CLEVELAND (AP) _ Surrounded by his teammates in the locker room, James Harrison accepted the game ball as his eyes flooded with tears.
On a special day for Pittsburgh’s pulverizing linebacker, there was something was missing and Harrison struggled to harness his emotions.
“I was thinking about my father, and how he’s not here for it,” Harrison said.
The 38-year-old Harrison became the Steelers career sacks leader on Sunday as Pittsburgh recorded eight sacks and pounded the Cleveland Browns 24-9 to end a four-game losing streak.
For Harrison, the milestone was somewhat bittersweet since it came in the same year that he lost his father, James Sr., who died in May at the age of 76.
Harrison has kept his father’s passing mostly private, but honored him by posting photos on Instagram of him and his dad fishing together.
Following the game, the Steelers paid tribute to the five-time Pro Bowler, who has helped them win two Super Bowls.
Except for one season, Harrison has been with the Steelers since 2002, and his presence has kept Pittsburgh’s defense among the NFL’s hardest-hitting, most-feared units.
With Cleveland driving toward a possible touchdown, Harrison sacked Browns rookie quarterback Cody Kessler for a 5-yard loss.
Starting on the right side, Harrison looped around the edge and then overpowered rookie guard Spencer Drango, who had no chance and was driven backward before Kessler was brought down.
It was vintage Harrison _ brutal and effective.
The sack gave him 771/2 sacks, moving Harrison past Jason Gildon (77) for the most in Pittsburgh’s storied history.
“It feels good,” Harrison said of the record. “It feels a lot better to get a win to stop this losing skid that we were on.”
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who has been around nearly as long as Harrison has, was excited to see his teammate set the mark.
“I wish he would have gotten it at home, but that’s about the only regret I have for him is that he couldn’t be recognized at home because he deserves that as one of the best I’ve ever seen,” Roethlisberger said. “I’m glad he’s on my side. We all respect him a lot and we’re all happy for him.”
Harrison came in with just two sacks this season, both coming in a loss to Baltimore two weeks ago. Last week, Harrison found himself on the sideline during Dallas’ final two drives, both ending with touchdown runs by rookie Ezekiel Elliott.
Coach Mike Tomlin moved him ahead of Jarvis Jones on the depth chart, and Harrison came through the way he always has.
“James has been that type of guy for us,” Tomlin said. “Usually we make decisions with him with a global perspective. Wanting him to be a part of this thing not only today, but for the remainder of the season and for `fork in the road’ type weeks. What are we preserving him for? That’s why we played him today in the manner in which we did.
“I see him every day so I’m less amazed by him. Maybe I should be amazed by it, but we know that his production is not haphazard. It’s not something mystical. He works extremely hard and does so on a daily basis.”
Harrison helped set the tone for Pittsburgh’s defense, which held the Browns to 33 yards rushing and 209 overall _ 126 coming in the fourth quarter when the Steelers were not rushing as much.
“Everybody took responsibility to do their job and what I call play selfish,” Harrison said. “Do your job and let your teammate do his job. And I’m not saying selfish in the way of me, me, me. I’m talking about selfish in the fact that if you do your job and everyone else does their job, then everything will roll out the way you need it to.”
Harrison, who grew up in Akron and played at Kent State, said setting the sacks record in Ohio didn’t make it any more significant.
“It could have been anywhere,” he said. “But it wouldn’t have been more special than it already is.”