As every Steelers fan registering a pulse now knows, the Pittsburgh Steelers not only cut James Harrison before Christmas, but the linebacking legend signed with the arch enemy New England Patriots.
- In highly uncanny and very personal sense, this story confirms that all is normal in the world.
And that’s because big Steelers news tends to break while yours truly is traveling and/or unable to write about it. Whether Antonio Brown resigning, Bruce Arians getting fired or Troy Polamalu retiring, its almost like a little light goes on at the South Side saying, “Ok, something big needs to happen NOW.”
And so it was that 24 hours after arriving to spend my first Christmas in the United States since 2000, I got a text from my cousin informing me that Steelers had cut James Harrison. Family comes first, (Dan Rooney would certainly agree) and so Steel Curtain Rising said nothing.
- In fact, the frustration over being unable to write was in fact a blessing in disguise.
My first reaction was “This is wrong.” And had I written anything, aim would have been taken at Art Rooney II, Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin for such an unceremonious parting with a franchise legend while leaving the Daniel McCullers and Justin Hunters of the Steelers roster intact.
- Then of course the situation took another twist, with the Patriots signed Harrison.
The move smacked of psychological warfare on the part of Bill Belichick, and only seemed to galvanize injustice of the situation. How could this be happening? Yet, because of both work and family obligations, Steel Curtain Rising remained silent, while the storm raged on the blogsphere.
If journalism is the first draft of history, then blogging provides a rough draft of journalism. To blog is to react, and sometimes, quite frankly, its best for bloggers to keep their mouths shut, even if that silence is a product of circumstance rather than choice.
- And the James Harrison fiasco certainly qualifies as on of those situations.
The Steelers locker room remain relatively silent regarding Harrison’s dismissal, but Debos former teammates unload on him the moment he inked his deal with the Patriots.
- Maurkice Pouncey said he erased his legacy and spit in the Rooney’s face.
- Fellow linebackers Bud Dupree and Vince Williams called out their former teammate.
- Marcus Gilbert berated Harrison for not being more honest about forcing his own departure.
The picture that James Harrison’s teammates painted was far different than that Steelers fans have come to know. Silverback was sleeping in meetings and walking out on his teammates on game days after learning he was to be inactive. Instead of serving as a Jerome Bettis-like mentor, Harrison was acted like a selfish brat.
Yep. Sometimes the best favor a fate an offer a blogger is a chance NOT to write about a big story as it is breaking.
The James Harrison Departure in 1 Word: Disappointing
A single word suffices to describe James Harrison’s parting with Pittsburgh: Disappointing. The image below drives that home poignantly.
Fans forget, but the Steelers defense struggled mightily in during the first half of 2016 and was so bad that Mexican blogger Carlos Ortega went as far as to compare it to the 1988 Steelers defense (which finished last in the NFL).
While the development of Artie Burns, Sean Davis and Javon Hargrave was critical you can pinpoint the turn around to Mike Tomlin’s decision to bench Jarvis Jones and start James Harrison following the disaster against Dallas.
The Steelers playoff win over the Chiefs had ended with Harrison drawing a rare holding flag on the Chief’s 2 point conversion, setting up Sean Davis’ pass defense in the end zone. Hollywood couldn’t have scripted it better. Harrison still wanted to play, the Steelers wanted him back, and signed him to a two year deal complete with a 1 million dollar roster bonus.
- Yet, the Steelers also knew that their future at right outside linebacker wasn’t to be found in a 39 year old man.
- So they went out and drafted T.J. Watt.
The stage seemed to be set for Jerome Bettis-Willie Parker in reverse, this time with the Super Bowl record setting undrafted rookie free agent mentoring the ballyhood first round draft pick. Except it didn’t happen that way. Jim Wexell and Dale Lolley signaled during training camp that Harrison might be on the roster bubble.
- Steel Curtain Rising took their cautions seriously, but speculated that the Steelers were merely “Bettising Harrison.”
Instead, as the season evolved, it looked like Harrison might play a role more closer to what Duce Staley played in 2005 – the veteran buried deep on the depth chart who nonetheless stepped up to deliver in spot duty (see Staley vs the Packers in 2005, Harrison on the closing plays vs the Chiefs and Ravens.)
But we now know that analogy falls flat. Harrison wasn’t the mentor, wasn’t the veteran gracefully aging into the football locker room equivalent of an elder statesman. No, instead James Harrison acted as a malcontent.
Anyone To Blame for This Fiasco? Yes – Harrison
Often times life requires you to give up something, to get something. No Steelers fan who remembers Cliff Stoudt, Mark Malone or even Bubby Brister, Neil O’Donnell or Kordell Stewart slinging the ball wants to see Big Ben strike midnight.
- But the sight of Ben Roethlisberger and James Harrison hosting Lombardi Number 7 and announcing their Life’s Work would be poetic, beautiful and bittersweet.
Ain’t gonna happen now. The question is, is anyone to blame?
The NFL is a results driven business, and Mike Tomlin’s job is to make sure this kind of thing didn’t happen. But Harrison had to know the Steelers didn’t draft T.J. Watt to sit him. He had to see the development of Anthony Chickillo threatened his playing time. Joey Porter also made it clear, VERY early on that the rotation at OLB was over.
While James Harrison has always marched to his own drummer, he had never been a disruptive force in the locker room. And James Harrison has been in Pittsburgh long enough to know that the way to win the favor of Mike Tomlin wasn’t to mail it in.
Its easy to say that “Tomlin suspended Rashard Mendenhall for no-showing at games when he was inactive, so he shouldn’t have had a double standard for Harrison.” Which is true, but in a season filled with Antonio Brown’s tantrums, Martavis Bryant demanding a trade, Ryan Shazier’s injury, would Tomlin really have been wise to create another distraction?
- As it was, the Harrison situation was kept under wraps until he openly complained in December.
At the end of the day, James Harrison had a choice: He could embrace the Steelers way, and act as a mentor off the field and contribute on the field when called upon or he could pout and act like a spoiled brat.
- Like fellow Steeler-turned Patriot LeGarrette Blount, James Harrison deserted his teammates.
James Harrison chose to conduct himself like a 16 year old who throws a tantrum when he can’t have the car keys to the car, even when he knows it’s the only way for Mom and Dad to get to work. It is sad. This never should have ended this way. But the person to blame for this fiasco is James Harrison plain and simple.