Return of Steelers' Harrison a welcome sight
By John Harris
Monday, September 17, 2007
The most welcome sight Sunday during the Steelers' 26-3 victory over the Buffalo Bills at Heinz Field wasn't Ben Roethlisberger passing for 242 yards and his fifth touchdown of the young season, Willie Parker racking up his third consecutive 100-yard rushing game dating back to 2006, or the defense stifling another opponent.
No, it was right outside linebacker James Harrison returning to the sideline with around 10 minutes left in the third quarter.
Harrison, who suffered a neck injury at the end of the first half that resulted in him being immobilized and carted off the field, not only rejoined his teammates in uniform, he actually tried to get back in the game.
"That's James," said coach Mike Tomlin, who told reporters that all tests done on Harrison's neck were negative and that he was home "resting comfortably" before his teammates departed the stadium.
"He's a tough guy. He thinks he's bulletproof," said starting left outside linebacker Clark Haggans, who moved over to the right side when Harrison was injured.
"I think he's bulletproof," Haggans added.
No, he's human. And incredibly fortunate.
As Harrison was face down on the turf, motionless, inside linebacker Larry Foote's thoughts turned to Buffalo tight end Kevin Everett.
A week ago, Everett was immobilized and carted off the field following a head-first tackle he made on a kickoff.
"I just imagined what the Bills went through, and what they're going through now," Foote said. "When a guy can't flip over, that's scary."
Harrison was shaken up on a Buffalo kickoff return the play before he collided with nose tackle Casey Hampton's rear end.
He wasn't moving.
Most of the players on both teams had already gone to the locker room for intermission and didn't know Harrison was injured. Some of the Steelers defensive starters gathered around Harrison, joined by Tomlin, who spoke with his fallen player.
"It was clean communication," Tomlin said. "He was just very uncomfortable, needless to say."
"Initially, you think the worst," defensive end Aaron Smith said, "but hope for the best."
Buffalo punter Brian Moorman couldn't help but think the worst.
"Obviously, after last week you see somebody strapped on a backboard again you're going to be concerned," said Moorman, who checked on Harrison's status with Steelers kickers Jeff Reed and Daniel Sepulveda when the teams returned for the second half. "We didn't realize it was that kind of injury when we came in. We came out and he's being rolled off the field. You think about him, you think about his family and you think about Kevin (Everett)."
It's at precarious times like these when football players, who are intent on destroying each other for 60 minutes, suddenly discover religion.
"I was just praying for him, hoping he would get up and walk off the field," Haggans said.
"We saw James was moving his legs and hands. That's better than not moving at all," cornerback Deshea Townsend said. "That's one thing you have to pray about and be thankful to the Lord that you're able to go out there and play."
Next Sunday's game against San Francisco can't arrive soon enough for Harrison.