Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison might be my favorite player on the squad not named Hines Ward. He’s just so fun to watch terrorize opposing offenses. His combination of incredible speed and power makes him one of the most violent players in all of professional football. On Sunday during the Steelers’ 28-10 win over the Cleveland Browns, Harrison knocked two players – Joshua Cribbs and Mohamed Massaquoi – out of the game with concussions. Both were helmet-to-helmet hits, yet neither was flagged as a penalty.
The NFL on Monday declared that the hit on Cribbs was legal, but that they would be reviewing the hit on Massaquoi. You can expect Harrison to be fined, if for no other reason that it ‘sends a message’ that helmet-to-helmet hits can’t be tolerated in the increasingly-violent game. Harrison responded very frankly when asked if he thought either hit was illegal or worthy of a fine.
“I don’t want to injure anybody,” Harrison said following Pittsburgh’s 28-10 victory. “There’s a big difference between being hurt and being injured. You get hurt, you shake it off and come back the next series or the next game. I try to hurt people.”
Of course, the media and fans will run with the soundbite of ‘I try to hurt people’ rather than taking it in context with his entire statement. And he’s absolutely right. NFL players do try to hurt each other. Ray Lewis of the Baltimore Ravens said as much after he TKO’d Rashard Mendenhall for the year with a shoulder injury back in 2008.
Harrison’s teammates and coaches know what his intentions are, and are thankful they have him on their team setting the tone. Coach Tomlin had this to say about Harrison:
“James is always ready to deliver for his teammates,” Tomlin said. “That’s why they have so much respect for him. He’s a good football player, man. He always delivers timely performances when you need them. Talking to a lot of young players, they want to know the recipe for being a dominant, great player. It’s not only delivering plays, but delivering plays at a timely manner — significant plays. And he does that for the most part.”
Hines Ward, notorious for his aggressive style of play, followed up with:
“You see a guy like that, knocking guys out like that … he’s a man on a mission,” Ward said. “He sets the tempo for everybody.”
More on this story this week after we see what the NFL’s course of action is.