $163,000 per man. If the Steelers lose, he’ll have to settle for $122,000.

It was Harrison who made the game-changing play in the Steelers’ 27-23 victory over Arizona in Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa. Right before halftime, he intercepted a Kurt Warner pass and returned it 100 yards for a touchdown for the longest play in Super Bowl history.

“I don’t really remember a lot about it right now,” Harrison said. “We got pressure on him, and I intercepted the pass. There were 10 other guys out there with me. I returned it for a touchdown. And then I needed oxygen.”

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