The Pittsburgh Steelers have not exactly been shy about expressing their feelings regarding former teammate James Harrison. The former Steelers linebacker was ripped by his ex-Pittsburgh teammates after he signed with their hated rival, the New England Patriots, earlier this week. The Patriots are currently competing with the Steelers for AFC supremacy.
Apparently, Harrison’s decision to take his talents to New England, after being cut by Pittsburgh, has left a sour taste in the mouth of those residing in “The ‘Burgh.” Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey believes that Harrison ruined his legacy in Pittsburgh by signing the one-year deal with the Pats on Tuesday. It seems to be Pouncey’s assumption that Harrison forced his way out of town. Earlier this week, he told reporters:
“Trust me, if I wanted out, I wouldn’t let the team take the blame for it. I’d tell you I want to be gone. I want to go somewhere else and play differently. I want to go start somewhere else. That’s me as a man. That’s would I would do. I’m not going to lie in front of them and say the team didn’t play me, I want to get cut. No, that’s not what it was…We’re going to speak the truth. It is what it is. He erased his own legacy here, let’s be serious.”
Of course, Pouncey may not be the most reliable source when it comes to calling out someone’s legacy. It was not that long ago that we saw him sporting a “Free Hernandez” cap. Perhaps, that’s not the best look for a ‘voice of reason?’
Harrison also seems to have fallen out of favor with linebacker Bud Dupree. According to Paul Zeise of 93.7 The Fan in Pittsburgh, Dupree said during a weekly radio spot that “Harrison would leave the stadium as soon as he found out he was inactive the past four or five weeks, often didn’t practice or attend meetings and rarely would come in the locker room.” Dupree also said Harrison “wouldn’t visit Ryan Shazier in hospital, either.” (after Shazier suffered a severe spinal injury suffered against Cincinnati on December 4.)
In addition, Sean Gentille of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that Dupree felt that Harrison was uncomfortable with being passed over on the depth chart.
“It feels like he went to the Patriots just to spit in Coach Tomlin and Mr. Rooney’s face,” Dupree said. “That’s all it was to us. Like basically you spit on your teammates, you spit on us because the whole season you’ve been shown as someone different than what you were supposed to, so-called, be to us — other than a leader. It just felt like he didn’t want T.J. (Watt) or I to be better than him”
On Friday, Harrison fired back at his detractors.
“If anybody thought that I signed a two year deal with a team in the NFL at age 39 to sit on the bench and collect a check and a participation trophy, they’re mistaken,” he wrote on Instagram. “I didn’t sign up to sit on the bench and be a cheerleader. I was clear about that when I signed, and I was told I would be on the field when I signed.”
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Harrison added that he did not receive any reps during training camp and only got “lip service.” He did confirm multiple requests to be released. However, he refuted the claims that he was unwilling to help fellow linebackers. He also added that he had, indeed, visited Ryan Shazier in the hospital, despite Dupree’s claim that he did not.
“Ask Ryan if I came to see him in the hospital…ask T.J. if I helped him?. Maybe I don’t handle my frustration the best that I could’ve,” Harrison said. “At the end of the day, they made a business decision and so did I.”
As for the Patriots…
Although the verbal sparring between the Steelers and Harrison has dominated the headlines, the Patriots are not exactly unscathed in this. As Ricky Ricardo used to say, the Pats have some ‘splainin to do, as well. Throughout his career, Harrison has repeatedly gone on record in questioning the Patriots legacy, credibility, and legitimacy. In fact, he once prominently declared that he would have at least one additional ring, but for the Patriots alleged ‘cheating’ scandals. Harrison has said that the Patriots knew the Steelers’ defensive plays during the AFC championship during the 2004 season. He believes the Steelers would have easily defeated the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX, had they gotten past the Patriots.
“I should have another ring,” Harrison told Men’s Journal in 2011. “We were the best team in football in 2004, but the Patriots, who we beat during the regular season, stole our signals and picked up 90 percent of our blitzes.”
Patriots owner Robert Kraft and head coach Bill Belichick, are fiercely protective of their team’s legacy. In fact, there have been times when they jettisoned some of their own (beloved) players for even subtly questioning that very legacy (Ty Law, Mike Vrabel, Richard Seymour, et, al.) However, the Patriots signing of a player that was so publicly critical of them has hardly raised an eyebrow. In addition, the New England media has seemed to shy away from this fact. The Patriot Way is far from a myth. It truly is a standard that is set at the highest level. However, it is hypocritical to ignore the fact that this question should be asked.
The bottom line is that Harrison’s signing makes football sense for the Patriots. Despite holding the top spot in the Conference, the Pats defense has been starved for a pass rush. This has particularly been the case on third down. While Harrison has only played in five games this season, he is entering New England with a desire to prove that he is still a fierce and feared defender. He has played all but one of his seasons in the NFL as a Steeler. However, a new era begins on Sunday in Foxboro, and he will be ready.
Final Analysis: ‘It is what it is’
Regardless of the sentiments involved, James Harrison is now a Patriot. His former team. the Pittsburgh Steelers cut him. He cleared waivers. He was free to sign with any team he desired. That team was the New England Patriots. It is what it is. You can’t blame Harrison for signing the contract. You also can’t blame Pittsburgh fans for being a bit salty, either. However, neither side can legitimately cry ‘foul.’ The process played out fair and square.
As for his feelings for the Patriots, has Harrison changed his tune? Or does he no longer care now that he has joined one Super Bowl contender, just three days after being cut from another? Either way, Harrison is moving on. Whether you believe that the animosity is justified or ridiculously bitter, it is smart for all involved parties to do the same. There is work to be done. If these teams wish to meet again, they should let their actions do the talking.
The NFL Playoffs are almost upon us. Let the games begin. It’s time for the two top teams in the AFC to realize that the time for the talking is over.
–Mike D’Abate is a Managing Editor and National Columnist for Full Press Coverage Sports Media. He covers the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Chargers. Follow him on Twitter @mdabateFPC