For the No. 16 entry in our countdown, we hand the keys over to Anthony. Michael Uhlhorn, who has been spearheading the project, will be back with No. 15 in the near future. -Michael B.-
16) James Harrison–Outside Linebacker (2004-present).
An undrafted free agent out of Kent State in 2002, James Harrison bounced between the Steelers and Ravens several times early in his career (he even had a brief stint in NFL Europe) before finally catching on with Pittsburgh in 2004. Harrison was a special teams stand-out for a few years before becoming a starter at outside linebacker in 2007 following the release of Joey Porter. Fittingly, Harrison had his coming out party with a dominant performance against the Ravens in a memorable Monday night game in early November of that year. Harrison’s first season as a starter was such a success, he was voted team mvp. The following year, Harrison achieved national stardom by being voted NFL Defensive Player of the Year and was one of the heroes of the Steelers Super Bowl XLIII victory with his superman-like 100-yard interception return for a touchdown near the end of the first half.
As dominant as Harrison was against the Ravens that night in 2007, he may have saved his best performance for a divisional round playoff game against Baltimore following the 2010 season.
Career game: Divisional Round Playoffs–Steelers 31, Ravens 24 (1/15/2011).
Statistics: 3 sacks, 7 tackles (5 solo), and 2 passes defensed.
Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs had a dominant night in his own right. The long-time Steelers tormentor sacked Ben Roethlisberger three times–including a strip-sack that was returned for a touchdown by Cory Redding late in the first quarter–and helped the Ravens jump out to a 21-7 halftime lead.
It was certainly shaping-up to be the Ravens’ night, especially after Pittsburgh could do nothing on their initial offensive drive of the 3rd quarter. But just when it looked like it would be a long-night in Steelers Nation, Harrison provided a spark by sacking Joe Flacco on Baltimore’s first possession of the second half. Two plays later, Ryan Clark stripped Ray Rice of the football following a check-down pass on 3rd and long, and the Steelers recovered deep in Ravens’ territory. Pittsburgh took advantage when Roethlisberger hit Heath Miller with a nine yard touchdown pass to bring the Steelers to within a touchdown, 21-14.
When the Ravens got the football back, Harrison made sure there would be no shift in momentum by sacking Flacco for a second time.
On Baltimore’s third possession of the quarter, Clark picked off Flacco, and the Steelers offense, once again, took advantage of the short-field and tied the game when Roethlisberger hit Hines Ward with an eight yard touchdown pass on 3rd and goal.
The Ravens turned the football over for the third time in the quarter–this time on a Flacco fumbled snap–and Pittsburgh eventually took the lead, 24-21, on a Shaun Suisham 35-yard field goal early in the final quarter.
Harrison may have saved his most important sack for last. With just under 10 minutes left in the game, the Ravens had the football near mid-field after picking up their initial first down of the second half. On 3rd and 11, however, Harrison nearly stripped the football from Flacco before the quarterback escaped and scrambled to his right. Undeterred, Harrison got up off the turf and relentlessly chased Flacco out of bounds for an eight-yard loss.
The Ravens eventually tied the game on a Billy Cundiff field goal with just under four minutes to play, but the Steelers went ahead for good after Roethlisberger hit Antonio Brown with a 58-yard pass inside the 10 yard line on 3rd and 19 and Rashard Mendenhall powered in for a two-yard touchdown run with 1:33 left in the game.
The Ravens started their last drive near mid-field, but thanks to a Ziggy Hood sack on 3rd down and a T.J. Houshmandzadeh drop on 4th and 18, the Steelers held on to complete the comeback win over their bitter AFC North rivals, 31-24.
Harrison and the rest of the Steelers defense were so dominant, they limited the Ravens to just 28 total yards after halftime.
Roethlisberger, Clark, and Brown may have had the splash plays that we’ll all remember years from now, but it was number 92 who sparked the second-half comeback with a defensive performance for the ages.
No. 25 – Casey Hampton (12/10/2010)
No. 24 – Rocky Bleier (10/26/1975)
No. 23 — Donnie Shell (09/07/1980)
No. 22 — Alan Faneca (12/07/2006)
No. 21 — John Henry Johnson (12/11/1960)
No. 20 — Greg Lloyd (01/14/1996)
No. 19 — John Stallworth (12/20/1978)
No. 18 — Andy Russell (12/27/1975)
No. 17 — L.C. Greenwood (1/18/1976)
Source: Behind the Steel Curtain