BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — Two of the best defensive plays in Super Bowl history were made by players currently on the New England Patriots’ roster.
One of those players, of course, is cornerback Malcolm Butler, whose interception of Russell Wilson sealed a win for the Patriots in Super Bowl XLIX.
The other? That would be 39-year-old linebacker James Harrison, who returned a Kurt Warner pass 100 yards for a touchdown to help push the Pittsburgh Steelers past the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII.
Nine years later, it’s still a remarkable highlight to watch.
Harrison, a feared pass rusher and the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year that season, fooled Warner by dropping back into coverage near the goal line, allowing him to undercut Anquan Boldin’s slant route. It took him 16 seconds to rumble the length of the field — he reached the end zone just as Larry Fitzgerald and Steve Breaston caught him from behind — and several minutes to drag himself off the turf afterward.
Asked this week in an interview with NESN.com what he remembers about the play, Harrison offered a one-word response: “Tired.”
The touchdown — the second-longest ever in a Super Bowl behind Jacoby Jones’ 108-yard kickoff return in Super Bowl XLVII — was the highlight of Harrison’s wildly successful 14-year tenure with the Steelers, which included three Super Bowl appearances and two titles. That tenure came to an ugly end this past December, however, with Pittsburgh releasing the veteran after using him on just 40 snaps all season.
Harrison now looks to add to his legacy with the Patriots, who scooped him up after the Steelers cut him loose and who will take on the Philadelphia Eagles this Sunday in Super Bowl LII.
Patriots linebacker Kyle Van Noy recalled watching Harrison’s interception on television. He was a senior in high school at the time.
“It’s pretty crazy,” Van Noy told NESN.com on Thursday. “We were actually talking about it earlier. … It’s crazy hearing James talk about the play and going through it. He doesn’t even remember how he got in the end zone. He just saw red jerseys and somehow ended up in the end zone. It was a pretty remarkable play.”
At 39, Harrison is the NFL’s oldest active defensive player and the second-oldest Patriots player behind 40-year-old quarterback Tom Brady. He’s been in the league so long that 23-year-old teammates Adam Butler and Eric Lee both said they had no memory of his Super Bowl pick-six.
“He’s old,” the 26-year-old Van Noy said. “He’s definitely old. I tell him all the time he’s old. And then I tell him, ‘Don’t beat me up’ right after.
“But no, James has been awesome. He’s been awesome for the young guys to see. He’s been awesome for me. He’s such a true professional, and he brings a swagger to the locker room, and then his leadership role has been huge ever since he’s been in the building. I’ve really enjoyed working with him and being a part of his legacy.”
It didn’t take Harrison long to earn the respect of the Patriots’ locker room. Super Bowl LII will be just his fourth game in a New England uniform.
“His presence is what he commands when he first walks into a room,” rookie defensive end Deatrich Wise said. “Without even saying anything, you already know, that’s James Harrison. … He doesn’t speak a lot, but when he speaks, it sticks.”
Thumbnail photo via Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports Images
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