Harrison’s clunky exit out of Pittsburgh in 2017 affected his standing with the team in the short term but won’t be an issue years from now. His legacy will age as well as he did.
He’s the franchise’s all-time sacks leader, the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2008 and the owner of one of the best defensive plays in Super Bowl history, a 100-yard interception return during a victory in Super Bowl XLIII.
In December, several teammates blasted Harrison for basically forcing his way out of town over lack of playing time. The Steelers had signed Harrison to a two-year deal as a positional hedge in case a draft pick didn’t develop. Well, T.J. Watt developed in a hurry, leaving Harrison in street clothes for parts of the season.
Harrison expressed displeasure in part by missing practices and sleeping through meetings. Players had no problem revealing some of Harrison’s issues in 2017, with center Maurkice Pouncey saying Harrison had tarnished his Steelers legacy, a statement Pouncey softened a month later at the Pro Bowl.
But Harrison has always been a different dude. Considering how he fought his way into league prominence as an undrafted free agent who played in the World League, Harrison going out on his own terms was hardly a surprise. His short stint with the New England Patriots made the Steelers salty for a time, but he needed a job and Bill Belichick offered him one.
That doesn’t change the reality that inside Heinz Field, Harrison almost always produced. His 80.5 career sacks with the Steelers won’t be touched for a while. The franchise’s active leader, defensive end Cam Heyward, has 37 sacks.
Even in his late 30s, Harrison showcased moments of brilliance. He first retired in 2014, then returned for 23 sacks over four seasons, including the playoffs. His 7.5 sacks over an 11-game stretch in 2016 energized the Steelers during a midseason lull. Even in limited action in 2017, Harrison showed his fastball with a Week 6 sack against tackle Eric Fisher in Kansas City.
The modern Steelers defense has emphasized speedy linebackers who can cover, which isn’t Harrison’s game, but he could apply pressure on quarterbacks until the very end.
Steelers fans don’t remember Franco Harris for his one season in Seattle, and they won’t remember Harrison as a Patriot.
They’ll remember him taking a Kurt Warner pass to the house, his insane workout regimen and his bull rush off the edge.
As it should be.