These are the days that you hate as a fan. The days when you get back from a beautiful early spring day of shopping along the open air stalls along the Strip District, enjoying the city life, looking forward to a weekend full of hockey, when you walk into the house to be greeted by the news that one of your favorite players has been released. You knew it was likely coming; the rumors had been circulating for days that the Steelers, salary-capped strapped, had been trying to negotiate a deal with James Harrison, five-time Pro Bowl linebacker, and things weren’t going well. As the preceding week wore on, the headlines kept crying out that the team was getting closer to releasing him. On Saturday, they finally did.
For me, the only Pennsylvania employee of a Dallas based company, there was no water cooler to gather around to gauge reactions, so Cowboy Fan Hubby had to take the local temperature at his work place on Sunday morning. He reported back that the feelings were split about evenly down the middle, including one husband and wife team who were a house divided on the subject.
The pros for why the release was good move: he is no spring chicken and has been hampered of late with injuries. Harrison missed all of training camp last year due to a knee injury, which kept him out of the first three games of the regular season. Then there is the debate on whether is too aggressive of a hitter and whether all that negative attention and time missed due to suspensions hurt the team. And, finally, of course the more pressing reason of all; the team needed the salary cap room to try and re-sign other positions and the return on the investment for a single player in his mid-30’s was just not what it could afford given the other pressing needs.
The flip side is that, despite missing those first three games, Harrison still finished the season with six sacks, which was tied for the team lead, and had two forced fumbles, and was a member of the NFL’s No. 1 defense in 2012. He insists there is still gas in the tank, and he is intent on continuing to play. As we have seen with Rod Woodson, who went on to win a Super Bowl with the hated Ravens, he may be right in believing there is life after the Black and Gold. In which case, having him in another team’s uniform lining up against Big Ben and the Steelers offense may be something we regret. But, more than that, he embodies the Steelers way. He is a gritty, determined warrior who has given his all to the team that took a chance on him as an under-sized undrafted free agent in 2002 and then brought him back after the Ravens released him. Since that time he has been to three Super Bowls, was a major factor in one of them with a 100-yard interception return for a touchdown, five Pro Bowls and was the AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2008. Like the city’s history, he is determined and gritty. To see him in another uniform just somehow seems wrong. He is and is supposed to be One of Us.
Yet, at the end of the day, football is a business, and in this business, the fans – the clients – demand winning teams. Personally, I’ve spent the weekend being upset by the release, but in the cold, hard light of the new work week, I’ve come to realize it was just one of those hard business decisions that get forced on a front office. While I’m not particularly happy about it, I’ve come to accept that it was the right decision under the circumstances. But, I wish James Harrison well as long as we’re not playing him. James, I will miss you.