Bengals linebacker James Harrison speaks during an NFL football news conference, May 14, at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati. Harrison signed with the Bengals as a free agent from the Pittsburgh Steelers. (AP Photo/Al Behrman)
by Joe Kay
CINCINNATI (AP) — James Harrison sat in front of the Bengals backdrop, leaned on his right forearm — the one with “James” tattooed length-wise — and thought about his day.
“It’s a change,” he said of his introduction to tiger stripes. “That’s definite. But everything has a reason, and everything happens for a reason. So it’s the reason I’m here.”
He’s here to try to get the Bengals their first playoff victory in 23 years.
The 35-year-old linebacker left Pittsburgh as a free agent, unable to agree on a restructured contract to help the Steelers get under the salary cap. He chose Cincinnati because it’s been in the playoffs each of the last two seasons and it’s close to his home, which is still in Pittsburgh.
Plus, he gets to face the Steelers twice a season as AFC North rivals. Although he has no hard feelings toward the team that helped him become one of the NFL’s best, he hasn’t forgotten how things ended there.
It won’t be long before he gets a chance to make his point in person. The Bengals’ home opener is a Monday night game against the Steelers.
“I understand it’s a business, so it’s not like I can really take it personally,” Harrison said. “But to say that it doesn’t motivate me in some sense would be a lie.”
After he left Pittsburgh, Harrison had to work out for the Bengals, who wanted to make sure he was beyond a knee injury that sidelined him during training camp and forced him to miss the first three games last season. He was in Arizona working out when the Bengals offered a two-year deal last month.
Harrison estimated he spends between $400,000 and $600,000 a year to stay as healthy as possible. He said he uses a hyperbaric chamber in Arizona, and has his own staff of acupuncturists, massage therapists and homeopathic doctors.
He’ll bring them with him to Cincinnati, where he joined his new team for the first time this week.
“I’m still not able to do certain things, but as far as my physical health, I’m able to train a lot harder than I have been over the last two, three offseasons,” Harrison said. “I’m able to do a lot more weight (lifting). I’m able to just do a lot more things that my body physically couldn’t do because of injury, or whatever it may be.”
Harrison was the league’s defensive player of the year in 2008. He helped the Steelers win Super Bowls in the 2005 and 2008 seasons.
Cincinnati hasn’t won a playoff game since the 1990 season, a streak of futility that’s tied for seventh-longest in NFL history. The Bengals made the playoffs as a wild card team each of the last two seasons but lost to Houston in the opening round both years.
Coach Marvin Lewis is 0-4 in the playoffs during his 10 years in Cincinnati.
The Bengals return their defense virtually intact from last season, when it finished sixth in yards allowed. Adding Harrison will upgrade a position where they needed some depth. It’ll also bring in someone accustomed to winning playoff games.
“He gives you that swagger and that seal,” cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones said Tuesday, after working out at Paul Brown Stadium. “You know when you mail off the letter you make sure you put a stamp on it. Well, he’s the stamp.”
Jones spent some time with Harrison reminiscing about their head-to-head encounter in Dallas in 2008, when the linebacker hit him on a punt returned and injured his neck. Jones fell on the ball, and Harrison dived on top of him.
“I muffed a punt and he almost killed me,” Jones said. “We talked about it today. That was the first time I hurt my neck, then I re-injured it again when I was here. I told him if he was down (on the field), I probably would have done the same thing.”