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Saturday, February 5, 2011
XLV: How far will James Harrison go?

By Kevin Seifert
ESPN.com

FORT WORTH, Texas -- Thanks to those of you who migrated over to our special-edition SportsNation chat Friday afternoon. I was surprised by how many of you are concerned that the Pittsburgh Steelers, and James Harrison in particular, will be trying to knock Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers from the game -- by any means necessary.

First, a sampling of your questions:

Rich (Adrian)

Most people seem to think that GB is a little better than PIT, including Vegas. But all PIT needs to do is smack Rodgers in the head one time, he'll be seeing stars and will be bad for the rest of the game. When [Ben] Roethlisberger gets hit in the head, he seems to shake it off, and might actually get a little better. Isn't this the real key to the outcome of the game, and perhaps a reason to believe that the smart money is on PIT?

Kevin Seifert (2:04 PM)

Well, it is impossible to know if Rodgers will get "smacked in the head," but it sure seemed like James Harrison was doing his best this week to toss out some not-so-subtle intimidation. If you're Harrison, do you take a fine and penalty for knocking Rodgers out of the game? Maybe so.

Edward (Monroe, WI)

Kevin, do you see a controversy erupting if the Steelers D plays to knock Packers out of the game?

Kevin Seifert (2:21 PM)

Well, I for one will be sure to dig up the James Harrison quotes from earlier this week if that happens.

Sam (Green Bay)

I've been worrying a lot this week about the possibility of Harrison going for a kill shot on Rodgers, possibly even an illegal one, to get Aaron out of the game, regardless of fines or suspensions. However, after thinking about it, wouldn't doing something like that while the whole league is watching be pretty unwise? After all, someone might just "accidentally" fall on the back of Harrison's knees one day and end his career, even. Thoughts?

Kevin Seifert (2:25 PM)

Based on what Harrison said Tuesday and the way he mocked the league, I don't think he will care one bit. I'm not saying he's planning to do something like that, but it's clear that respect for the league isn't going to be the deciding factor on that.

I understand where this thought is coming from. Rodgers has suffered two concussions this season. The Packers lost both games they occurred in. Rodgers' performance also dipped in the second half of the NFC Championship Game after he absorbed an illegal hit from Chicago Bears defensive end Julius Peppers.

And earlier this week, Harrison was boldly and brashly mocking the NFL's attempt to curb what it deemed his illegal helmet-to-helmet hits. A true cynic would wonder if Harrison might be willing to sacrifice a fine, a penalty or possibly an ejection in order to get Rodgers out of the game.

Here's what Harrison said when asked if the NFL's crackdown had compelled him to change his playing style:

"I changed for maybe a game or two. There were some instances where I would have normally put my face in the fan, so to speak, but I backed out of there. After sitting back, looking at it, it wasn't really conducive to me helping my team out."

I don't know that Harrison is a dirty player. But he is definitely mean, nasty and a little crazy. That aura can have almost the same effect in terms of intimidation. The world will be watching Sunday to see how far he takes it.