(Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Colts)
By Ron Borges
Talk of Fame Network
Numbers often don’t tell the story. In Marvin Harrison’s case, they are the story.
For the third straight year the former Indianapolis Colts’ wide receiver is a Hall-of-Fame finalist, and it is difficult to come up with a reason to argue that his time has not come.
For 13 seasons Harrison was one of the most prolific receivers in NFL history, hauling in the passes of Peyton Manning at a record-setting pace. By the time he was done, Harrison had caught more passes than anyone but Jerry Rice (1,102), had more receiving touchdowns than all but four players to ever strap on a helmet (128) and his 14,580 receiving yards ranked seventh all-time.
That is the resume of a Hall-of-Fame wideout.
That Harrison had to wait several years while a logjam of older receivers was broken is no crime. While his numbers are more impressive than Tim Brown’s or Andre Reed’s, that doesn’t mean they hadn’t waited long enough. Now it appears Harrison has done the same.
Timing was always the key to Harrison’s success — both his timing with Manning and his timing coming in and out of his breaks. So he should understand better than most why he has had to wait until now. But even with the added presence of first-time finalist Terrell Owens, it is clear that Harrison’s moment has arrived and rightfully so. He’s earned it.
Last fall, Sports Illustrated asked 12-year Chicago Bears’ defensive back Charles Tillman who was the toughest receiver he ever covered. His choice was Harrison. Tillman wouldn’t be the only veteran defensive back to make that choice.
“I could never touch him, couldn’t jam him,’’ Tillman said. “He was so quick, like a little rabbit. I missed every time. Hardest person I ever had to cover.’’
When reminded he’d spent years trying to cover Randy Moss when he was with the Vikings and Calvin Johnson of the Lions, Tillman didn’t hesitate or waver.
“Nope,’’ Tillman said. “(Harrison) was unstoppable. The best I ever played against. He made me look terrible.’’
To put up the kind of numbers he so consistently did, Harrison made a lot of guys look terrible. And he did it with a metronome-like consistency year-after-year-after year before injuries convinced him to retire.
Harrison averaged 84.77 receptions per season over his 13 NFL seasons, second all-time behind only former Packer Sterling Sharpe. He also averaged 76.7 yards per game over his 190-game career, which exceeds both Rice (75.6) and T.O. (72.8).
Harrison, who was a first-team selection to the NFL’s all-decade team of the 2000s, was not only consistent throughout his career but prolifically consistent, averaging 1,121.5 yards per season as well. He also had six seasons with 90 or more catches and hauled in 50 or more passes 11 times in 13 years, ranking third all-time behind only Rice and Reed. And, by the way, the 143 passes he caught in 2002 remain the NFL single-season record.
Some positions are not really about stats, and others have none to make their case. But wide receivers, at their best, produce numbers. It is what they’re about. And if you have the kind of numbers Marvin Harrison has they eventually should lead to having your career enshrined in Canton.
Hall-of-Fame inductee Bill Polian, who was the Colts’ GM, last year told the Indianapolis Star that if Harrison wasn’t chosen to the Hall in 2016 “there ought to be a Congressional investigation. He belongs in there.”
That might be a bit of an overstatement, but to argue otherwise is to argue against both reality and common sense. Marvin Harrison has waited his turn as most of his predecessors did. Only six receivers – Hall-of-Fame charter members Don Hutson, Jerry Rice, Steve Largent, Lance Alworth, Raymond Berry and Paul Warfield – were first-ballot Hall of Famers. So waiting a few years on others who came before is no knock on Harrison or the voters. In fact, it was the right approach.
But he is the first of a new list of receivers becoming eligible, one that includes Owens and Moss, so this year it’s Marvin Harrison’s time. He has the numbers – and the Super Bowl ring – to prove it.