Labriola On

Labriola on interpretations, Harrison history

Ready or not, here it comes:

  • Win one game. One. That's what the Steelers have to do to have any chance to survive the rest of this 2016 season.
  • Winning one game doesn't fix everything. It might not even really "fix" anything, but what losing does to a football team is the same thing that losing blood does to the human body. If you don't stop it, or if you can't stop it, the patient dies. A football team can die, too.
  • The Steelers are bleeding. After the 35-30 loss to the Cowboys, Ben Roethlisberger talked about discipline and accountability. Among his quotes: "We'll chew this (loss) up. And we need to be more disciplined and accountable." And "Like I said, we are undisciplined and not accountable. That's why (the Cowboys) are one of the best in the business, and we're not right now." And "I don't think leadership was an issue. We just have to make plays and be accountable and be disciplined."
  • Then, Roethlisberger was asked, "You've said accountable a couple of times. How do you get to that point?" And he answered, "I don't know. As players, as coaches, I don't know, but we need to get there quick."
  • Whenever a player of Roethlisberger's stature says anything, really, it attracts attention, and certainly so when his team is on a four-game losing streak. Then came the interpretations of his words, naturally, because whenever a player of Roethlisberger's stature says anything, really, it attracts attention, and certainly so when his team is on a four-game losing streak.
  • Who was he ripping? Coaches? Players? Was he ripping anybody? Or just letting his frustration show after throwing for 408 yards and three touchdowns? I must admit to knowing as little about what Roethlisberger meant when he said what he said as anybody else, and so here's my interpretation:
  • For an NFL player, here are some, just some, very basic examples of being accountable:
  • Knowing what personnel groupings you're in and getting onto the field and into the huddle promptly when those groupings are called for during games. Standing close to the assistant coach, or whomever is charged with calling out the personnel groupings during games so you can hear them so you can get onto the field and into the huddle promptly. Paying attention in meetings. Be on time for meetings. Catch the ball.
  • As for discipline, that's simply an extension of accountability. For example, not only knowing what defense to be in on a first-and-10 play from the Steelers 32-yard line with 15 seconds left in the game, but then being disciplined enough to take that knowledge and be where you're supposed to be so that the integrity of the scheme isn't compromised. As an example.
  • Or maybe he meant something else. Get that one win, though, and it stops being Job 1 to figure it out.
  • This Sunday, William Gay has a chance to pass Jason Gildon and become the all-time leader in sacks in franchise history. Gildon finished with 77, and Harrison currently has 76.5, following this week's decision by the Elias Sports Bureau not to make a scoring change on the sack of Dak Prescott last Sunday at Heinz Field. After reviewing the video, Elias upheld the decision to give Stephon Tuitt a full sack on the play. Harrison could have split the sack with Tuitt, which would have tied Gildon, had there been a scoring change.
  • In explaining itself, Elias wrote, "We reviewed the play and are keeping it a full sack for Tuitt. Tough call, but his hit appeared to have buckled the quarterback's leg and the quarterback was facing in the other direction before the other player came in and finished him off. But don't see any reason to over-rule official scorer, who might have been of the opinion the quarterback was going down regardless."
  • Better for James Harrison to break the sack record without the help of a scoring change, and there certainly would be something poetic about him doing it in Cleveland, because that's where he announced himself as the kind of player he ultimately would become.
  • That was back in 2004, and in July Harrison had gotten another chance at making the Steelers roster on the eve of training camp when Clark Haggans injured himself lifting weights only a week or two before reporting day at Saint Vincent College. Harrison stuck on the 53-man roster that time, but until the Steelers' annual visit to Cleveland that season, Harrison played special teams. He'd flash, but it was on special teams.
  • The big story that season was this rookie quarterback named Ben Roethlisberger who had taken over for an injured Tommy Maddox and had won every start since then. But this was a Steelers team built around the running game and its defense, and so when Joey Porter was ejected along with Cleveland running back William Green during pregame warm-ups before the Nov. 14 contest between these teams, James Harrison became a starting right outside linebacker.
  • Harrison was thrust onto the field at the last minute without any practice repetitions with the first unit, a guy who had been a nobody from nowhere, and not only did he hold his own but he was a reason the Steelers won.
  • A team-high six tackles, plus a sack. Those were the statistics, but this is how the game started: The Browns returned the opening kickoff 74 yards to the Steelers 18-yard line. A first-down run gained 7 yards, to the 11-yard line. On second down, Harrison tackled the ball carrier for a 3-yard loss, and on third-and-6 from the 14-yard line, Jeff Garcia was flushed from the pocket only to be tackled by Harrison for a 1-yard gain. Fourth down. Settle for a field goal. Potential disaster-in-the-making averted right off the bat, and the Steelers proceed to a relatively comfortable 24-10 victory.
  • On Mondays that season, I did a radio show with Gerry Dulac at an establishment a short trip from what's now the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. When possible the Steelers would try to provide a player to do a quick guest segment during the two-hour broadcast window. After the Browns game, the Steelers approached Harrison and he accepted the gig. We're on the air and hadn't said anything about having a guest or when one might arrive, but when James Harrison walked through the door the people in the area of the broadcast location all stood and cheered.
  • It's been a long love affair with Steelers fans ever since, and because Sunday will mark another trip to Cleveland it's only appropriate to mention another James Harrison all-time highlight.
  • 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 Super Bowl XLIII invariably is mentioned first. But after that, for pure entertainment, Harrison vs. Mallett is a strong No. 2.
  • Looking for that one win to snap this slide and put an end to interpretations, the Steelers will board buses and head to Cleveland this weekend, and they will need a hero for their defense. James Harrison has been there, and done that.
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