Nothing is easy to put into context when family tragedy hits. Now, when it strikes twice in the span of two and the job someone performs is something as naturally mentally taxing as football, it creates an entire set of dominoes falling. That is what Steelers punter Pressley Harvin went through at the end of the season.
Harvin’s father passed on Christmas Day. Two weeks later, on the Saturday before the Steelers went to Baltimore to play the Ravens, his grandma passed away. It was a time of adversity that Harvin had never experienced before in his life. Still, he chose to go punt against the Ravens after missing two games. The mental toll the season took on Harvin was one that demanded a level of exigence from him. Aside from what he did on the field, however, Harvin’s off the field lessons may have even been greater than anything else.
“The biggest thing mentally that I found about myself off the field was that it’s OK to not be OK sometimes,” Harvin said. “These last couple of weeks have been tough. When I first found the news out about my father, it was Christmas morning. I was supposed to be traveling to Kansas City, but I decided to go home. In that moment, in that car ride back, because flights were getting canceled left and right, I took a 10-hour drive back home. On that drive back, I took a little bit of a second to reflect on what my dad told me. And the biggest thing that he told me was whenever the time comes that he’s not going to be here anymore was to handle my business, take care of my family. That’s the biggest thing I learned during this season is my life is different now and I’m not home. I have this job of what is the NFL. But at the same time, you still have to handle your business outside of it. He really showed me that just by that small statement that he made was just to handle your business, but it showed me that you have to almost live two lives.”
That family dynamic that Harvin mentions is something he wants to hone in on. With family tragedies, he wants to make sure he always makes time for his family outside of football now. Football may be important, and the NFL is his job, but those are the people he values the most. It is the biggest thing that Harvin is now changing in terms of his NFL schedule, even as continues to work through the tough times.
“I would talk to my parents and little brother all the time during the year,” Harvin said. “But I never really sat down and talked outside of football as much as I wanted to. It was always about how is the season going, how did practice go and stuff. I never really got the opportunity, as much as I wanted to, because I was so focused on doing well on the field. I never really focused on things outside of it and getting away from it. Because this stuff can make you insane sometimes, especially with how long the season is. I feel like that’s the mental part that was tougher during the season as the season continued to go on, was how can you get away from it a little bit to motivate yourself to get back. That was the biggest thing that he taught me.”
In the reality of it all, Harvin came back in that Ravens game and did not have a particularly sterling performance. However, his shining moment eventually came in their playoff game against the Chiefs. Harvin averaged over 50 yards per punt, and it was easily the best performance of the young punter’s career. To just have the game on his resume and to really feel good about himself, Harvin now has something to build off of heading into the offseason. Not only that, but Harvin felt like himself for the first time in a while.
“I honestly felt like I got back to myself,” Harvin said. “Mentally, it was tough and I knew it was tough going into a playoff game. But the biggest thing that I thought about was that my grandma and my dad are OK. I know they’re in a good place and a better place than here. That gave me a little bit of clarity to finally sit and relax a little bit before the game because it was a night game. I told myself, you know what, why not? Why not go out there and prove to everyone that I am who I am for a reason. And I am where I am for a reason. And to keep God first. I prayed a lot that day before the game. I just told myself, go out there and have fun. And honestly, that was one of the most fun games of my life.”
Through it all, Harvin says the Steelers’ organization supported him throughout the entire process. Without it, he would have never been able to persevere. That was from ownership up. The Rooney family motto of family, faith, football, in that order, is the creed they live by. With Harvin, it was no different. The Steelers got Harvin’s family, including his dad, up to one last game against the Titans. It was something he says he will never forget.
I’ll never forget that trip that we got them up for the game, against Tennessee, I believe,” Harvin said. “We were able to get them up for the game. I’ll never forget that moment. All of us being in the house as a family for just that last time. It just makes me smile becuase that was the biggest thing that I wanted to lean on them, was that I didn’t want them to worry about anything on my side of things. I was moreso worried about them. Just that true pleasure and joy that they got from being at that game was the biggest feeling that I could say I had the chance to lean on, being able to see me play … I’m just truly appreciative of not even just those people, but also the Steelers organization and the Rooney family because when I first got up here, I was told the motto of the Rooney family was family, faith and football in that order. And that was something that you kind of hear all over the place, going throughout college, we always say we’re together, we’re family. I really, really felt that whenever we got the bad news about my dad and grandma. It was always family first. This organization is definitely family to me. And I know it’s the same to them, as well. We kept our faith and the football was the part that is our jobs. But I was extremely blessed and appreciative of all the efforts this family and the organization gave to me.”