James Harrison got a warm welcome this morning from some of his former teammates, including safety Troy Polamalu who greeted him with a hug inside the locker room, all of them happy to see their old friend back with the team.
"I talked to a few of the guys before I came back and that is one of the reasons why I did come back," said Harrison.
Less than three weeks ago Harrison officially retired as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers. But after linebacker Jarvis Jones was placed on the reserve/injured designated to return list as a result of a wrist injury suffered against the Carolina Panthers, the Steelers went looking for depth at the position, and didn't have to go far.
Harrison played 10 seasons with the Steelers before signing with the Cincinnati Bengals in 2013. The Arizona Cardinals showed an interest in signing him earlier this month, but Harrison didn't want to leave Pittsburgh where he lives with his family, who he wanted to spend more time with. When his sons James and Henry, along with his parents and teammates Brett Keisel, Ike Taylor and Troy Polamalu all wanted him to return to the Steelers, he agreed.
"It's a family atmosphere," said Harrison of the Steelers. "I talked to my kids. I talked to my mom and dad. That was a major part of my decision. When it came down to it the other part was the guys wanting me to come back. That is another part of my family."
Harrison entered the NFL as an undrafted rookie, signing with the Steelers in 2002. It wasn't an easy road for him. He was released before the start of the 2002 season, signed to the practice squad, and then activated late that season. The following year, it was again a struggle when he made the final roster in 2003, but was released days later, signed to the practice squad and then released again.
Since then he went on to be named the AFC and NFL's Defensive Player of the Year, setting a Steelers' single-season record with 16 sacks in 2008. He was voted to the Pro Bowl five consecutive years (2007-11) and twice voted Steelers MVP (2007-08). He remains ranked fourth in team history with 64 career sacks.
That is why it was important for him to retire as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers, because his career was defined in black and gold. And before he made it official on Sept. 5 at the Steelers practice facility, he talked about what the Steelers meant to him.
Take a look at some of the best photos from the career of Steelers linebacker James Harrison.
"It's where I started, got my break and had the majority of my success," said Harrison. "It's a good feeling. For them to give me the opportunity and want me to come back, I am thankful. The Steelers organization has been very good to me. I am thankful for everything the Rooneys and the organization has done for me. I am thankful for the fans. I will tell you that right now, there is no group that is more loyal and knowledgeable than Steelers Nation. Right now I am thankful to have this opportunity."
Little did he know that he would soon get another opportunity to come back, this time to 'un-retire' and put the black and gold back on.
"This was not in the plans so to speak," said Harrison. "Everything happens for a reason. There is a reason for this and we are going to play it out and see what happens."
Harrison is hopeful to be in uniform ready to go this Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Heinz Field, but knows that it's going to take time to get from being in condition, to being in football condition.
"It's a big difference," said Harrison. "You are talking about running around with pads on. You are hitting guys, throwing guys around, it's extra exertion. You are tired faster. Being in normal condition shape, running around is fine, but football condition is a lot different. It will be a few weeks, two or three weeks."
He also knows a refresher course on the Steelers defense is needed. While he is familiar with most of it, it's been a while since he ran it and has to get caught up with any changes as well.
"Some things have changed," said Harrison. "Some things I don't remember as well as I did. I have been gone a year plus. We'll get into the lab and see what I remember and see what they have that is new."
One thing that won't be new is his defensive coordinator. Harrison is happy to be back working with Dick LeBeau, someone he has a great relationship with and truly missed.
"He is a genuinely caring person," said Harrison. "He cares for everybody, one and the same. He is like a second father. I have been around him for a long time and have come to love and respect him."
Harrison also looks forward to his 'reunion' with Steelers Nation at Heinz Field on Sunday. He said he doesn't know what the feeling is going to be like when he takes the field again, but he does know how special the fans are.
"They are the best fans in the NFL," said Harrison.