James Harrison has never met Jack Lambert. Both played at Kent State and played linebacker for the Steelers. Each won the NFL's defensive player of the year award. Each has multiple Pro Bowls and Super Bowl rings. They have what might be described as similar dispositions on a football field.
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Harrison lives in Franklin Park. Lambert lives near Kittanning.
"I've never talked to him, face to face or on the phone," Harrison said.
He does, however, have a letter from Lambert. The Hall of Fame linebacker wrote to Harrison after the Steelers beat Baltimore, 38-7, at Heinz Field Nov. 5, 2007. It was Harrison's first year as the full-time starter at right outside linebacker, and that may have been the greatest game ever played by a linebacker in Steelers history.
Harrison, playing against a Ravens team that had cut him without ever bringing him to training camp three years earlier, led the Steelers with nine tackles, 31/2 sacks, three forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and an interception he returned 20 yards.
Not long after that, Harrison received Lambert's letter. He does not remember the specifics of it, other than "It was motivational."
Harrison is trying to spread that motivation a little himself these days, which is why he donated $100,000 to the Kent State athletic department this past week. He hopes to attract more players in the vein of Lambert and himself to the campus.
"I felt like it would help out the school, help out the football program and just give another name to Kent so we can try to get some bigger college prospects there," Harrison said. "I'd like to see them become more competitive, be in the race for the MAC title, things of that nature. Plus, I had fun in college. I had a good time at Kent."
The review that wasn't
There's not a coach in the NFL who has ripped the scab refs. Certainly not Mike Tomlin after the Denver game in which the football not only was spotted poorly but penalty yardage was marked off wrongly on at least two occasions.
But those who are not replacements continue to show their ability to goof up as well. Take Denver's go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter last Sunday, a 1-yard catch by tight end Jacob Tamme from Peyton Manning.
Tamme no sooner crossed the goal line than he lost the ball. It clearly was not a football play, as per the rules, and should not have been ruled a touchdown. The scab refs called it such, but new rules mandate every score now be reviewed using replay by an official in the press box.
The official for that game, Earnie Frantz, is not a replacement. The guys upstairs are not in the union. Frantz never called for a formal review by referee Gerald Wright, something he should have done.
Linebacker Larry Foote argued his case on the field. Four days later, he still wasn't happy. At first he said he would have no comment, and then he said, "You ever heard of the Calvin Johnson rule?"
It's not really a rule named after Johnson, but his disallowed TD pass in 2010 that would have given Detroit a win against the Bears focused the spotlight on the rule, which reads thusly:
"If a player goes to the ground in the act of catching a pass [with or without contact by an opponent], he must maintain control of the ball after he touches the ground, whether in the field of play or the end zone. If he loses control of the ball, and the ball touches the ground before he regains control, the pass is incomplete. If he regains control prior to the ball touching the ground, the pass is complete."
Hines Ward once lost a touchdown after he caught a pass in the end zone, held onto it after rolling over and then when he got up lost the ball.
It's not always a snap
In light of the Oakland Raiders losing a game because of mistakes by their backup long-snapper, Tomlin would not say who would handle that job if something happened to Greg Warren, who has set a Steelers record as their longest-tenured long-snapping specialist, now in his eighth season.
All Tomlin would say is it would not be Harrison, who volunteered in 2008 when Warren was hurt in a game against the New York Giants. Harrison's snap from the Steelers 18 sailed over punter Mitch Berger's head and out of bounds in the end zone for a safety that allowed the Giants to tie, 14-14, in a game they would win, 21-14.
Investigative work turned up Doug Legursky as the backup long-snapper. He did not handle those duties at Marshall but figured afterward that any skill might enhance his chances of making it as a pro. He began working on his snaps before his first workout for NFL scouts.
Legursky did not make the team until 2009, so he wasn't here to help out in that Giants game. "Hopefully I get the job done if I'm called on," said the backup guard/center.
It may seem strange that most starting centers either can't long snap or do a poor job when they try. The Steelers had two Hall of Fame centers who were terrible long-snappers. Mike Webster once fired two over the head of his punter in a game in Cleveland in the 1980s. Dermontti Dawson hardly ever did it.
"It's definitely hard, something you have to work on,'' Legursky said.
Several items from our PG+ blog ...
• According to www.makeNFLplayoffs.com, the Steelers' chance of making the playoffs decreased from 37.5 percent to 30.7 percent after losing their opener. Their chance of winning the AFC North declined from 25.0 percent to 21.1 percent. You can go to the site and figure out how they figure it out.
• Rookie Chris Rainey, pictured at right, should have a better opportunity to return some punts today because the game will be played at Heinz Field. Mike Tomlin has a history of slowly working in rookie return men. In 2010, when a punt figured to land somewhere deep in Steelers territory, veteran Antwaan Randle-El would be back there. Then-rookie Antonio Brown only got his shot when the punt figured to land somewhere outside the 30 or 40.
• Q: Granted, I'm annoyed that the game traffic in Baltimore really messed up my commute home, but why is it that Baltimore got to open at home all but one year since 2008 while the Steelers haven't had a home opener since 2010? Is there a formula for this aspect of scheduling? Who sets the schedules? Goodell? (Kidding ... mostly!)
A: Many fingers are involved in making the schedule, and most of them belong to CBS, NBC, Fox and ESPN. You make it sound as if the Steelers haven't opened at home in this century. Before opening on the road the past two seasons, they began at home in seven of the previous eight seasons -- 2010, 2009, 2008, 2006, 2005, 2004 and 2003. They're due to open a few more times on the road based on that.