I was an intern at the CBS affiliate in DC, in the sports department. It was December 4th. I was on the sidelines, taking down logs and generally excited to be there. The Redskins were playing the Chargers, which meant I was going to get to see one of my favorite players, Junior Seau, in action. It was 74 sunny degrees that day. We all joked that the Chargers had brought their weather with them. I remember standing there, half watching the action and half trying to figure out what I was going to wear to the Outkast show that night, since it was too warm for my pre-planned outfit. Suddenly, the loudest crunching sound I had ever heard in my life jolted me back to reality. The odd thing is, I saw the hit after I heard it. About five feet away from me, one player stood over another talking big shit. “Don’t get up, you don’t want it! I’m here ALL day.” Then I felt a whir past me, and heard a chuckle as it went by. I was in awe. That hit was so ferocious. It was better than an ice cold Sunkist, or the gumbo outside at the tailgate. The wheels started turning. Who the hell is this guy? Is he really going to hit like this all day? JOY!!!!
When it finally registered, I recognized the man down as Brian Mitchell. He did a weekend show at the station. The blur past me? The laughter? All Harrison. I remember saying to one of the cameramen, “that guy is good!” It was all I could muster. I was transfixed. I’d seen a blurb on him before the season started, but they certainly didn’t say it was going to be like that! The last time I saw a hit like that, it came from Ronnie Lott a good ten years before, on my television. This was live and in person, and it was amazing.
The whole thing took about thirty eight seconds, if that. All these years later I still remember it like it just happened. And it all came to an end on Monday night.
I followed his career even after he left San Diego and went to New England. Certain plays still stand out for me-the safety blitz on Donovan McNabb in Philly, the end of Trent Green’s season in 1999, the missed tackle in the Super Bowl last year. I never bought the whole “dirty player” bit. He’s just old school, Ronnie Lott for a new generation.
I won’t remember him as the older veteran pointing and waving at his teammates, trying to smile as he was carted off the field. No, he will always be the young upstart who knocked the crap out of Brian Mitchell in front of me, and laughed about it on his way out of bounds. The guy who fleshed out what I love most about football, on a warm sunny day when anything seemed possible.
It just won’t be the same knowing he’s not going to be putting on pads or a helmet again, and that makes me sad. If I’m lucky, he won’t ruin the greatness of his play by becoming a talking head on one of those annoying pregame shows. Even if he does, I’ll always have December.
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