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Labriola On

Labriola on Harrison's greatest hits

I never heard a single note of the Bruce Springsteen concert/halftime show when it happened, and to this day have absolutely no memory of it. None. And I'm a Bruce fan, an old enough fan to have purchased "Greetings from Asbury Park," and "The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle" when those albums were released in the early 1970s.

Watching an NFL game from the press box might seem an attractive option to people, and the climate-controlled element certainly is a bonus whenever it's hot or wet or cold. But it's also a rather sterile environment, at least it would seem that way to fans whose stadium experiences have come while seated among the paying customers. In fact, the NFL mandates an announcement be made in the press box before the start of each game reminding everyone that there is to be no cheering or loud disparaging remarks made during the course of said game.

Thirty-five years worth of watching football from the press box has trained me to resist the urge to react loudly, either to the good or the bad of a particular game, but James Harrison tested my resolve in this area more than any individual I can remember.

Which brings me back to the Springsteen concert/halftime show. That one was part of Super Bowl XLIII, and it came just minutes after what I regard as the greatest play in Super Bowl history – Harrison's 100-yard interception return for a touchdown as time expired in the first half of Steelers vs. Cardinals.

The emotional swing for someone who definitely lives in his fears over the course of just a couple of minutes was as wild as any roller coaster ride. It went from coming to grips with the fact that a Cardinals touchdown – it was first-and-goal from the 1-yard line, after all – would give Arizona a 14-10 halftime lead, to some relief that Harrison's interception had preserved the Steelers' 10-7 lead, to some anticipation that Harrison might score a touchdown, to the realization that he could score a touchdown, to the fear that he had scored a touchdown but it would be overturned on replay.

This emotional rollercoaster had to be ridden silently in the second row of the press box at Raymond James Stadium, and when it ended with confirmation from the replay booth that Harrison indeed had scored the touchdown that gave the Steelers a 17-7 lead, I had nothing left to invest in The Boss.

And there were other moments authored by Harrison that tested my resolve to watch but not react.

In 2007, his first year as a starter, on a Monday night against the Ravens at Heinz Field. Harrison had 2.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, and an interception that he returned 20 yards – and did all of that in the first half to help the Steelers build a 35-7 lead at intermission. He added a sack in the second half to finish the game with 3.5.

In the 2010 AFC Divisional Playoffs, also against the Ravens, Harrison had three sacks and broke up two passes in a game that had the Steelers overcome a 21-7 halftime deficit on the way to a 31-24 victory.

In 2008, Harrison's interception and 33-yard return set up a field goal, and then his sack/strip of Philip Rivers resulted in a safety. That was Harrison being responsible for five points in what was an 11-10 Steelers win over San Diego.

Harrison started 104 games for the Steelers, including playoffs, and in those games he had a sack in 47, which means he put the quarterback on the ground in 45.7 percent of the games he started. Among those starts also were 16 multi-sack games.

James Harrison was voted NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2008 when he set the franchise record for most sacks in a single-season with 16. He was voted to five straight Pro Bowls after becoming a starter in 2007; in both 2008 and 2010 he was voted first-team All-Pro; and his teammates voted him Steelers MVP in the back-to-back seasons of 2007-08.

Those were Harrison's official accomplishments during his NFL career, and for all of the terror he reigned on Steelers opponents – particularly the Ravens – there also was the instant where his path crossed with a man named Nate Mallett.

Take a look at some of the best photos from the career of Steelers linebacker James Harrison.

It was Christmas Eve 2005, and having to work that day wasn't the greatest, and being in Cleveland to work that day was bringing out the Grinch in just about everyone. The Steelers needed a win to stay in playoff contention, but a Browns team that would finish 6-10 was barely a speed bump along the road to Super Bowl XL. It would end, 41-0, and in garbage time of the game, a self-described drunk Browns fan decided to run onto the field and make the moment about him.

Nate Mallett eluded stadium security and made his way across the field toward the Steelers sideline. In mid-preen, Mallett found himself body-slammed to the turf by Harrison, who then held him there for police and security to arrive.

Ask a Steelers fan for his favorite memory of James Harrison, and the 100-yard pick-six in the Super Bowl invariably is mentioned first. But after that, for pure entertainment, as the highlight that proved to be the No. 2 test of my press box decorum, it was Harrison vs. Mallett, even if it didn't even last as long as Mike Tyson vs. Marvis Frazier.

Yesterday, during a news conference at the Steelers practice facility that was attended by Dan Rooney, Art Rooney II, Kevin Colbert, Mike Tomlin, Keith Butler, Joey Porter, Troy Polamalu, Brett Keisel, Ike Taylor, and John Norwig, James Harrison officially announced his retirement from the NFL. He didn't cry, but he did quote Dick LeBeau when asked what advice he would give to young players: "Prepare like everything depends on you, and pray like everything depends on God."

He was a special player on some special Steelers teams that accomplished some special things. And now that he's retired, maybe I'll be able to remember the next time Springsteen performs at halftime of a game I'm covering.

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