Kevin Gorman's Take 5: Five thoughts on today's sports news
1. The James Harrison saga dragged on for a seventh consecutive day – he's made more headlines in one week for being released by the Steelers and signing with the Patriots than he did all season – when the linebacker released a statement on Instagram .
Harrison did just what his former teammates warned the media about, portraying himself as both an ultra-competitor and a victim. Harrison's version: He wanted to practice and play, but the Steelers merely paid him “lip service.”
Harrison said he “didn't sign up to sit on the bench and be a cheerleader.” No one does. But, at age 39, Harrison signed a two-year deal and was paid almost $2.2 million this season, according to Spotrac.com, before getting a pro-rated $59,000 for one game with New England.
It's not about “collecting a check and getting a participation trophy” or being a cheerleader.
It's called being a good teammate.
2. Sitting on the bench and playing when called upon isn't being a cheerleader; it's being a good teammate.
It's how a former top-10 pick, Darrius Heyward-Bey, has stayed in the NFL instead of disappearing after being labeled a bust. Heyward-Bey isn't just a special teams standout capable of making a big play, he's a respected voice in the locker room.
It's how Arthur Moats has stayed with the Steelers, even after being demoted from starting outside linebacker who led the team in sacks when he was demoted last season to seldom-used backup. Moats even moved inside when Ryan Shazier was injured.
It's how Harrison got his start in the NFL, after being released a handful of times by the Steelers and Baltimore Ravens. He made his mark as a special teams player and backup before becoming a five-time Pro Bowl pick, 2008 NFL defensive player of the year and author of the greatest play in Super Bowl history.
Harrison would be wise to remember he didn't make that 100-yard interception return for a touchdown alone, that he wouldn't have scored if not for his teammates' downfield blocking.
3. It's hard to blame the Steelers for leaving Harrison on the bench when first-round pick T.J. Watt was having a strong rookie season.
According to a tweet by Steelers PR man Dom Rinelli, Watt is the only linebacker in the NFL to have at least 40 tackles, five sacks (he has six), five passes defensed (he has seven) and an interception this season. Watt also has 10 quarterback hits, eight tackles for losses, a forced fumble and a blocked field goal.
And that's with the Steelers dropping their outside linebackers into coverage on passing downs more this season, instead of rushing the passer – which is Harrison's specialty.
That he couldn't be happy on a team that had clinched the AFC North division title, later clinched a first-round bye and has a chance to win the Super Bowl speaks volumes.
Perhaps Harrison was having a tough time swallowing his pride. After all, Harrison is “a competitor to the core.” He wrote that he does it for himself, his family, his teammates and the fans, and some will say that the order was no accident.
Simply put, James Harrison is selfish.
4. Chris Adamski has a story on the improved play of Sean Spence , who went from the street to the starting lineup for the Steelers in a span of six days.
Who would have ever imagined that Spence, after that horrific knee injury, would ever play football again, let alone become the starting inside linebacker for a team with Super Bowl aspirations?
Spence is one of the most compelling stories in the NFL, one that contrasts the Harrison saga.
5. Pitt and Duquesne both open conference play at 4 p.m. today with retooled rosters and coaches trying to revive their programs.
Both teams have winning records right now – Duquesne is 9-4, Pitt 8-5 – that are a bit misleading.
The Dukes have played the second-easiest schedule in Division I, with seven of their nine victories against teams ranked between Nos. 310-351 in the Ken Pomeroy College Basketball Ratings.
The Panthers lost five games in November and December for the first time since 1998-99, including defeats to Navy and Montana.
It will be interesting to see which school finishes with more wins this season. My money is on Duquesne, which should be more competitive in the Atlantic-10 than Pitt is in the ACC.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.