PITTSBURGH (AP) — That retirement talk by James Harrison didn’t last nearly long enough for some NFL quarterbacks.
The three-time Pro Bowl linebacker resumed practicing Thursday with the Pittsburgh Steelers, one day after threatening to retire because of the NFL’s stricter enforcement of dangerous hits.
Harrison was fined $75,0000 on Tuesday for a helmet hit on Browns wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi, making him one of three NFL players fined at least $50,000 for flagrant hits last weekend. On Wednesday, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell followed up the fines by releasing a memo emphasizing significant penalties will be imposed upon players who strike an opponent in the head or neck in violation of existing rules.
Harrison, arguing the restrictions won’t allow him to play football as he’s always played it, met with coach Mike Tomlin on Wednesday to discuss the changes. Tomlin decided to give Harrison a cooling-off day and sent him home from practice.
Harrison’s teammates didn’t take his threat to retire seriously, saying he enjoys playing too much to quit during the second season of a $51.2 million contract. Harrison agreed with that in a statement issued by the team.
“I have come to the decision that I cannot and will not let the league office stop me from playing the game that I love,” Harrison said.
Harrison did not talk to reporters before or after practice. The team said the statement would be his only comments.
“I will continue to play the game with the same passion, intensity and focus with which I have always played and let the chips fall where they may,” Harrison said. “I have never give up, quit or walked away from anything in my life and I am not about to start now.”
Too bad for the Patriots’ Tom Brady, who joked life for NFL quarterbacks would be easier if Harrison retired.
Steelers safety Ryan Clark also found some levity in the situation. Asked about the notoriously intense Harrison’s mood upon returning to the team, Clark said Harrison isn’t “a fluffy person” even when he’s in a good mood.
“He’s fine,” Clark said. “Obviously it’s a tough situation and he was able to handle it the way he needed to. We’re glad to have him back.”
In his statement, Harrison said player safety must be emphasized, but he argued again his hit on Massaquoi was permissible under NFL rules. Tomlin also said the hit was legal.
“I feel the real reason for the fine was the statement I made after the game wherein I said that I try to hurt people, not injure them,” Harrison said in the statement. “In the same sentence, I attempted to clarify my meaning. But I understand that my comments leave a lot open to interpretation. The statement was not well-thought out and I did not adequately convey my meaning. I apologize for making that statement and I want it to be known that I have never and would never intentionally try to injure any player.”
Browns center Alex Mack suggested Harrison should be worried about his own health. Mack said Harrison’s concussion-causing hits Sunday on Browns wide receivers Massaquoi and Joshua Cribbs weren’t isolated.
“If you watch the game film, he was doing that to everyone on every play. People would be on the ground and he would try to spear them,” Mack said. “There’s a play on film where (running back) Peyton Hillis is tackled and he comes up and spears him. It’s like you’re being cheap, you’re being dirty.”
Dirty, he said, and dangerous.
“You’re ruining your own brain and you’re damaging other people,” Mack said. “It’s your brain. You need that a lot.”
Steelers nose tackle Chris Hoke insisted the 2008 AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year is not a dirty player who lives off cheap hits.
“That’s not James, that’s a misunderstanding,” Hoke said. “He goes out and plays hard. There’s not a dirty ounce in his body. … It’s all about hard work for him. He’s one of the first guys in here in the morning and one of the last to leave. He’s a class act. It’s good to see him back because he’s a humongous part of our team.”
While Harrison’s one-day absence was the predominant topic in the Steelers locker room, defensive end Aaron Smith said it wasn’t a distraction. Many veteran Steelers players routinely take days off from practice during the season; the only difference was Harrison didn’t watch from the sideline or attend meetings.
Smith also said Harrison’s situation won’t be a distraction on Sunday.
“When you go out there on Sunday, all you think about is the football game,” Smith said. “You don’t think about anything else.”
And the Steelers will play … uhh, is it Miami? With so much talk about Harrison, Steelers players are being asked relatively few questions about the Dolphins (3-2).
“Is that who we’re playing?” Smith said, only kidding.
AP Sports Writer Tom Withers in Berea, Ohio, contributed to this report.