NFL Nation: James Harrison 071311

Lost in the hoopla of James Harrison's recent bashing of various NFL players, teammates and the commissioner was how close the Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker actually came to retirement last season.

In October Harrison contemplated quitting during the middle of the season after being fined $75,000 for a big hit on Cleveland Browns receiver Mohamed Massaquoi. Most observers, and even the Steelers, took the approach that Harrison was just being emotional.

But in his interview with Men's Journal, Harrison explains how serious he was at the time about quitting football.

"I lost it completely," Harrison explained of his reaction after getting fined. "[I] said, '[expletive] y'all, I quit if you're gonna fine me that for a legal hit.' Spoke to my player rep and my agent, said, 'That's it, I'm done. What papers do I have to sign to retire today?

"And if my agent hadn't have said, 'You'll have to pay back six mill,' I'd've been out the game and not looked back."

Harrison's retirement talk lasted just one day, and he later helped lead Pittsburgh to its second Super Bowl appearance in three seasons. With the league's increased attention on big hits, Harrison could be a prime target for fines once again this season. His disparaging remarks towards NFL commissioner Roger Goodell certainly don't help Harrison keep a low profile.

Obviously Harrison doesn't like money taken out of his pocket. Who does? But what will Harrison's reaction be this season if he's once again among the most fined players in the NFL?

James Harrison: Fact or Fiction?

July, 15, 2011
7/15/11
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Pittsburgh Steelers Pro Bowl linebacker James Harrison had a lot to say in an explosive interview with Men's Journal.

But how accurate were Harrison's statements? Let’s examine in another edition of "Fact or Fiction."

[+] EnlargeRashard Mendenhall
Nelson Chenault/US PresswireIs Rashard Mendenhall really a 'fumble machine'?
Harrison on Steelers tailback Rashard Mendenhall: He's a "fumble machine."

Fiction: Mendenhall carried the ball 324 times last season, which was fourth most in the NFL. Of those 324 carries, he lost just two fumbles, which Mendenhall astutely pointed out via Twitter. Mendenhall's biggest fumble came in the Super Bowl, and many -- including Harrison -- remember that play vividly. But in terms of numbers, Harrison is inaccurate.

Harrison on Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's two interceptions in Super Bowl XLV: "Hey, at least throw a pick on their side of the field instead of asking the D to bail you out again."

Fiction: Roethlisberger's first interception was to Packers safety Nick Collins, who returned it 37 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter. The defense never saw the field after that turnover. Roethlisberger's second pick in the second quarter was to safety Jarrett Bush at Green Bay's 47 yard-line. The ball was near midfield and on the Packers' side, which isn't horrible field position.

More Harrison on Roethlisberger: "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."

Fact: Roethlisberger is not Manning, who has amazing statistics and is a sure-fire, first-ballot Hall of Famer. Roethlisberger will never be able to catch up in terms of numbers. But Roethlisberger does have twice the Super Bowl rings ( 2 to 1) and a much better playoff record (10-3) than Manning (9-10). In terms of money, Manning's most recent contract expired after last season but paid an average of $14.2 million per year. Roethlisberger's contract pays an average of $12.7 million per year. So that's fairly accurate, as well.

Harrison on Steelers safety Troy Polamalu: "He's the one guy in football I respect absolutely, 'cause he's spiritual and lives it like he talks it. You know, he gets more flags than anyone on our team but never gets fined for nothin'."

Fact: Polamalu is one of the genuinely good guys in sports and he's very spiritual. Polamalu also is soft-spoken but has criticized the NFL several times without getting fined. The most famous was when he said the NFL was becoming a "pansy league." But many players do not get fined for their comments. Will that be the case for Harrison?

Are the Steelers unraveling?

July, 14, 2011
7/14/11
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James Harrison, Hines Ward and Rashard MendenhallGetty Images, US PresswireJames Harrison, Hines Ward and Rashard Mendenhall have all contributed to the Steelers' off-field issues this offseason.
Here's a July prediction: The Baltimore Ravens will win the AFC North this season.

Yes, I said it -- and I will be sticking with that statement through January.

For months I've been going back-and-forth between Baltimore and the reigning AFC champion Pittsburgh Steelers. Both teams are talented, but this week's events put me over the top in favor of the Ravens.

I simply don't like what I'm seeing from Pittsburgh this offseason. Whether it's Rashard Mendenhall's tweeting, Hines Ward's recent arrest or James Harrison ripping everyone -- including his own teammates -- there's too many warning signs that suggest this isn't the Steelers' year.

Keep in mind, this is not a new phenomenon in Pittsburgh. Self-implosion is what the Steelers do best following Super Bowl appearances.

In 2006, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger got into a motorcycle accident and the Steelers finished 8-8. In 2009, Pittsburgh had to deal with Roethlisberger's first sexual assault allegation and Troy Polamalu's knee injury to finish 9-7. Both years they missed the playoffs.

This offseason reminds me too much of 2006 and 2009. The difference is that this year the leaks are coming from various places. Pittsburgh's controversies involve three starters who are among the most important members of the team. In addition, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin and president Art Rooney II have been unable to address these issues during the NFL lockout.

What will Rooney say to Mendenhall, who is no longer a fan favorite, about questioning the events of 9/11? What will Ward -- a team captain -- say to the front office about getting busted on charges of driving under the influence this past weekend? How will Tomlin address Harrison for ripping star players in his own locker room?

And this is before the Steelers hold their first practice in training camp.

Health permitting, Pittsburgh certainly is good enough to make the playoffs. But the odds are stacked against their winning a seventh Super Bowl title this season.

The Buffalo Bills were the last runners-up to make it back to the big game (Super Bowl appearances in 1991-1994), and they lost in each trip. It takes a tremendous amount of focus, togetherness and luck. The Steelers haven't displayed any of that so far in their quest to complete one of the hardest journeys in professional sports.

Harrison has never been called a bad teammate. But when you do an interview as explosive as he did with Men's Journal, it has the potential to divide a locker room.

Harrison may have exposed some underlying tension between Pittsburgh's offense and defense. He crossed the line by lambasting Roethlisberger and Mendenhall. Harrison later spoke with Roethlisberger. But there is no word at this juncture if Harrison is rescinding his "fumble machine" comment toward Mendenhall.

So what happens the next time Mendenhall fumbles? Will Harrison and the defense snicker about it? When Roethlisberger throws a pick deep in Pittsburgh's territory, will the defense focus and just play football? These things happen during the course of a season, and the Steelers need to pick each other up and play like one unit, which has been their strength in previous seasons.

Last year, Pittsburgh had one distraction, which was Roethlisberger's four-game suspension for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy. That was easier to resolve, especially because Roethlisberger wasn't allowed around the team for the first month of the season. This year, the Steelers tripled the amount of distractions, and it will take more effort to get through each case.

The Steelers also have several personnel questions to address.

With the team expected to be more than $10 million over the salary cap, it's likely that No. 1 corner Ike Taylor won't return. He's not interested in offering a discount to stay in Pittsburgh. That leaves a major void in its secondary, which was exposed by the Green Bay Packers and several other teams last season.

The contracts of veterans Antwaan Randle El, Flozell Adams and Aaron Smith also will be up for discussion as the team tries to get under the cap. Their potential departures will hurt depth and leadership.

In contrast, the Ravens have it more together. Their biggest issue this offseason is opponents criticizing fourth-year quarterback Joe Flacco. And, if anything, that's been a rallying point that's motivated the Ravens and brought them closer together.

Baltimore has been unable to beat Pittsburgh in big games recently. But the talent is so close between these heated rivals that any additional edge can shift the balance in the AFC North.

Consider the Ravens the new favorites in the division in 2011. The Steelers are too busy dealing with self-inflicted wounds.
It's been a wild week for controversies in the AFC North Division.

The trio of Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison, receiver Hines Ward and Cincinnati Bengals corner Adam Jones all caused media firestorms in different ways. Harrison made disparaging comments toward NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and ripped his teammates, while Ward and Jones were arrested for driving under the influence and disorderly conduct, respectively.

But in our latest "Take Your Pick," we ask which player caused the biggest controversy this week: Harrison, Ward or Jones?

Did Harrison cause the biggest stir? He released the verbal barrage of the year, bashing everyone in sight. His victims included Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, running back Rashard Mendenhall and the New England Patriots. He also used very controversial words to describe Goodell.

What about Ward? After steering clear of the law his entire 14-year career, the two-time Super Bowl champion was busted for DUI. A spokesman for Ward denied the charges. But the Atlanta police department responded by releasing more details of the arrest, which will certainly catch the attention of the NFL once a new collective bargaining agreement is reached.

Or was it Jones, who was jailed over the weekend for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest? Jones has been in trouble since coming to the NFL and could be facing a permanent suspension if found guilty. Jones, who says he was wrongfully arrested, also could face probation issues from his previous case in Nevada.

Using our SportsNation poll, vote on which AFC North player had the biggest controversy this week. You also can share your thoughts in the comments section below and our division inbox.
James Harrison is a fool, obviously, with an unjustified persecution complex and a seemingly insatiable need to convince himself and everyone else that the world is out to get him. I have no patience for this kind of person, especially not when the legal level of violence in the game of football serves as insufficient outlet for his inner anger. Nobody made any new rules last year to try and bring down Harrison. The NFL simply told Harrison and the rest of the league that they needed to start playing by the rules that were in place (i.e., you can't leave your feet and launch yourself, helmet-first, at another player because it's so incredibly stupid and you're putting yourself at serious risk as well) or else the punishments would grow more severe. Harrison defiantly refused to obey, then threatened to quit the game when the punishments for his continued rulebreaking, as promised, grew more severe.

[+] EnlargeJames Harrison
Kim Klement/US PresswireSteelers linebacker James Harrison didn't improve his image with his recent interview in Men's Journal.
As you've surely heard, Harrison is still trying to push this insanity on the football-inclined public, ripping commissioner Roger Goodell in an upcoming issue of Men's Journal. Harrison calls Goodell a "crook" and a "devil" and says he wouldn't urinate on the man if he found him on fire. Good job, James. Don't be afraid to use a wrecking ball when a tack hammer will do.

Anyway, I could obviously go on, but the point I really wanted to raise here was about the photo you see if you click that link -- that of a shirtless Harrison posing with one of his precious handguns in each hand. Now there's a message worth sending. A perpetually furious man, who could kill other men with his bare hands, brandishing firearms in a photo next to a story about how angry he is about everybody in the world. Thanks, Men's Journal, for helping us all sleep peacefully at night.

When Plaxico Burress went to jail for idiotically shooting himself with an unlicensed handgun in a crowded nightclub, I remember thinking (and writing) that something good had a chance to come out of it. I thought that, if the next time one of these guys was thinking about leaving the house with a handgun for no good reason, he might think about Burress and decide not to do it because the risk of having to go to jail for two years and maybe lose your career didn't justify it. I thought the gun culture among pro athletes might take a hit -- that some of these guys might have wised up and decided owning and carrying guns was more dangerous than it was worth.

Maybe that did happen, and maybe Harrison's the exception. But I fear not. I don't think Harrison strikes this particular gun-glorifying pose if he's living in a post-Burress world that actually discourages guns among NFL players. I fear that nobody learned anything from the Burress matter, and all of these guys are still carrying guns around to make themselves feel like tough guys, or because of some ludicrous and baseless notion that people are out to hurt them (and that the gun would really help if that were the case). And if that's true, then it's too bad. Because now I feel like the idiot for thinking something about the way these overgrown children think might actually change.
James Harrison does not look tough. He does not look like the meanest player in the NFL, the hardest hitter or the most feared defender.

He looks like an idiot. And he looks very, very bad.

I'm not sure what is the most offensive part of the spread on Harrison in the August issue of Men's Journal, out on Friday. The picture with the guns? The anti-gay slur? The utter disrespect for NFL commissioner Roger Goodell? Or the calling out of two of his Pittsburgh Steelers teammates?

It is all bad, and it overshadows the fact that Harrison does have a valid criticism, shared by other players in the NFL, of how Goodell went about fining players for illegal hits last season. There are players like Harrison who think Goodell unfairly targeted African-American players and fined certain players more than others. There are players like Harrison who think Goodell issued harsher fines for illegal hits on white players than for hits on black players. And there are players like Harrison who think Goodell had it out for certain players.

Click here for the complete column.
According to former Pittsburgh Steeler and ESPN analyst Merril Hoge, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger spoke with teammate James Harrison this morning and is "fine" with the linebacker's recent comments. Here is the latest via ESPN's Adam Schefter.

Harrison bashed Roethlisberger's Super Bowl performance in an explosive interview with Men's Journal, saying he's not Peyton Manning but gets paid like it. Roethlisberger threw two costly interceptions in February's loss to the Green Bay Packers.

According to Hoge, Harrison told Roethlisberger in their conversation that his words were misconstrued and he didn't mean to be critical of the quarterback.
Pittsburgh Steelers Pro Bowl linebacker James Harrison provided plenty of material Wednesday. So as we continue to dissect his bashing of various targets, here are some additional thoughts:
  • Steelers safety Ryan Clark on Wednesday mostly deflected Harrison's comments via Twitter by saying, "Locker room stuff gets handle in the locker room not twitter." Clark also said the Steelers' players know Harrison speaks his mind, no matter the topic.
  • NFC North colleague Kevin Seifert astutely pointed out that Harrison had just one tackle in Pittsburgh's Super Bowl XLV loss to the Green Bay Packers. Harrison wasn’t a factor in the game, but criticized both running back Rashard Mendenhall and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Vote here if you think that’s justified or out of bounds.
  • Harrison's comments that the New England Patriots were stealing the Steelers' signals in a 2004 playoff game are interesting. It's well-documented that New England, and particularly quarterback Tom Brady, have been dominant against the Steelers post-Spygate. That most recently includes a 39-26 thrashing of the Steelers last season at Heinz Field. With Brady under center, the Patriots are 3-0 against the Steelers since the playoff game in 2004.

Video: Inside the James Harrison interview

July, 13, 2011
7/13/11
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Men's Journal contributing editor Paul Solotaroff talks about his interview with James Harrison.
Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall has had his share of controversy this offseason. In May, he made some curious remarks on the death of Osama bin Laden and the events of 9/11, and today he finds himself in the middle of another media firestorm courtesy of teammate James Harrison.

Mendenhall
Mendenhall
But Mendenhall is taking the high road. Via Twitter, the running back says he's not taking issue with Harrison calling him a "fumble machine."
"I dont have a problem with what [Harrison] said because I know him," Mendenhall tweeted.

But Mendenhall was quick to point out a link on his Twitter account to his statistics from 2010. He only had two fumbles.

Mendenhall is correct in pointing this out. He's had ball-security issues early in his career but made major strides in that department last season.

But a huge, game-changing fumble in the second half of Super Bowl XLV seems to overshadow much of the good progress Mendenhall made -- even in the eyes of teammates.
Pittsburgh Steelers president Art Rooney II issued a brief statement Wednesday afternoon following the controversial comments made by Pro Bowl linebacker James Harrison.
"I have not yet seen the article in Men's Journal nor have I spoken to James Harrison about his comments. We will discuss the situation at the appropriate time, when permitted once the labor situation is resolved."
From an NFC North perspective, I've got exactly two cents on the ridiculous comments of Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison in a recent interview with Men's Journal.

$0.01: Harrison took a shot at Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for throwing two interceptions in Super Bowl XLV against the Packers. Harrison's line for that game: 1 tackle. It was a sack that came on a stunt designed to get him away from Packers left tackle Chad Clifton, who pretty much owned him for the entire game. Packers center Scott Wells knocked Harrison down. He got up, and quarterback Aaron Rodgers stepped right into him. Perhaps if Harrison had done more to help the Steelers win, he would have been in better position to evaluate the performance of his teammates.

$0.02: There will be some people, including NFL players, who think Harrison's message -- that the NFL made an example of him last season -- is valid, even if his expression was poorly executed. I side with Chicago Bears safety Chris Harris, who tweeted Wednesday morning: "Man James Harrison is a GOON!"

Carry on.
The harsh words from Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison regarding NFL commissioner Roger Goodell qualify as more than simply another hard hit from one of the league's most physical defenders.

Harrison
Harrison
By calling Goodell a "crook" and a "devil" in comments to Men's Journal, Harrison was also highlighting the work that awaits Goodell once a new labor agreement is in place.

"If that man was on fire and I had to piss to put him out, I wouldn't do it," Harrison told the magazine. "I hate him and will never respect him."

Seattle Seahawks receiver Mike Williams sized up the situation accurately when we spoke about five weeks ago.

"No disrespect to the commissioner because I have nothing personal against him," Williams said at the time, "but how everything has been handled and how the players feel about him and how things have been said, who is to say there is not going to be problems with that?"

Harrison is a special case. The league has fined him over violent hits against opponents it considered defenseless. Harrison has felt targeted. Unlike Williams, Harrison does have a negative personal history with the commissioner. Most players have less reason to feel as strongly as Harrison in their anti-Goodell sentiment.

But the anti-Goodell sentiment is strong. Players have taken personally his actions on behalf of owners during the lockout. Williams thought players would have a hard time treating Goodell credibly as judge and jury in the league's disciplinary matters regarding players. Harrison, though critical of the commissioner previously, never would have gotten so personal outside the current labor climate, in my view.

"I have been around long enough to see more than one NFL commissioner, and when I first got drafted and was following football, it seemed like the players love the shield," Williams said in June. "They embraced the relationship with the commissioner. I never heard a bad thing about him. When he did fine or suspend a guy, it was not a big deal."

Goodell made player discipline a higher-profile issue. Some players grumbled, but the lockout has taken their displeasure to another level. What Goodell says and how he recasts himself following the labor impasse will be critical to repairing the relationship.
This just in: Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison ripped NFL commissioner Roger Goodell for the 100th time. This time, Harrison used his strongest language to date in an explosive interview with Men's Journal magazine.

[+] EnlargeJames Harrison
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesJames Harrison calls NFL commissioner Roger Goodell a "crook" and a "devil" in a magazine article.
"Up until last year, there was no word of me being dirty -- till Roger Goodell, who's a crook and a puppet, said I was the dirtiest player in the league," Harrison said. "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."

Is Harrison asking for a suspension? Don't bet on him being suspended.

The NFL certainly won't like these comments. But players have been outspoken about Goodell before -- particularly the Steelers -- and the league didn't hand out suspensions. Players lashing out is nothing new and, if anything, a fine is probably the stiffest penalty Harrison could face.

Harrison's biggest issue will be the fallout from his own locker room. The Pro Bowl linebacker has some disparaging remarks for Steelers starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and tailback Rashard Mendenhall, who was described by Harrison as a "fumble machine." (Update: Harrison talked to Roethlisberger about the comments.)

When asked about Roethlisberger's two picks in the Super Bowl, Harrison was still upset about them.

"Hey, at least throw a pick on their side of the field instead of asking the D to bail you out again," Harrison said. "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."

Roethlisberger took the blame immediately after the Super Bowl loss to the Green Bay Packers, saying Pittsburgh could have won if he played better. Mendenhall also showed remorse for his game-changing fumble in the Super Bowl. But Harrison is the first teammate to publicly rip Roethlisberger and Mendenhall for their performances.

Harrison has never been described as a bad teammate. But these kinds of comments can potentially divide a locker room. It's worth noting that Harrison's criticisms were of players on Pittsburgh's offense. He spoke very highly of defensive teammate Troy Polamalu.

"He's the one guy in football I respect absolutely, 'cause he’s spiritual and lives it like he talks it,'" Harrison said of the Pro Bowl safety. "You know, he gets more flags than anyone on our team but never gets fined for nothin'. He's so polite and talks so softly that he could tell Goodell to kiss his [expletive], and Goodell would smile and say thank you."

It's evident that Harrison keeps it all-the-way real. There are no frills with him, and if you ask an honest question, you always get an honest answer. Sometimes too honest.

As a result, Pittsburgh now has a major in-house issue to deal with once the lockout ends.

Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin is one of the NFL's best at managing egos, and he will be required to work his magic once again. Teams cannot have contact with players until a new collective bargaining agreement is reached. So this issue will linger for the Steelers until players report to training camp.

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