James Harrison is many things, among them: one of the hardest hitters in the history of the National Football League and a virtually unblockable beast. The undrafted linebacker from Kent State who became the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2008. The man who picked off Kurt Warner in Super Bowl XLIII following his DPOY season, then trucked it 100 yards the other way for a touchdown – the so-called “Immaculate Interception.” And a social-media star who, years after his retirement, continues to dazzle followers with his surreal feats of strength in the weight room.
But here is one thing James Harrison is decidedly not: sentimental. Far from it.
Until not so long ago, the Akron, Oh native kept most of his playing days mementos in a box. Not in his office, not on a shelf, but in a cardboard container, out of sight and out of mind, to eventually be replaced by his sons’ keepsakes and accomplishments. This might boggle the mind of a Steelers fan for whom Harrison secured that Super Bowl win 14 years ago.
Harrison, though, says he doesn’t need the physical reminders. It’s all in his head.
The man remembers everything life – and those quarterbacks and their offensive linemen – threw at him. Every play. Every look. Every hit. Every sack. Every stripped ball. Everything.
That’s part of the reason why he dug into the box and consigned more than 50 pieces of memorabilia from his football career to Heritage Auctions, where it’s currently being offered.
“Having these things is not going to take away the accomplishment of what I did,” he says. “I’m not a sentimental person about things like that. People? Things that you can’t replace? Yeah. But material things, it just is what it is. I think somebody else will get a lot more enjoyment out of it than me.
Among the items are the football and jersey from his most famous moment, when he picked off Warner at the goal line and returned it for a Pittsburgh touchdown. At the time, it was the longest play in Super Bowl history – and, at 100 yards, remains the longest INT-for-TD play made by a defender in the game’s history. It was rated number seven in the NFL’s 100 Greatest Plays of All-Time
If the interception return felt like it lasted only a split second (Harrison was a running back in college), the replay felt like it took a few forevers – which gave Harrison time enough to recover from the run that left him gassed in the end zone. The play was even part of a Saturday Night Live skit, with Kenan Thompson sucking on an oxygen mask during a sit-down at the Weekend Update desk.
As of Thursday afternoon, the high bid on the jersey was $60,000 while the ball stood at $29,000.
Other jerseys being offered include the one from Pittsburgh’s 2006 Super Bowl win over the Seattle and the one he wore in November 2007, when Harrison recorded 10 tackles, six QB hits, 3.5 sacks, one interception, three forced fumbles, three tackles for a loss and one fumble recovery against the Baltimore Ravens.
Also offered are his Pro Bowl jersey and those jerseys worn in the playoffs and Super Bowl during his tenure with the New England Patriots at the end of his career.
There are game balls, too, and helmets spanning his career – including one from his playing days at Kent State, where Harrison wound up paying his own way – only to rack up a school record for sacks in a season. There are the awards, as well, and the rings, the caps, the clothes, the cleats, the locker nameplates and chars and even a few helmets that once belonged to celebrated teammates, among them Troy Polamalu.
“I’m a football collector myself, so when I saw this Kent State helmet, this jersey from one of the biggest plays in Super Bowl history, all this different stuff, I was just geeking out that he saved all this stuff,” says Heritage’s Executive Vice President Derek Grady, a Cowboys fan who nonetheless appreciated the significance of the collection. “I think James is just one of the most real people I’ve ever met. He lived a dream that I wanted to do as a kid. And it’s an honor to share this with everyone else who had that same dream and respect for James Harrison.”
Harrison also consigned numerous other game-used helmets and jerseys and several commemorative game balls.
The Harrison collection headlines the second night of the Heritage auction, with bidding set to run through Feb. 26.