Saying he feels as good as he has since 2008 when he won the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award, Cincinnati linebacker James Harrison met with the local media Tuesday in his first press conference since signing with the Bengals on April 23.
Dressed in a snug gray t-shirt and black shorts, Harrison appeared calm and relaxed as cameras clicked all around him. But he also imposed a strict 10-minute limit on the interview session, which began with a reporter asking him how it felt to walk in and see the stripes and the orange and black colors.
“It’s a change,” said Harrison, who arrived in Cincinnati to meet his new teammates Monday. “That’s definite. But everything has a reason, and everything happens for a reason. I’m happy to be here, and I’m ready to learn and see what I can do to help the team win.”
The 35-year-old Harrison, who went to five Pro Bowls and won two Super Bowls during 10 seasons in Pittsburgh, adds a little spice and a lot of credibility to a Bengals team looking for its first playoff victory in 23 years.
“He gives you that swagger and that seal,” Bengals cornerback Adam Jones said. “You know when you mail off the letter you make sure you put a stamp on it. Well, he’s the stamp.”
Harrison and the Steelers parted in March when he was released after refusing to take a pay cut from the six-year, $51.75 million contract extension he signed in 2009.
Tuesday afternoon he re-iterated that he didn’t take the move personally … sort of.
“I understand it’s a business, so it’s not like I can really take it personally,” he said. “But to say that it doesn’t motivate me in some sense would be a lie.”
Harrison will not have to wait long to face his former team as the Steelers will be in Cincinnati on Sept. 16 for the Bengals’ home opener on Monday Night Football.
Judging by his comments Tuesday, Harrison will spend more than a quarter of a million dollars to make sure his body is ready for the reunion.
“It wouldn’t be unreasonable to say that I spend anywhere between $400,000-$600,000 thousand dollars on body work, as far as taking care of my body, year-in and year-out,” he said, adding that he not only employs but houses a staff of six massage therapists, acupuncturists and homeopathic doctors.
“I have a hyperbaric chamber,” Harrison continued. “I rent a hyperbaric chamber when I’m in Arizona. I have massages, and I bring people in from New York, Arizona to where I’m at. I get body work almost every single day except Saturday and Sunday.”
Despite Harrison’s reputation and rings, the Bengals asked him to work out last month when he came in for a visit because they wanted to make sure he was fully recovered from the knee injury that cost him most of training camp and the first three games last year.
Harrison said he was happy to get on the field to erase the doubts, but he also admitted that the years of wear and tear have put some limits on his game.
“I’m still not able to do certain things, but as far as my physical health, I’m able to train a lot harder than I have been over the last two, three offseasons,” he said. “I’m able to do a lot more weight. I’m able to just do a lot more things that my body physically couldn’t do because of injury, or whatever it may be.”
With the 10-minute mark looming, Harrison, who is one of the most heavily fined players in league history, was asked one final question: Do you play mean?
“Like mad?” he asked in return. “No. It’s focus. It’s intense. It’s violent. Because it’s a violent game. You can’t go out there with a smile on your face. I’m not out there mad at the world, making up scenarios in my head just so I could go out there and play a little harder. It’s focus and intense 100 miles an hour.”