Al Harris And Why Pro Bowl Selections Do, Unfortunately, Matter — Dammit

The legacy of "AI" Should Be Much More Celebrated

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Al Harris is back in Green Bay this weekend for the game against Seattle.

A perfect move by the team.

Who would have thought that the “We want the ball and we’re gonna score” and the “Snow Globe Game” were simply counter balances to the future pain of the “Fail Mary” and the 2014 NFC Championship game? If you’re wondering, we’re going to refer to that game moving forward as the “Sadness in Seattle.”

We had something a little more graphic typed out, but ended up deleting it. It rhymed with “hit-show.”

Anyway, a win on Sunday against Seattle would help tip the scales back from pain to, maybe, some kernel of modest joy, although it won’t heal all wounds.

Thankfully, Al Harris will be there to fire up the crowd just as he did for Green Bay throughout the 2000s.

Harris is remembered, by us, for making the entire Packers’ team better by being a dominant leader at his position, at one of the premier positions on a football field.

You’d think a player that could be so impactful at such a position would be rewarded with ample individual awards. But this is not always the case.

Every year NFL fans say, “The Pro Bowl doesn’t matter” and every year NFL fans subsequently, publicly complain that their favorite players got snubbed.

So, it does matter…

Does it matter a ton? Nah, but for a player’s career accomplishments it tends to have an impact on their legacy, for better or worse.

In the NFL, often a player needs to have a Pro Bowl-level season, or two, before they are even considered for the award. It’s a bit of a popularity contest and a bit of a “prove you can do it again before we include you” litmus test.

It’s wrong, but that’s the way it is.

Similarly to how guys have to prove their Pro Bowl worthiness, some men receive the benefit of the doubt later in their careers. Some players that miss out on the Pro Bowl in their early seasons get rewarded with a couple arguably non-deserved Pro Bowl nominations later in their careers.

In that way, I suppose it evens out. But not for everyone.

For Al Harris it never quite evened out. From 2003-06, he deserved serious consideration for the Pro Bowl, but didn’t get it until 2007-08; the latter of those seasons being a pseudo-lifetime accomplishment award. Still, he unequivocally should have been more awarded while he was in his prime.

Had he been named to five Pro Bowls, like he arguably deserved, his career would be remembered differently.

Let’s review the Packers defenders each named to five Pro Bowls: Willie Wood, Willie Davis, Herb Adderley, Reggie White and Clay Matthews. That’s a pretty elite list and we’re not saying Harris should definitely be there, but it is an interesting thought to ponder. He’s certainly one of the best Packers to never be named First-Team All-Pro.

Harris is one of the most underrated players in team history. Had the Packers not experienced immense heartbreak in Favre’s last three playoff runs with the team, and Rodgers’ first, perhaps he’d be more heavily regarded. As much as that shouldn’t matter.

Even so, he scored one of the most famous, and perfect, touchdowns in team history.

“We want he ball and we’re gonna score.”

Those are some of the most beautiful words ever spoken in Packers history.

After intercepting that ball, Al Harris raised his arm in celebration way too early, perfectly displaying his insane confidence in his abilities even in the most tense moments.

He was fearless.

He was as much of a consistent “island” this team has had since the 1960s with Herb Adderley. And we’re not trying to be hyperbolic. Hear us: Harris wasn’t Adderley.

But when paired with Charles Woodson on the other side, this cornerback duo was the best in team history for a couple seasons. Condolences to Adderley and Bob Jeter! This is not hyperbole.

Harris played for four NFL teams, but he was a Green Bay Packer — make no mistake. He played seven seasons in Green Bay and seven seasons away from Green Bay.

Even so, Harris amassed 66% of his career interceptions in a Packers uniform. That’s 14 in Green Bay and seven away from it.

He started all 16 games in a season five times in his career, all with Green Bay.

His four career sacks and two career forced-fumbles both came with the Packers.

Harris’s three best seasons in tackles made came in Green Bay.

Three of his four career touchdowns, including playoffs, came in green and gold.

His career high in single-season passes defended? You guessed it, came in Green Bay.

In 2005, he put together a fantastic season. It was, no doubt, an All-Pro level season, yet didn’t even get named to the Pro Bowl.

2005 Stat Line:  Sixteen games stated, 3 interceptions, 13 passes defended, 3 sacks, 1 forced-fumble, 53 tackles, 1 touchdown.

True, he never put up more than three interceptions in a season in Green Bay, but that’s because of the “Deion Effect” — teams simply avoided throwing his way with regularity.

That, backwardly, hurt his overall perception league-wide (to fans at least) as he wasn’t exactly seen as a playmaker.

Yes, it’s a fantasy football world where big “splash play” stats control the psyche of the casual fan. But, as you probably know, a defensive player can absolutely be dominant without those flashy stats.

Darelle Revis is a great example of this, just as the aforementioned Deion Sanders before him.

Sure, Harris wasn’t quite on their transcendent level, but during his time in Green Bay he was closer than almost anyone realized.

Revis was named First Team All-Pro in 2010 with zero interceptions. He was named First Team All-Pro in 2014 with “just” two. But he was that great, despite his lack of interceptions. Teams just didn’t throw to him.

Sanders was named First Team All-Pro three times in his career when he recorded three or fewer interceptions.

Harris didn’t get this love from the AP voters for whatever reason (he was named Second Team All-Pro just once, late in his career).

We do whole-heartedly believe that had Harris been rewarded with Pro Bowl nominations earlier in his career, everything would be different. For example, had he been named to a few Pro Bowls from ages 29-32, when he deserved them during his first four seasons in Green Bay, he eventually would have been named First Team All-Pro, perhaps more than once.

How differently would people view his career had he garnered that honor?

Pro Bowl invites freaking matter, man. And yes, we acknowledge how dumb and frustrating that is. But the human mind is fickle and popularity often determines future rewards. This is true even of professionals that evaluate football players. It’s just the way it is.

Al Harris should also get ample credit for how he impacted Charles Woodson’s career. Yes, Harris impacted the entire defense, but he really helped Woodson. And yes, we acknowledge that Woodson greatly helped Harris, too. It was a symbiotic relationship.

Like Harris, Woodson will be remembered as a Packer first. Don’t believe us? Just look at the facts.

Woodson’s career stats with the Packers were insane, but Harris undoubtably had an impact on that. Some teams, because of Harris’s press coverage and ability to stick with receivers one-on-one, would avoid throwing in his direction. His bump and run coverage was perhaps the best in team history.

Harris was physical and hardly ever gave receivers separation from the line of scrimmage and beyond.

This allowed Woodson’s athletic ability to make even more plays as more balls flew in his direction. Had Harris not been as capable, less balls would have been thrown to Woodson’s side of the field. It’s an obvious and simple conclusion. Yes, Woodson played a bit of a hybrid, rover position, but this fact still remains.

Three of Woodson’s four career best statistical seasons came while playing with Harris (2006, ‘08 and ‘09). This is no coincidence.

For reference, Woodson was named to four Pro Bowls and named First Team All-Pro twice in Green Bay (Woodson, too, was snubbed in 2006 from a fifth Pro Bowl with the team).

Harris’s final game for the Packers was a 30-24 win over the 49ers in 2009 in which he defended two passes. A brutal knee injury effectively ended his playing career, although he’d go on to eventually play 12 more games in the NFL for two other teams.

How important was Harris to the Packers? The team ceremoniously gifted him a Super Bowl XLV ring for his help with the team in the years leading up to that championship run. 2010 was the team’s first year without Harris out on the field and they went on to win the World Championship.

Harris was cut on November 8th of that season, but was on the Physically Unable to Play (PUP) list for the entire season before that. Days later he took out an ad in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel thanking Packers fans which included the line:

“From the bottom of my heart, I thank and love you all and will carry you with me always. Love -Al Harris.”

He was one of the few true fan-favorite Packers players. Every decade only has a handful and he earned that distinction.

Team President Mark Murphy made sure that Harris would get the Super Bowl ring; he knew how valuable he was to that team. The love was mutual between player, team, management and fans.

Harris’s impact on Tramon Williams, Nick Collins, and others was firmly felt. The team still saw him as having him a hand in the NFL championship. How many other players would be gifted a ring in that same situation? Harris was special.

Per NFL.com, GM Ted Thompson said, “[Al Harris] will always be a part of the Packers family.”

Indeed.

Harris was a leader. Do you think it’s a coincidence that Woodson developed into such a good leader? Two years younger than Harris, Woodson became the vocal leader of the 2010 team, no doubt influenced by the charisma and confidence of his partner Harris.

Of course, Harris was a different kind of leader — a quiet one.

Amazingly, Charles Woodson and Al Harris are going to be inducted into the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame together in the team’s 50th class.

From SportsIllustrated.com, this is what Woodson had to say about being inducted with Harris:

“I think that was the only way it could be done,” Woodson said. “If I was going in with anybody, it had to be Al. We spent countless days and practices and hours together, pushing each other to be the best players we could be out there on the field. Each of us took great pride in what we did, each of us took great pride in going out there and trying to shut the other team down, shut whatever receiver down that was in front of you. I know the Hall of Fame was figuring out who was going in and, once they called me and told me it was Al, I was like, ‘That’s the way it’s supposed to be.’”

Perfect.

And Al Harris was, surprisingly, twenty pounds lighter than Woodson. Not many people would have suspected that as Harris played such a physical brand of cornerback. It’s a credit to his overall tenacity.

He overcame a ruptured spleen in 2008 that many thought would end his season. Instead, he toughed it out and played. Talk about tenacity.

As an athlete, he was just smooth. It never seemed like he was running full speed, yet he’d outrun some of the best athletes in the world. Everything about him was smooth, including his iconic dreads falling from the back of his helmet. He was just cool and, in turn, made Green Bay more cool.

In his years with the Packers he was a part of three NFC North Championships, while playing behind two different head coaches. He was there for some unsure times in Green Bay, but was a stable force nonetheless.

So which players would you take out in favor of Harris in those supposedly Pro Bowl worthy seasons?

Well… here’s just 2003 alone.

Troy Vincent had just as many interceptions as Harris and six less passes defended. That same year, Champ Bailey had one less interception and five less passes defended. Harris could have easily been named to that Pro Bowl. And so on you could go through the years.

Had Harris been named to four or five Pro Bowls, his legend in Green Bay and around the league would be doubled. He probably would have been named First Team All-Pro, at least once, and he’d be more highly regarded as an ex-player.

And yeah, the Pro Bowl is silly. Both statements can be true.

So what does Pro Bowl voting, or lack thereof, mean to a player? It can mean everything when it comes to their legacy, because of the snowball effect it has on their entire career.

This unfortunate phenomenon bit Za’Darius Smith, Kenny Clark, and Aaron Jones hard this year for the Packers. Hopefully they get rewarded next year or their legacies may follow the same path. Bryan Bulaga’s legacy is, sadly, already there.

Al Harris was far better than his widely-accepted legacy would portray.

But thank god for that touchdown he scored against Seattle in that famous game, which capped off the original “run the table” year for Green Bay in this millennium.

The 2003 Packers were 6-6 and then won four straight games to win the division and that fabled playoff game, overcoming Brett Favre’s broken thumb along the way.

Of course, the real “run the table” team was the 2016 Packers. That squad won a total of eight straight games (eight!) and the season ended in heartbreak to a bird team (the Falcons). The ’03 season also ended in heartbreak to a bird team (the Eagles) as the “4th and 26” game.

Yuck.

Now the Packers are playing another game against a bird team in the playoffs (Seahawks) as they’re on a bit of a run themselves — five games won in a row heading into this Sunday. It’s funny how history tends to repeat itself.

That said, the Packers need this season to not end against a bird team; well, maybe it can conclude with a win over one.

Looking at you, Ravens. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

It’s so good to have Harris back in Green Bay for this Sunday’s game. Hopefully his legacy only grows — maybe this is the start.

One thing is true, absolutely no one honors their old heroes like the Packers.

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