Pittsburgh’s James Harrison is an aberration. He’s 39 years old. He’s a linebacker. And he’s still playing.
No, he’s still starting … three years after he was supposed to retire.
True story. Harrison announced his retirement from the Steelers … and the NFL … in August, 2014, but was talked out of it less than a month later after injuries depleted the Pittsburgh defense. Now, he’s not only the Steelers’ all-time leader in sacks but this spring signed a new contract.
You heard me. He’s back, and he’s listed as a starter at outside linebacker on the Steelers’ depth chart. So, at 39, James Harrison is doing today what few others at any position ever did … or could. But, as he told the Talk of Fame Network on this week’s broadcast, there’s a secret to his longevity.
“Prayer,” he said. “Lots of prayer. I’m highly favored, and I’m really blessed just to be able to do what I do. Along with that, I do a little something to try to aid along the way. I prepare myself to go out there and take advantage of that.
“Like coach LeBeau (former defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau) has always told me … he said, ‘I want you to go out there, and I want you to play and prepare yourself as if everything depends on you. But I want you to pray, as if everything depends on God. With those two things, you can’t go wrong.’ ”
And James Harrison hasn’t. After he was cut four times — including three by the Steelers — he emerged as one of the game’s premier rush linebackers, named to five Pro Bowls and four All-Pro teams and chosen the 2008 Defensive Player of the Year.
What’s more, it was Harrison who pulled off one of the most memorable plays in NFL history when, shortly before halftime in Super Bowl XLIII, he intercepted a Kurt Warner pass at the goal line and returned it 100 yards — eluding would-be tacklers along the sidelines to score as the half ended. It was the longest play in Super Bowl history, and one that LeBeau later called the greatest by a defensive player.
But that was then, and this is now … and now James Harrison said he’s a better player at 39 than he was then.
” (I’m) a lot smarter,” he said. “Each year you’ve got to come in and prove all the naysayers wrong. The older you get, the more doubts they have. The older you get, it’s not like you’re going to get any faster.
“I’ve been blessed to actually be able to get stronger. So my strength, I think, is something that has really helped me 0ver the course of time; that has actually gotten better … along with my knowledge.”
The Steelers must agree. Earlier this year they signed Harrison to a two-year contract that he wanted. So, in effect, Harrison already has proven naysayers wrong. At 39, he has a new contract. He’s been to Pro Bowls. He’s been a Defensive Player of the Year. And he ‘s won Super Bowls.
Furthermore, he’s not slowing down. In last year’s playoffs, for instance, he had 10 tackles and a sack-and-a-half in the Steelers’ defeat of Miami. So, at this stage of his career, we’re not sure what James Harrison has left to prove to anyone.
Until, that is, we asked.
“I’m 39 years old,” Harrison said, “and I’m out here playing football. That’s something that doesn’t happen, especially at my position. I want to prove people wrong; that it can happen and you can go out there and be successful doing it.”