Harrison during a Steelers game in 2010.
|93, 53, 92|
|Date of birth:||May 4 1978|
|Place of birth:||Akron, Ohio|
|Height: 6 ft 0 in||Weight: 242 lbs|
|National Football League Debut|
| 2002 for the Pittsburgh Steelers|
2017 for the New England Patriots
|High school:||Coventry (Coventry, OH)|
|College:||Kent State (1998-2002)|
|NFL Draft:||2002 / Undrafted|
|* = offseason / practice squad only|
|Career highlights and awards|
James "Silverback" Harrison, Jr. (born May 4, 1978) is an American former football linebacker. He was signed by the Steelers as an undrafted free agent in 2002. He played college football at Kent State.
A three-time Pro Bowl selection, Harrison had earned Super Bowl rings with the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XL and Super Bowl XLIII. He had also been a member of the Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals and the New England Patriots.
Born in Akron, Ohio, Harrison was the youngest of 14 children to James Sr. (a chemical truck driver) and Mildred. He grew up in Akron, and his favorite NFL team was the Cleveland Browns, who played only 40 miles from his house. His mother did not want him to play at first. It took both Harrison and his best friend from childhood, David Walker, to convince her. When he started to play, he excelled at both linebacker and running back. He attended two high schools his freshman year, Archbishop Hoban High School and Buchtel High School, before attending Coventry High School. He was one of the first African-Americans to play football at Coventry, and he graduated in 1998.
His high school football ability was great, but his lack of maturity at times was a struggle. Harrison did not pay attention to his grades or college entrance tests, and by his senior year he had become disruptive to his football team. Early in his senior year, Coventry staff had to suspend him for two games for challenging an assistant coach to a fight. After he returned from his suspension, he was suspended for one game for making obscene gestures to the fans (supposedly they were yelling racial insults). Harrison was in court soon thereafter, after he shot a BB gun in the school locker room. He pled guilty to a minor charge and was able to return to school to finish his senior year. Due to his off-the-field issues, powerhouse football programs like Ohio State, Notre Dame, and Nebraska lost interest in him.
Harrison failed to get a football scholarship, he decided to attend Kent State University. Kent State coaches were thrilled to have such talent on the field, but his academics were still poor. His parents were paying for his first year, hoping he would get a scholarship to help pay for the rest of his college years. His grades were so poor in his first semester, his mother wanted him to pack up and go home. This was a turning point for Harrison.
The coaching staff helped Harrison by arranging extra tutoring help. They also began demanding more accountability and effort from him on the practice field. Coach at the time Dean Pees said, "The guy (Harrison) was playing behind wasn't even as close to as good as he was. He knew it. I knew it. He also knew I wasn't going to change. I wasn't going to play him until he gave me what he had."
It paid off. Harrison was able to raise his GPA to a 3.0 and treated practice much more seriously. As a senior, he was selected as a team captain. He would go on to earn 2001 All Mid-American Conference honors at linebacker. He also helped Kent State to their first winning season in 14 years. Harrison left Kent State in 2002 a few credits shy of a bachelor's degree in general studies.
No team drafted him, fearing he was too short (six feet) to play linebacker, and too light (240 pounds) to play on the defensive line. A few teams did send him training camp invites. The Steelers signed Harrison as an undrafted rookie in 2002, making him the first Kent State alumnus to play at linebacker for the team since Hall of Famer Jack Lambert.
Harrison spent two years on and off the practice squad for the Steelers, being released three times, and was also briefly on the active roster towards the end of the 2002 season, playing only special teams. Teammate and fellow linebacker James Farrior later told NFL Network that Harrison was so green early on in his career that he would simply “give up” on plays he was struggling on and would even ask the coaches not to play him when he was struggling. Farrior said, "He was a knucklehead that didn't know the plays. We'd be in practice, in training camp, and he might not know what he doing so he'd just stop and throw his hands up and tell (the coaches) to get him out of there. We thought the guy was crazy."
Harrison wore number 93 during this period before adopting his current number 92, which at the time was worn by fellow linebacker and Pro Bowler Jason Gildon.
He was signed by Baltimore in late 2003, then sent to the Rhein Fire of NFL Europe, but eventually cut by the Ravens. After being cut for a fourth time, Harrison considered not playing anymore. He thought about becoming a veterinarian. He then decided to get a commercial driver's license like his father had. Shortly after, he was signed a fourth time by the Steelers during training camp in 2004 after Clark Haggans sustained an injury in an offseason weightlifting accident. Showing much improvement, Harrison made the final roster and has remained with the Steelers since. Harrison later told the Beaver County Times that if not for Haggans's injury, he planned on retiring from football at age 26 to focus on becoming a veterinarian, something that Harrison still plans on doing after his football career ends. Harrison also considered following in his father's footsteps and become a truck driver, and to this day does have a commercial driver's license.
Throughout the 2004 season, Harrison mostly played special teams with occasional reps at linebacker. His first career start came against his hometown Cleveland Browns in Cleveland on November 14 after teammate Joey Porter and Browns running back William Green were ejected for fighting during the pregame warm-ups. Harrison had a good game statistically in the Steelers' 24–10 victory against their hated rival.
Harrison scored his first career touchdown on a fumble recovery in the final week of the season against the Buffalo Bills.
Harrison started in three games of the 2005 season when starting linebacker Clark Haggans was injured. His biggest highlight of the year was in a game against the San Diego Chargers, where he intercepted a Drew Brees pass for a 25 yard return. During the return, he made a huge leap over LaDainian Tomlinson, the Chargers star running back.
Harrison gained some attention and popularity when he bodyslammed a Cleveland Browns fan during a 41-0 Pittsburgh win on Christmas Eve. The intoxicated fan had leapt onto the field and was charging towards several Steelers players when Harrison grabbed the man and put him on the ground. Harrison restrained the fan until authorities took him away.
The Steelers went on to win Super Bowl XL that season. Although Harrison was not a major factor in the game, he did play and earn a Super Bowl ring with the team, recording a team-high three special teams tackles.
In the 2007 offseason, with longtime head coach Bill Cowher resigning after 15 seasons and Mike Tomlin taking over the reins, the Steelers controversially cut Joey Porter for salary cap reasons. Although the Steelers drafted two linebackers with their first two picks that year (Lawrence Timmons and LaMarr Woodley), Harrison was appointed the starter in place of Porter. The decision would ultimately pay off, as Harrison would go on to have a breakout season and earn his first trip to the Pro Bowl, making All-Pro as a starter on the AFC squad.
On November 5, Harrison had a standout game on Monday Night Football against the Baltimore Ravens. He piled up 9 total tackles, 3.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery, and 1 interception. The most memorable moment of the game, however, was Harrison's tackle of Baltimore safety Ed Reed. After a Steelers punt by Daniel Sepulveda, Reed had recovered the kick and was looking to return it. As Reed ran up the Sidelines, he was blindsided by Harrison and the ball was knocked away from Reed's grasp. Pittsburgh linebacker Lawrence Timmons immediately recovered the fumble. The Steelers would go on to blow out the Ravens, 38-7.
On November 26, during a Monday Night Football game, an announcer gave Harrison the nickname, "Mr. Monday Night", because of his outstanding performance on November 5. He piled up 8.5 sacks, 7 forced fumbles, 3 recovered fumbles, and 98 tackles on the year. He was voted team MVP for the 2007 season.
In the Steelers Week 4 Monday Night Football game against the Baltimore Ravens Harrison recorded 10 total tackles, 2.5 sacks, 2 tackles for a loss, and a forced fumble.
Along with LaMarr Woodley, who by this point was a starter in his own right, after the team chose not to re-sign Clark Haggans the previous offseason, Harrison and Woodley had become arguably the team's best pass-rushing duo since Greg Lloyd and Kevin Greene in 1994. Harrison amassed 16 sacks, breaking the team record set by Mike Merriweather in 1984. The two teammates set a team record with 27½ sacks.
Harrison also played special teams on a regular basis, making him one of the few regular NFL starters to also play special teams. His most notable special teams play for 2008, however, arguably cost the Steelers their game against the New York Giants in Week 8. With the Steelers leading 14-12 in the fourth quarter and having to punt from their own end zone, Harrison played as long snapper after regular long snapper Greg Warren suffered a season-ending knee injury earlier in the game. Harrison inadvertently snapped it over Mitch Berger's head for a safety, tying the score.
On January 5, 2009, Harrison was named the AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year for the 2008 season, beating out Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware for the award. Harrison became the first undrafted player to win the award.
During Super Bowl XLIII, Harrison intercepted a pass from Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner at the goal line and ran back the length of the field for a 100-yard touchdown at the end of the first half. In a memorable scene, Harrison collapsed in the endzone and spent several minutes regaining his breath as his teammates celebrated. It was the longest play in Super Bowl history (surpassing Desmond Howard's 99-yard kickoff return in Super Bowl XXXI) and helped the Steelers defeat the Arizona Cardinals 27-23.
Before the game, Gregg Easterbrook (author of Tuesday Morning Quarterback from Page 2 on ESPN.com) named Harrison the 2008 Tuesday Morning Quarterback Non-QB Non-RB NFL MVP. When receiving the trophy for the award, Harrison said he never even heard of the award. The week before, Easterbrook named Harrison to his annual All-Unwanted All-Pros due to his struggles earlier in his career of having been cut four times, three by the Steelers.
On February 7, 2009, Harrison was parodied on Saturday Night Live's Weekend Update by cast member Kenan Thompson. Here Thompson depicts Harrison as being seemingly still out of breath and exhausted after his 100 yard interception return in the Super Bowl the week before.
On April 13, 2009, it was reported that Harrison gained a 6-year, $51.75 million contract extension with the Steelers. In four games in October Harrison had 7.0 sacks, 25 tackles, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. He earned AFC defensive player of the month honors for October. Harrison ended the Season with 79 tackles, 60 of them being solo, and 10 sacks. This outstanding performance made him a starter in the Pro Bowl that year. Although Heath Miller, LaMarr Woodley, and Casey Hampton were named pro-bowlers as well, Harrison was the only starter from his team.
As well as being nicknamed "Silverback", Harrison's teammates also call him Deebo, after the character from the Friday movies.
He has two children, James Harrison III, born in 2007, and Henry, born in 2009.
Harrison elected not to visit the White House with the rest of the team after the Steelers won Super Bowl XLIII. Skipping the visit gained some media attention, as Harrison said that Barack Obama (who supported the Steelers in the game and considers his second favorite NFL team after his hometown team, Chicago Bears) would have invited the Arizona Cardinals had they won: "This is how I feel — if you want to see the Pittsburgh Steelers, invite us when we don't win the Super Bowl. As far as I'm concerned, he [Obama] would've invited Arizona if they had won." Harrison also skipped the team's visit after winning Super Bowl XL when George W. Bush was president.
In March 2008, Harrison was arrested and charged with simple assault and criminal mischief stemming from a domestic altercation with his girlfriend, Beth Tibbott. On April 3, 2008 the district attorney dropped all charges because Harrison had completed anger management counseling and psychological counseling.
The arrest gained some controversy after the team released wide receiver Cedrick Wilson in a similar but unrelated incident around the same time but not Harrison, with the Steelers even issuing a press release shortly after they released Wilson stating that the Harrison incident and Wilson's incident were examined "on a case-by-case basis" and Wilson's incident determined that he needed to be released while Harrison had "taken responsibility for his actions." Steelers owner Dan Rooney, a lifelong devout Catholic, added that the incident was concerning their son's baptism, that Harrison's girlfriend reportedly didn't want their son baptized, and that Harrison promptly called the Rooney family about the incident. Nonetheless, there were still accusations of a double standard because of the timing of both Harrison's and Wilson's incidents. The NFL, which had been cracking down on off-the-field conduct, took no action in either incident.
On May 23, 2009, Harrison's child sustained an injury to his thigh when the family's pit bull became agitated and bit him. The boy's mother, Beth Tibbott, who had let the dog out of his cage, was also bitten when she tried to intervene. The dog also bit the player's massage therapist, who needed three stitches. Mr. Harrison's agent, William Parise, said the boy's injuries were "serious but certainly not life-threatening. On Tuesday the 26th, the child was released from the hospital. The pit bull was scheduled to be euthanized but through the team Harrison was able to place the dog in a temporary home that specializes in training aggressive dogs to be gentle.