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James Harrison Reveals He Nearly Retired Before 2004 Season



Former Steelers LB James Harrison

Former Pittsburgh Steeler James Harrison is one of the team’s most legendary outside linebackers. Initially joining the team as an undrafted free agent in 2002, it took him years to catch on with the squad full time, but starting in 2004, he was a long-term fixture of the Pittsburgh defense that won Super Bowls XL and XLIII. Harrison had the most memorable play of the latter game, with a 100-yard interception return for a touchdown just before the half, serving as one of the top plays in NFL history. Harrison was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2008, a four-time All-Pro and a five-time Pro Bowler.

All of those impressive accolades wouldn’t have occurred if Harrison quit football prior to the 2004 season. Harrison was cut four times, which had him contemplating his life’s work.

“Between 2002 and 2003, I was sent to NFL Europe. So I went to NFL Europe, I came back from NFL Europe, Baltimore actually sent me to NFL Europe, and when I came back, they released me. So that’s about Year 2, so it’s 2002, 2003, I’ve been cut 4-5 times now,” Harrison told Rob King of in a recent interview. “I’m just sitting there waiting, and I’m like, you know what, If I don’t get picked up, then (this) was just not meant to be and I’m gonna move on, get a regular job like everyone else, work my 40-50 hours a week, and call it a day. That year, Clark Haggans, he breaks his hand about a week before training camp, and the rest is history, so to speak.”

Harrison got his first career start in Week 10 of the 2004 season in Cleveland after Joey Porter Sr. got ejected for a pregame fight with Browns running back William Green. Harrison balled out, recording six solo tackles, a sack and two tackles for loss.

Harrison served as a core special teams player and backup outside linebacker from 2004-2006, before replacing Porter at the right outside linebacker position in 2007. Harrison broke out in a Week 9 game against the Baltimore Ravens in 2007 on Monday Night Football at Heinz Field, recording 10 tackles, six QB hits, 3.5 sacks, three forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and one interception in a Steelers’ 38-7 win.

Harrison is one of the top players under the microscope each year when it comes time to decide who will head to Canton, Ohio, for enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

But when talking with TMZ Sports last September, Harrison shot down his candidacy. The biggest reason why Harrison does not see himself as Hall of Fame material? It’s the counting stats. That is one place where Harrison falls short of the Hall of Fame mark with 84.5 career sacks and 34 forced fumbles.

“As far as Hall of Fame, you know, it’s a lot of things that goes into that,” Harrison said “And I believe numbers is one of those things, you know? And when you look at my numbers, they just don’t, for me, they don’t equate to what the numbers should be.”

Those numbers have kept mainly Harrison out of the Hall of Fame until now. Will he make it at some point? Chances are the answer to that is yes down the road. Harrison may see himself with a bust in Canton. His iconic plays stand up, and his peak is among the most dominant reigns of terror in that generation of players.

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