Tuesday, November 9, 2010
My Wife's Al Harris Jersey Is Going Nowhere
I got the text message at work yesterday, one of those ALL CAPS texts that make you realize the sender is more than a little perturbed. When I saw it was also from my wife, the capital letters were a danger beacon. I quickly reviewed if I had done something stupid, like left the cat outside, forgotten her birthday, or eaten the last of her Chunky Monkey ice cream.
It was a relief to find that the source of her text abuse wasn't me, but hearing the news that the Green Bay Packers had released cornerback Al Harris. I wasn't too surprised, though I never got so much as a tweet from her all through the Favre debacle. "How the heck could they do THAT?" she asked when I got home.
When faced with a wife who is particularly angry, all those rational explanations we thought were plausible on Twitter or on our blogs suddenly fell flat. "Well, he was injured last year," I said.
"SO? Why don't they put him on injured reserve then??"
"Well, I don't think he's that injured anymore. He thinks he can play now."
"So why don't they let him play?" This was not an inquisitive question. It was one of those dangerous questions that make you think through your answer before giving a censored version that allows you to sleep in your usual bed that night.
"I guess they didn't want him as a fourth cornerback. They have three guys in front of him that they like, including an undrafted free agent." Seeing the raised eyebrow, I quickly added, "And you know, he doesn't play special teams."
"But isn't he still good? Didn't he just make the Pro Bowl a few years ago?"
"Well, yeah, but that's a pretty serious injury. He may have lost a step. But I guess he was practicing with the first-stringers last week." Not much I was saying was having an impact. I was grasping at straws.
"So, now I have a useless jersey," was her final dagger.
"No. I'd keep it. I mean, he'll be a Packer Hall of Famer one day," I called after her, as she retired to the kitchen and began clanking pots and pans together.
It's not often that my wife makes me have to think harder than I already do about something to do with the team. She doesn't follow the team intensely, but she is a born-and-bred Packer fan that doesn't tolerate the minutia when it comes to what being a loyal fan really is.
And, like many others out there, I wonder if this is a far-less-explosive sequel to the infamous "train has left the station" move that happened a couple of years ago. Harris publicly thanked the Packers for hanging on to him a few weeks ago, saying it was more than they needed to do for an aging player who had a serious knee injury. But, when it came time to make a decision to activate him the roster, having young players like Tramon Williams and Sam Shields made the decision a bit harder.
Do you move on with a younger, developing player that shows a lot of promise? Obviously, Williams has sealed his spot at corner opposite Charles Woodson, but Shields has had a couple of outstanding games and is now being pimped by the coaching staff as the kick returner we hoped we would have been in the preseason (when it appeared his hands were made of wet sponges).
However it all went down, it looks like the Packers presented Harris with a choice: go on IR for the season, collect your paycheck, and finish your career here in Green Bay; or we'll release you to play elsewhere. Apparently, taking a roster spot from a younger player was taken off the table by the Packer brass. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that Harris feels he can still play. You can also deduce that the Packers felt it was no longer going to be in Green Bay.
Crossing the Rubicon for Al Harris is going to be a whole lot easier than it was for Brett Favre, even if he signs with a division opponent. But, that doesn't mean that the intensely competitive Harris isn't going to relish in proving himself when he gets to play the Packers again. Harris has never been the boisterous vocal locker room leader, or even the community pillar that Woodson has become. But, he's always played solidly and led by example. For a team that may be desperately thin at cornerback, he's not a bad signing. Just like Thompson's signings of a lot of 30+ veteran players under the threat of a lockout, it's a far better idea to throw big short-term money at older players that will be gone in a few years, than to lock up a great young player to a contract that may cost you under new rules later on.
But, Al Harris is and should always be remembered as a Green Bay Packer. I got lucky and scored tickets to the January 4, 2004 playoff game at Lambeau Field against Seattle. Naturally, I brought my wife along.
Now, my wife is not one to sit and watch a game with me on television. She often claims to have this superstition that when she watches the Packers play, they lose. Now, I don't think she really believes that as much as I believe she uses it as an excuse to go do silly, less important things, like Facebook, changing the kitty litter, or putting out grease fires in the kitchen.
But, on that night, she began to believe it. While there would appear to be a direct relationship between the aount of Miller Lites she imbibed and the degree to which she believed the fates of a professional football team was affected by her presence, it didn't change how the woman next to me began getting anxious as the Packers fell behind in the third period.
As the Packers rallied, she was relieved (and ordered another beverage), but at the end of regulation, when Ryan Longwell missed a field goal and the game went into overtime, tears began to stream down her face. It was a cold night, and she began apologizing, wishing I had brought one of my usual Packer buddies from my pre-married days instead of her.
Her hands dug into my arm as we both stood in row 35 during the overtime coin flip, and Matt Hasselback smugly announced that he planned to take the ball and score. I laughed nervously at his pompousness, but my wife looked like she believed him. She kept apologizing, and it began to get to the point I was starting to believe her, that perhaps she was the bad-luck charm that was going to derail this team of destiny. There was little I could do as both teams exchanged punts...I couldn't assure her that the Packers were going to pull this one out. Would I ever be able to go to a game again with my wife?
I have been pretty lucky to have been in attendance of some pretty memorable games in Lambeau Field over the years, especially when you consider I don't have season ticket: Favre's first game, Barry Sanders' -1 rushing day, the first Lambeau Leap, Edgar Bennett scoring a touchdown on a “hole big enough to drive a hole to the Super Bowl through”, Randy Moss's butt-wiping, and Aaron Rodgers' vindication game against Favre this year.
But I don't know if any of those will ever equal the image burnt in my memory of Al Harris's raised finger as he intercepted Hasselback's pass and ran it back into the endzone. The home town crowd erupted, Harris was piled upon by his teammates, and the magic of the season of Fate and Destiny continued for one more glorious week. If they ever mount a statue of Harris in the Lambeau District, there's no other pose they could put him in besides that image of him running that pick-six back on that cold winter night in 2004.
And I will never forget it, because as Lambeau celebrated, my wife cried in my jacket, and publicly declared her gratitude for Al Harris for all time. After all, it was he who broke her curse, once and for all. Two things happened as a result of that day: my wife has never again claimed the Packers always lose when she watches, and she bought a white #31 jersey that she has worn on every Packer day since.
I could be reading a story from the paper about any Packer...Charles Woodson, Mark Tauscher, Aaron Rodgers...but none made her ears perk up like any news about Al Harris. She was dead set on buying me a dreadlocks wig and making me wear it.
In our house, Al Harris will always be a Packer, and well he should be. How many of us would give our right arm to be immortalized forever because of that one play, and yet he should be honored for all he's done besides that play. For all the criticism Mike Sherman ever got as a GM, and much of it was well-deserved, trading for Al Harris is easily his one that was an unqualified genius move.
And he will always have one fan that will never let go of her jersey, reminding many of us cynical bloggers that not every move the Packers make has to be rationally explained away as being best for the team, or a good business decision, or thinking “big picture”. Because, out there, there are still fans who love players in the most irrational, and loyal ways possible. For those fans who don't still need to psychoanalyze and justify every move the Packer make, there may be no acceptable reason for the departure of a beloved player.
So, on behalf of my wife and myself I say: Farewell, Al Harris. Godspeed.