CINCINNATI -- Six months have passed since the business decision led to James Harrison's departure from the Steelers. From Harrison's perspective, not much has changed since March when he could not come to terms on a restructured contract with the franchise that signed him as an undrafted free agent.
It was business then and will be business again Monday night when he faces his former team for the first time in a nationally televised Monday night game at Paul Brown Stadium. Harrison is now a linebacker for the Cincinnati Bengals, and all that is left from his days as a Steelers player are the memories.
"It's really not hard to switch allegiances," Harrison said. "It's about where I'm making my money. Y'all can't seem to understand that concept. It's a job. Yeah, I enjoyed the guys I worked with. I'm thankful for everything they did for me and what the Rooneys did for me.
"But, right now, I'm with the Bengals and I'm going to put everything I have into helping the Bengals win just like I did when I was with the Steelers."
There was no emotion, not a hint of anticipation in his voice at the prospect of facing the Steelers, who asked him to take a steep pay cut after 2012. The only time he let his guard down was after his Friday interview session ended and a reporter playfully asked him as he walked away if he had his kids "trash their Steelers stuff."
Harrison responded in a serious manner: "I let them keep it. Why not? They paid me a lot of money. They took care of me and my kids good."
Not quite reverence for his former employer, but a healthy dose of respect.
The Steelers were good to Harrison, and Harrison was good for the Steelers.
He authored arguably the greatest play in Super Bowl history to help the Steelers win their record sixth Lombardi Trophy when he returned an interception 100 yards on the final play of the first half of an eventual 27-23 victory against the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII. He made the Pro Bowl five consecutive seasons and ranks fourth in franchise history with 64 sacks.
But Harrison turned 35 in the spring and was coming off two injury-riddled seasons. He also was set to earn $6.57 million. He agreed to take a pay cut, but he did not accept the $3.7 million offer from the Steelers, believing he could make more money on the open market.
The best offer he received was from the Bengals, who are paying him $3 million this season on a two-year contract worth $4.45 million.
Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis grew up in the 3-4 defense. His first job in the NFL was linebackers coach for the Steelers. From 1992-95, he served under coach Bill Cowher and defensive coordinators Dom Capers and Dick LeBeau.
Lewis' background in the 3-4 was one of the reasons he had no qualms about signing Harrison and plugging him into his 4-3 defense.
"I respected him so much as a player," Lewis said. "I had the understanding of what he had to do in that defense. I've watched the evolution of guys, how guys have started out just playing the position and then take the steps to play the position so well.
"I guess I watched James go through that evolution. I grew to know how smart a football player was, how he understood the game, the schemes, how offenses unfolded."
Harrison still is learning Cincinnati's defensive system, but the instincts honed in 10 seasons with the Steelers are helping him make his way.
"I feel like he's making a pretty good transition," Cincinnati defensive end Carlos Dunlap said. "He's a natural playmaker and he finds the ball. Some of the things he does out there, you can't coach. He's obviously learning our defense and making an adjustment, but some of the plays he's made are just football plays."
Harrison's debut with the Bengals was less than spectacular. He registered one tackle in a 24-21 loss against the Chicago Bears in the opener last week.
Harrison's biggest adjustment has been reading the tendencies of different offensive players. As an outside linebacker in the 3-4, he lined up over the tight end or offensive tackle and only had to read their keys. As a 4-3 linebacker, he must read centers, guards and tackles and operate in a more confined area.
"I'm still in the process of learning," Harrison said. "I've only been doing it for four months. Hopefully, over time, it becomes second nature."
Harrison, who dealt with a back injury that forced him to miss five games in 2011 and a knee injury that forced him to miss two last season, said he is completely healthy for the first time in a long time.
"Probably since 2009 or 2010," he said. "I didn't have to deal with anything this year. I feel a lot better."
That might be bad news for the Steelers, who allowed five sacks in their opening loss against Tennessee. While Harrison downplayed the significance of playing the Steelers -- "It's just another game," he said -- his new teammates profess to know differently.
They're expecting to see a motivated player out to prove a point in front of a national television audience.
"It's personal," Dunlap said. "He played for them for so long. He told us he's thankful for the opportunity because they gave him his first shot. But, now, it's personal because now he's with us. Now, he wears our stripes."
Ray Fittipaldo: email@example.com and Twitter @rayfitt1. First Published September 14, 2013 4:00 AM