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In Chapter 12 of Bill Cowher's memoir Heart and Steel, Coach Cowher wrote about the undrafted free agency process after the draft and how it's a scramble to require talent. And he brought up an interesting story of how they signed one of the greatest Steelers of all time.
"We were interested in looking at an undrafted cornerback, but his agent insisted that if we wanted him, we'd also have to consider an undrafted linebacker from Kent State named James Harrison," Cowher wrote. "He was six feet and 245 pounds, too small to play linebacker in the NFL, and we also didn't think he was quick enough. We signed him anyway, unsure of what we'd get."
Cowher's anecdote of how they required Harrison following the 2002 NFL Draft just shows how much of a crapshoot the undrafted free agency process is. It took a while for Harrison to adapt to the NFL level and be a pro, but the Steelers knew they had something in him. It was just about developing and finding that hidden talent.
"Some rookies were so eager to play that they'd show up hours before they were required to be there. Harrison? He showed up late to his first minicamp. I almost sent him home right then," Cowher wrote. "On the field, if he couldn't figure out a play, he would literally stop in the middle of it, throw his hands up in the air, and tell us to get him off the field. He definitely was a challenge.
"But the more we saw him play, the more we could see how much talent he had. The question was if his attitude would prevent him from reaching his potential. When do you give up on someone and decide the headaches aren't worth the potential gain? Some people get it right away, some people never figure it out. Harrison was a fringe roster guy whom we kept our eye on. He was raw, but he had something about him that we couldn't ignore."
After being cut a total of four times -- three times by the Steelers and once by the Ravens -- Harrison finally figured things out and was a key special teams player for the Steelers from 2004-2006. In 2007, after the Steelers parted ways with Joey Porter, Harrison became a starter and he never looked back, as he finished his career as the Steelers' all-time sack leader with 80.5 sacks. He also was named Defensive Player of the Year in 2008 and had a Super Bowl record 100-yard pick-six on Kurt Warner in Super Bowl XLIII. If it wasn't for Santonio Holmes' game-winning toe-tap touchdown reception, Harrison would have been named Super Bowl MVP. And if it wasn't for an agent insisting that the Steelers sign Harrison in order to get an undrafted cornerback, Harrison might have never been a Steeler.