James Harrison has always reminded me of one of my all time favorite Steelers, Greg Lloyd. After all, both men:
- Excel at outside linebacker
- Hail from unheralded college programs
- Terrorize opposing quarterbacks
- Unleash havoc with reckless abandon
- Impose their will
- Alter the course of games when victory and defeat hang in the balance
Harrison, for good or for ill, is now following in Lloyd’s footsteps with his mouth.
Never shy about sharing his feelings, Lloyd once called Joe Namath out when Broadway Joe criticized his aggressive play, and number 95 rightly criticized NFL management for fining him for hits that they later packaged and sold as highlight VHS tapes.
The NFL’s selective prosecution of James Harrison during the 2010 campaign was well document both on Steel Curtain Rising and in parts elsewhere.
Harrison didn’t back down then, and is not relenting now, having done an interview with Men’s Journal where he called Rodger Goodell “the devil” and going so far as to say:
If that man was on fire and I had to piss to put him out, I wouldn’t do it. I hate him and will never respect him.
Strong words. Steel Curtain Rising has been stout in its defense of James Harrison, regularly decrying the league’s semi-official policy of allowing offensive lineman to hold, closeline, and horse collar him with nary a flag.
And if one easily understands that no love will should be lost between Goodell and Harrison, it remains equally effortless to understand that the ultimate impact of Harrison’s tirade will likely only serve to intensify his status as the league’s poster boy against aggressive play.
The real danger in Harrison’s rant lies elsewhere.
Harrison Hits Too Close to Home
In a forthcoming Men’s Journal magazine article, Harrison also offered some choice words for his teammates.
While praising Troy Polamalu, Harrison labeled Rashard Mendenhall as a “fumble machine,” and then had this to say about his starting quarterback:
Hey, at least throw a pick on their side of the field instead of asking the D to bail you out again. Or hand the ball off and stop trying to act like Peyton Manning. You ain’t that and you know it, man; you just get paid like he does.
Harrison’s criticism of Ben Roethlisberger is particularly unnevering. Locker room unity and team harmony have been hallmarks of the Steelers success during the entire last decade.
Could signal the end?
Echos of O’Donnell and Lloyd?
Reading Harrison’s comments about Roethlisberger immediately reminded me of Greg Lloyd and Neil O’Donnell.
After a hard-fought victory against the Chicago Bears in 1995 Lloyd saluted O’Donnell with a very public side-line hug. Afterwards he explained to reporters that quarterbacks, O’Donnell included, were the enemy, and that his hug signaled a truce in light of his quarterback’s superb play that day.
That season’s ended with Steelers dropping Super Bowl XXX and Neil O’Donnell bolting because he felt Rich Kotite and New York Jet’s offered him a better chance to get back to the Super Bowl. I remember reading an article by someone in Pittsburgh, I want to say it was John Steigerwald talking about the relationship between O’Donnell and Lloyd.
Steigerwald, if he was the author, explained that the Lloyd-O’Donnell hug marked the high point in their relationship, and that the divisions between Lloyd and his cadre and the rest of the team had hurt the team in 1995. (Jim O’Brien raised similar observations about Lloyd in his book Dare to Dream.)
While tension between Lloyd and O’Donnell remained largely behind the scenes, (ah, the heaven of the days prior to social media), Harrison has very publicly called out his quarterback.
Roethlisberger and Harrison have apparently talked, according to Merril Hoge, and all is well. That’s what you want to hear in public.
What is said, or felt, in private remains a different matter.
A few weeks back in a make-news article, ESPN’s James Walker praised Mike Tomlin as being the AFC North’s best “massager of egos.” Walker’s arguments were strong. Now it looks as if they’ll be put to the test.