It is a time like this that the Steelers really could use the man. The start of the stretch run to the NFL playoffs. A rugged path, almost certainly as a wild-card team. Another significant injury to a star defensive player ...
James Farrior would look pretty good in the Steelers locker room right about now.
"I knew the guys were looking up at me. I always tried to do the right thing," Farrior was saying over the telephone the other day, taking a break from retirement in his new home in Houston.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin once called Farrior "our unquestioned leader ... he sets the tone for this outfit."
It was at this point of the season that Farrior was at his best. He learned from Jerome Bettis and Joey Porter, just two of the many strong leaders in Steelers history. Hall of Famer Joe Greene was the greatest of all.
Farrior's was the last voice the Steelers heard before every game. Tomlin would turn the players over to him before they took the field. Farrior always seemed to know the right thing to say. By the time he was done, the players would have run through the wall for him.
It's no wonder Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler invited Farrior into his sideline huddle with James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley, Larry Foote, Lawrence Timmons and the other linebackers before the Steelers played the Ravens Nov. 18. Farrior was back at Heinz Field as a part of the franchise's 80th anniversary celebration. There was a roar when he was introduced to the big crowd at halftime.
"I told [Butler] those guys don't want to hear what I have to say," Farrior said after climbing into the middle of the huddle nonetheless. "When the older guys came around, we didn't want to listen to them. We had to get ready to play. We thought, 'This is our time.' "
The Steelers defense is playing great football without Farrior, although it is going to be tested again Sunday, not so much by San Diego, but by another bad injury. Defensive stars such as Harrison, Woodley and Troy Polamalu have missed big chunks of the season. Now, iron-man cornerback Ike Taylor will be out for at least a few games because of a fractured right ankle. He had played in 135 in a row before his injury in the first series Sunday. Second-year pro Cortez Allen took over for him and will start at cornerback Sunday.
The Steelers will be fortunate if Allen replaces Taylor as well as Foote has taken over for Farrior as the on-field leader and defensive play-caller. "Man, he's doing fantastic," Farrior said of Foote. "He's doing better than I thought he would. He's playing way better than me."
That's probably a reach. Farrior was a wonderful player. He quickly became one of the Steelers' best free-agent signings after joining the team before the 2002 season.
Tomlin made the tough decision to release Farrior after last season, Farrior's 15th in the NFL. Farrior, 37, always said they would have to drag him out of the locker room.
"When they released me, it seemed like a good time to get out. My agent said he would make some calls, but I told him not to pursue anything. If something came up, I'd listen."
"I miss the guys and miss being in the locker room," Farrior said. "But I don't miss football. It's such a brutal, violent game. I did it for 15 years. I can't believe I played so long. I'm just happy I walked away healthy with everything intact. I'm ready to deal with whatever ailments come down the road. I knew what I signed up for. I have no regrets. I loved every minute of my career."
That doesn't mean Farrior will push football on his kids. He married in July.
"I talk to my wife all the time about it. If we do have a son, I'd probably try to steer him into something else. Football is too violent."
Farrior said the rest of his life can wait. For now, he's enjoying retirement. His biggest challenge is trying to figure out what to do each day.
"I'm trying to get my golf game going. And my wife usually has a honey-do list for me."
Farrior's wife, Iman, has started a new consulting company. He said he's willing to help. What he won't do is come back to football as a coach. "They work too many hours. Coaching is harder than playing."
Farrior didn't hesitate when asked what he remembers most from his time with the Steelers. "If I had to pick just one play, I'd say [Harrison's] touchdown in the Super Bowl." It was a 100-yard interception return at the end of the first half in the win against the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII. "One of the highlights of my life," Farrior called it.
But there is so much more that Farrior treasures. "I guess I would just say the journey. The journey to three Super Bowls. We knew all about what it takes to get to the mountaintop. I wish we could have won that third Super Bowl, but 2-1 in the big game isn't bad, I suppose."
Pretty good, actually.
Pretty good career, too.
Ron Cook: email@example.com. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.