Tim Benz: Rebonding of Harrison, Steelers will come, but not yet
James Harrison posted his retirement message on Instagram around 7 a.m. Monday. By mid-morning, many talk shows and the internet were filled with columns and commentary, discussing the prospect of the Steelers reconnecting with their estranged defensive hero in his retirement years.
Some were even asking for Harrison and the Steelers to pull off one of those dippy, ceremonial one-day contract stunts so he could “retire as a Steeler.”
That would be phony emotional manipulation. That would come off as manufactured and forced.
If the hope of having a nice, tidy rebonding between a great player and his team is to come to fruition, let’s wait until it can honestly be nice and tidy.
Because it can’t be now.
The wounds have to scab over before they can properly heal. Things are still somewhat raw.
Jersey retirements. One-day contracts. Rings of honor. Much of that stuff is done for the fans. Yeah, it’s good of the franchise to acknowledge great players and their impact. But it’s basically done as a public relations move.
I’m not sure all of the fans would give the crowd pop we’re visualizing so soon in this case. In fact, some might explode with anger. Many took Harrison’s eventual decision to sign with the Patriots as the football equivalent of a sin.
Some of his own teammates did. The day after Harrison was released, Anthony Chickillo was asked if it was hard to see Harrison go.
“It’s hard to see him go ... there,” is all he could manage as a response.
Maurkice Pouncey flatly stated, “He erased his own legacy here.” Bud Dupree insisted Harrison “spit” on the whole team by going to New England.
When players widely criticize a legendary teammate just a few days after he got released, chances are they aren’t going to be excited to stand on the sideline and cheer for him as he goes out for a ceremonial coin toss.
Or, in the case of Pouncey, maybe be out at the 50-yard line next to him while the coin is in the air.
Maybe some of those players will have to be gone before a scripted return of Harrison to Heinz Field takes place. Perhaps linebackers coach Joey Porter or even Mike Tomlin might need to absent by then, too.
Given Pouncey’s age, Porter’s shaky ground, and the status of those other linebackers on the roster, that might not take long. But don’t hold your breath on the Tomlin part of that equation.
Let’s be clear on a few things. First of all, Harrison is going to want this at some point. He might act distant now. But he’ll want a reunion soon. He already informally made an appearance at Brett Keisel’s “Shear Da Beard” fundraiser this offseason.
Harrison isn’t going to be like Jack Lambert and Troy Polamalu, intentionally staying away from the franchise.
Those guys don’t like the media attention and the hoopla. For real.
Harrison pretends like he doesn’t. It’s part of his act.
Oh, he might hate actual media members. Like, probably the guy you are reading right now.
But he loves the attention. No one basked in his own bad guy, tough-old-man-strength image more than Harrison. Remember the infamous Men’s Journal cover piece? You don’t post constant Instagram videos of yourself working out unless you crave attention and are looking for hugs from the internet.
As proof, Harrison was posting Monday, two hours after his retirement announcement. Those videos get play because he’s an NFL player. He’s retired now, though. And if he remains divorced from his team, he’ll just be an old guy bench pressing.
Secondly, the Steelers will want a Kumbaya moment, too. It’ll happen. But it’ll happen on their clock.
They patched things up with guys who left on worse terms than Harrison’s.
Santonio Holmes was unceremoniously traded. Mike Merriweather sat out the 1988 season. The Steelers cut Franco Harris when he asked for a raise in 1984. Mel Blount went so far as to sue Chuck Noll. The Steelers even trumpeted a return of Terry Bradshaw in 2002 despite his self-created drama with the team over a stretch of decades.
The Steelers even took baby steps Monday by sending out a “thank you” post on social media to Harrison. It took 12 hours. But they did it. And a full-blown Harrison-Steelers reunion will take time as well. It should take time.
Everyone loves a redemption. Everyone likes the prodigal son story. But let’s actually let him stay away from home for a bit until this fully cools off.
Let Harrison sleep on it for a while. You know, like he used to do in all of those defensive meetings when he was trying to get himself cut.
Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @TimBenzPGH.