Harrison headed to Hall
INDIANAPOLIS >> Marvin Harrison often stood silently in the corner of the Indianapolis Colts' locker room. He didn't need to utter a word.
The numbers spoke for themselves, and he was content playing the quiet, productive guy in a league full of trash-talking, flamboyant receivers.
Harrison's low-key, old-school approach fit perfectly with Peyton Manning in Indy and led the wiry receiver down a Hall of Fame path that ends with Saturday night's induction ceremony in Canton, Ohio.
"There have been some very, very good receivers, but Marvin was special," Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri said of his former teammate. "He was one of a kind."
On the field, he was a defensive coordinator's worst nightmare.
Harrison could embarrass cornerbacks with uncanny hips that made every route look the same. Opponents feared the move while Colts' teammates often tried — and failed — to emulate it.
The Syracuse product looked as comfortable going over the middle as he was going deep, and he had a penchant for making spectacular plays seem routine.
After making an incredible stretching, twisting, one-handed grab at Tennessee in 2007, Harrison immediately jumped up and simply waved his teammates down the field. In 2006, at rival New England, Harrison somehow spun around at full speed, tipping the ball to himself near the side of the end zone, and made an incredible double toe-tap that induced a rare spike from him.
But the public displays of greatness paled in comparison to what teammates witnessed behind the scenes.
"We saw that every day in practice," Vinatieri said. "Some guys, in practice, may be a little different than they are in a game. But for Marvin, practice was it. He made the effort on every single play."
Harrison was as unusual off the field.
Throughout his career, he avoided reporters, and even declined pre-induction to the hall interview requests. Some believe that after Colts owner Jim Irsay introduces Harrison, the acceptance speech could be one of the shortest in Hall of Fame history.
When his name surfaced in a police investigation following a 2008 shooting in his hometown of Philadelphia, Harrison kept mostly quiet. Charges were never filed.
He occasionally discussed the notion of stitching the balls from his touchdown catches together to construct a chair, and he said he never watched film.
Yet nobody doubted Harrison's ability to be ready when he laced up his shoes.
"You earn your paychecks in practice, you play the games for free," Harrison used to say.
Perhaps that's why so few could keep up with him.
Harrison finished his career with 1,102 receptions, 14,608 yards and 128 touchdowns — all Colts' franchise records. He topped the 100-catch mark four straight times, including 2002 when he caught an NFL record 143 passes, a mark that still stands.
He made eight Pro Bowls, was a three-time All-Pro, got a Super Bowl ring after the 2006 season and joined Indy's Ring of Honor in 2011. Harrison missed only 18 games in 13 NFL seasons.
On Saturday, he will become the first Hall of Famer to spend his entire career in Indianapolis.
"He's right where he belongs," former NFL defensive coordinator Rick Venturi said. "I always thought he was a big-play guy, and if you made a mistake, he could push that post for six (points) at any time. I worried most about him when they would stretch you out across the board."
Manning exposed those matchups, time after time, by getting defenders to bite on play-action fakes. Then the five-time MVP would spin around and usually find his favorite receiver sprinting open downfield.
It didn't take Manning long to figure out how well they could play together. Harrison hauled in Manning's first NFL pass and sprinted about 50 yards for a touchdown during the 1998 preseason. Over the next decade, Manning and Harrison developed a bond that allowed them to get on the same page with a wink, nod or glance.
Harrison was not re-signed after the 2008 season. By then, Manning and Harrison had become the most prolific duo in league history with 953 completions, 12,766 yards and 112 TDs.
"He and I just had a good feel for one another. We saw things the same way," Manning said. "Marvin could visualize a defense when we were talking on the sideline. He could see it in his head the way I saw it. We didn't have to write things on a board."
Inside the locker room, Harrison set an example, too. The young players saw Harrison as someone who worked hard, made plays and carved out a Hall of Fame career without needing a publicity campaign.
"He never talked much, but he taught you how to be a pro," outside linebacker Robert Mathis said. "Every day he went 100 mph, and every day he practiced at the same level, and you just followed his example."
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