Labriola on ‘A Football Life’


Ready or not, here it is:

It begins with a series of quotes, many of which are referred to as testimonials, but they are made without seeing the faces of the speakers. Some of those who speak are famous enough to be recognized by the sound of their voices. Then a face fills the screen, and the opening closes with his words:

“When you come to this lot, you don’t have any friends… I don’t need to smile just to make you feel comfortable.”

So begins the story. “A Footballer’s Life: James Harrison” from NFL Network.

There is little that the NFL Network does as well as these hour-long biographies of some of the best and / or most interesting people who made the National Football League America’s premier professional sports league, and the episode on James Harrison is one of his best.

During the show, narrator Josh Charles mentions that Harrison is both a hero and a villain, but what also stands out are the genuine emotions of the people who sat in front of the camera and spoke about the star. of this show.

There is a testament to Harrison’s courage and talent and how he personifies what it means to be a Steelers linebacker and professional football player who plied his trade in Pittsburgh, and it comes from Bill Cowher, the Hall of Fame coach who cut him three times. There’s a bit of Joe Thomas, who spent two weeks of every season of his career as a left tackle with the Cleveland Browns going one-on-one with Harrison, who admits Harrison was a “bully.” Hall of Fame defensive teammate Troy Polamalu said, “James played with supernatural guts. When James was at his best, I saw him do absolutely supernatural things. Who does this stuff?

Which does? James Harrison does. The guy from Coventry High School in Akron, Ohio who got caught up in a mischief that resulted in him not receiving any offers of a college scholarship when he was good enough to have several; who was not invited to the NFL Combine; who was not drafted by any NFL team: who was sent to play in NFL Europe; which has been cut four times; which calls itself “self-destructive”.

“James wore it all on his sleeve,” said Mike Tomlin. “He used it as fuel.

NFL Network uses images to chronicle the line of Steelers linebackers who had badass characters, from a snarling Jack Lambert to a photo of Greg Lloyd wearing his trademark gray T-shirt with the slogan “Je was not hired for my layout “stenciled on the back. The next shot is from Harrison, who says, “I don’t know if I have Lambert in me. I know I have Mildred and James in me… my mom has a bad streak.”

Mildred and James are Harrison’s mother and father, and viewers are introduced to Mildred Harrison at the start of the episode. She is seen sitting next to her son, and as they joke, it’s immediately clear where James got his attitude.

James explains that once his sister brought her children to stay with their grandmother for a while “to learn”, and it is clear that he is referring to discipline. When asked what his mother taught him, James replied, “Don’t take shit. Don’t take shit from anyone.”

Then Mildred explains in her own words. “I teach my kids not to bully, but if someone hits them, you have to fight back.” Then James said, “A lot of people take kindness for weakness.”

James Harrison took his mother’s words to heart on every football pitch he stepped on as a professional. “My goal when I tackled someone was, I wanted to put him out of this game. I didn’t want to hurt him, but I wanted him to hurt… he could come back and play next week.”

Harrison himself has explained why he was excluded the first two times he tried to make the Steelers roster. By his own admission, he didn’t know what he was doing on the pitch, and so he would stop. Stop running, stop playing, just stop. He once said he left the pitch and told coaches he didn’t know what he was doing.

And along the way, Harrison has acquired a few nicknames given to him by his teammates.

“Two-day vet” arrived “because he was (at the camp) only two days but was acting like a vet.” And then there’s the nickname Harrison still wears today: Deebo. Brett Keisel explained, “His character and the image he has completely mirror the character from the movie ‘Friday’. This Deebo guy. The bully. So we started calling him, Deebo.”

Harrison talks about facing the end of his footballing career after being fired for the fourth time and resigned to finding a normal job where he would work “40, 50, 60 hours a week”. And how he got his last chance in the NFL thanks to Clark Haggans who injured his hand the night before training camp in 2004 and the Steelers who called because they were desperate for a camp corps.

Then came the pre-game field fight between Browns back William Green and outside linebacker Joey Porter during the 2004 regular season, which gave Harrison his first start in the NFL. How Harrison played well in this game and cemented his place in the roster with excellence in special teams. Then came the 2007 season when Porter signed with Miami to create a permanent opening in the starting lineup, which Harrison turned into a 2008 season in which he was voted NFL Defensive Player of the Year and topped it off. as the author of the greatest game in Super Bowl History.

“Hard work pays off,” Keisel said. “He was seriously the best player… in the game.”

Harrison’s interception and 100-yard return for a touchdown in the dying seconds of the first half of Super Bowl XLIII against Arizona is covered from every angle, with commentary from many of the men involved in the game. the subject returns to the place of the play in history, and two comments stand out.

The first was from Harrison himself, who ceded it to Franco Harris to make the immaculate reception the greatest game in NFL history, but then he said, “But when it comes to the ‘Super Bowl story… “The second statement came from Dick LeBeau, a Hall of Fame cornerback for the Detroit Lions and the defensive coordinator for the Steelers that day, who had a 59-year career in the NFL as a player and coach: “It’s the best defensive game I’ve ever seen.

The final chapter of this ‘football life’ deals with James Harrison’s interrupted retirement when some of his Steelers teammates asked him to come back and help them and the role his two sons, Henry and James, played in that decision; being cut off by the Steelers and then signing with the New England Patriots; and how the man who had a contempt for the media now makes a living as an actor in “Heels” playing the role of a character named Apocalypse.

“My greatest accomplishment has yet to happen,” said Harrison. “I’m trying to raise two boys to be men.”

It’s somewhat fitting for Joey Porter to make one final thought on James Harrison’s legacy: “He wants to be remembered as a badass, and I think he did.”

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