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Steelers James Harrison in SB 43

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Does Steelers James Harrison Deserve to be in the Hall of Fame?

Doug Benc / Getty Images

Does Steelers James Harrison Deserve to be in the Hall of Fame?

Franco Harris first coined the term “Steelers Wing” during his Hall of Fame induction speech in 1990 and it turned out to be even more prophetic than he imagined.  Since the induction of Joe Greene, no team can rival the magnitude of players, coaches, and contributors who have played a major role in Pittsburgh Steelers lore who have joined the hallowed ranks of NFL legends now immortalized in Canton.

The question to Steeler Nation of who will be next has been buzzing and, in this installment, we will examine the status of former Steelers linebacker, James Harrison.

Harrison will have his first year of eligibility in 2023 and it will unquestionably spark debate.  Harrison was a late bloomer who wasn’t on the NFL radar until 2007 – but when he finally made an impact, it was special, and his presence helped a dominant defense to emerge as an all-time great defense.

 

Argument #1:  All-Time Great Defense

The Steelers defense finished in the top-10 rankings for 13 consecutive years from 2000-2012 and 6x were the #1 overall defense in the NFL.  Compare that stretch to the other “great” defenses of the era:

  • The 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers – 9 years (1996-2005) and 3 Hall of Famers
  • The 1985 Chicago Bears – 6 years (1983-1988) and 3 Hall of Famers
  • The 2000 Baltimore Ravens – 3 years (1999-2001) and 2 Hall of Famers

The Steelers defense was the strength of a unit that dominated consistently longer and reached 3 Super Bowls in 6 years, winning 2.  Based on history, defensive units that achieved high levels of success and won championships have seen 2-3 players represented.

 

Argument #2:  Harrison’s Impact

When Harrison was inserted as a starter to replace the departing Joey Porter, an already great defense became unquestionably the best in the NFL.  Over the ensuing 6 years, the Steelers defense would finish #1 overall 4 times (2007, 2008, 2011, 2012) and #2 overall in 2010, not to mention 2 times reaching the Super Bowl.

Harrison was more than just a great player on a great defense.  He was named to 5 consecutive Pro Bowls and earned All-Pro honors 4x, including twice being named 1st team All-Pro.  But if you need any further evidence, just look at the game that propelled Harrison to national recognition and earned him the nickname “Mr. Monday Night.” In a 38-7 destruction of the Ravens, he had 9 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 1 interception and 1 fumble recovery.

Harrison was a master in the art of the strip sack, as over his 6-year run as starting ROLB, he accumulated 60 sacks and forced 29 fumbles – consider that Ray Lewis forced only 19 fumbles during his whole career.  He was a throwback to another time and era, as he was the most intimidating and physical LB in the NFL.

Steelers James Harrison in SB 43

TAMPA, FL – FEBRUARY 01: James Harrison #92 of the Pittsburgh Steelers makes an interception in the Cardinals endzone in the second quarter against the Arizona Cardinals during Super Bowl XLIII on February 1, 2009 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)


More Deserving? Steelers WR Antonio Brown or Hines Ward?


 

Argument #3:  2008 Defensive Player of the Year

The 2008 Pittsburgh Steelers defense was the best of the 2000’s Steelers and on par with any in NFL history.  They finished #1 overall and #1 in sacks, passing defense, scoring defense and just barely missed the complete sweep by finishing #2 in rushing defense.  This was vs. the toughest schedule in the NFL and with the lowest rated scoring offense – #22 – of any Super Bowl Champion.

Harrison was more deserving of 2008 MVP honors than Peyton Manning but won Defensive Player of the Year.  Harrison was the most dominant player in the NFL that season with 16 sacks, forcing 7 fumbles, 101 tackles and 19 tackles for loss in only 15 games – sitting out the season finale.  Even then, the numbers don’t tell the whole story as Harrison directly impacted the outcome of 3 games – a strip sack fumble returned for TD vs. the Ravens, a sack that sealed the game vs. Jacksonville Jaguars, and a safety vs. the San Diego Chargers that was the point difference in the 11-10 win.

 

Getty Images

 

No play was bigger than the 100-yard interception return in Super Bowl XLIII.  The Arizona Cardinals were trailing 10-7 with 18 seconds remaining in the half, but had the ball on the Steelers’ 1, appeared poised to tie the score or take the lead. Kurt Warner zipped a quick pass to receiver Anquan Boldin just inside the goal line, but Harrison jumped in front of Boldin and caught it instead.  Warner would say that he wasn’t able to see him around his linemen, but Harrison was not supposed to be there in the first place.  Dick LeBeau gave his veteran defense the freedom to make changes if they saw the need and Harrison was aware that he had not been able to get near Warner as the savvy QB was getting the ball out too quickly, so he decided to drop into coverage.  The heady play by Harrison stopped the Cardinals from scoring, then he ran the length of the field, looking like he was Earl Campbell, swerving in between a sea of players until the Cardinals finally caught up with him just before the goal line.  By then, his momentum was just too great and a play that took up all 18 seconds on the clock resulted in a narrow Steelers TD.

 

Argument #4:  Longevity vs. Impact

One of the arguments that will go against Harrison is his lack of longevity – which definitely impacted his career totals.  There are certainly players with gaudier statistics.  He likely would not have even been a candidate if not for his 2014 “unretirement” which led to surprising productivity late in his career.  His career total of 84.5 sacks is low (officially 63rd All-Time) in comparison to other candidates like DeMarcus Ware (138.5) and Terrell Suggs (139). But he is 18th all-time in forced fumbles and 16th all-time in TFL (according to Pro Football Reference).

His numbers are strong, but it won’t be on numbers that he gets in the Hall of Fame, but on the impact he made.  There is no question he was an all-time level of greatness when he did peak with an NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award, a franchise sack record, and combine that with the success factor of 2 Super Bowl Championships and playing in 4 Super Bowls overall. It helps his case when considering the precedent set of impact over longevity that with inducting Lynn Swann, Kurt Warner, and Terrell Davis.  He has the highlight plays to be remembered by and made a stamp on the game.

Never underestimate the value of the signature play to voters either – and Harrison certainly has that.

 

Argument #5:  A Great Story

Harrison’s story is unique in how he was undrafted but went on to achieve all he did.  But to add to the mystique, one should consider just how much he struggled early in his career.   He was cut 4 times, but he had the resilience to keep trying despite facing personal doubts.  He went from a player that Bill Cowher nearly sent home when he showed up late to his first minicamp, to one who will be nominated for the Hall of Fame.  His story is one that is inspiring and one day should be shared for NFL immortality while wearing a gold jacket at the podium in Canton.

 

Thoughts on James Harrison’s Hall of Fame credentials?  Share them below.

#SteelerNation

PMP; CSM; CSPO and host of the PMI-TB Agile Podcast. A lifelong Steelers fan, I had the chance of a lifetime when I was able to celebrate Super Bowl XLIII with the team. I love talking everything Steelers from the old days to the new and look forward to working with the team to grow this platform to be the premier Steelers site.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. scott siple

    April 19, 2022 at 6:33 am

    Good player, overall team player, Great overall player and was a consistent year after year defensive ok forget able f

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