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James Harrison is all business for Pittsburgh Steelers

TAMPA — They say the eyes are the windows to a man's soul, but James Harrison doesn't want you peeking into his windows.

Harrison's eyes are fixed in a steely glare. He rarely changes expression and when he does speak, the words are sharp as a razor.

The Steelers linebacker is the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year, a disruptive force who set a club record with 16 sacks and seven forced fumbles.

But he's also the guy who was cut three times by Pittsburgh in 13 months and once by the Ravens, the one who was considered too undersized and undisciplined to play in the league.

Sunday, Harrison could have the biggest impact in Super Bowl XLIII because of his ability to pressure Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner. But Harrison will tell you he doesn't care about anything else that comes with playing on the biggest stage.

"I don't. I could care less. As long as I'm comfortable with me, that's all that matters," Harrison said. "I was born by myself and I'm going to die by myself."

For much of the week, if Harrison was cooperative at all, he responded to questions by saying, "tell me what you want me to say and I'll say it because you're going to write whatever you think anyway."

But Harrison has answered any questions people once had about his talent.

In fact, his shoulder chips were so large that he carried them around in an equipment bag from NFL Europe with "Rhein Fire #53" on the side, until the thing became worn and shredded.

But to understand Harrison, who views kindness as a sign of weakness, you have to go back to the beginning.

Harrison's mother had 13 other children and he was one of the first black players at Coventry High in Akron, Ohio. As a result, he was the target of racial taunts and was suspended once for responding to them.

Harrison cost himself a scholarship to a marquee college program after discharging a BB gun in the locker room his senior year. He wound up at Kent State.

When he entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent, he admittedly didn't take too well to coaching. He didn't get too deep into his playbook, either.

Harrison didn't want to be one of those guys who chased the dream of playing in the NFL until he was 30, and considered driving a truck for a living. But the Steelers needed a linebacker in 2004 when starter Clark Haggans broke the fingers on his right hand lifting weights.

This time, Harrison prepared harder. He had 1,000 index cards with notes spread on the floor to help him learn his playbook. He produced on special teams. When linebacker Joey Porter was sent packing in 2007, Harrison's career exploded.

Now Harrison is a turnover machine and the biggest reason Warner needs to get the ball out of his hands quickly Sunday.

"It comes from his strength, his body mass, and he's faster than people think," defensive coordinator Dick LaBeau said of Harrison's pass rushing talent. "He's short (6 feet), but in his case that's a real plus because he's got so much talent. The offensive players are taller, and he's underneath them most of the time. Then, with his strength, he can use that to his advantage, and he's got enough speed that they have to honor that, too. … He never stops on any play, never gives up in any game."

But Harrison doesn't care if his perseverance inspires anyone.

"They can use it as an example to inspire them, but if they do good, so be it," Harrison said. "I'm not out here to try and inspire anybody. I'm trying to play the game to the best of my abilities."

fast facts

Injury report

PROBABLE: WR Hines Ward (knee)

James Harrison is all business for Pittsburgh Steelers 01/30/09 [Last modified: Friday, January 30, 2009 10:13pm]
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