Twenty Questions With Pittsburgh Steelers Linebacker James Harrison

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Twenty Questions With Pittsburgh Steelers Linebacker James Harrison
(Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison, who celebrated his 31st birthday earlier this month, has had a tumultuous year.

He was able to trump his own breakout 2007 season by winning the 2008 AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year honor and by recording the longest play in Superbowl history with a pivotal 100-yard interception return for a touchdown in February.

The Steeler known as "Silverback" has also been in the spotlight for issues not pertaining to his prowess on the field and subsequent rise to his place among pro football's elite.

Who is the man behind Number 92?  The following 20 questions will attempt to paint a complete picture.

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1)  First of all, Mr. Harrison, tell us a little bit about your upbringing.  You are the youngest of 14 children.  How much, if at all, did having to fend off 13 siblings contribute to your development as a person and as a player?

2)  Growing up in Akron, Ohio, you were kind of in no-man's land with regard to the great Steelers/Browns rivalry, but certainly geographically closer to Cleveland.  Were you a fan of either club?  If not, where did your football loyalties lie?  And if you were a Browns fan, has it been odd playing for the Steelers or playing for a brief stint in the Ravens organization?

3)  You've worked your way from an undrafted free agent in 2002 to one of the more recognizable names in professional football.  What were some of the keys to your transformation?  Did anyone specifically encourage you?  Did you make changes to your workout regimen?

4)  It must have been discouraging to have been cut several times in your early career.  There have been articles saying that had football not panned out for you, you might have become a truck driver, or pursued a career as a veterinarian.  What or who helped you keep your focus on football to go the extra distance?

5)  Who would you say have been your biggest influences?  Which, if any, NFL players did you try to model yourself after?  Who in your family inspired you to strive for more?

6)  You've been a Steeler now for five full seasons, but you didn't get a chance to start regularly until 2007.  If you had been able to start in 2004, 2005, and 2006, do you think you would have been as dominant then as you've been these past two season?  Or were there still some things you were learning?

7)  You became a starter the same year that Mike Tomlin became head coach.  Did he bring anything to the table that helped you gain an extra edge that maybe you didn't have under Bill Cowher?

8)  Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is a legend from another era who seems to be able to adapt to the league rather than hold to more traditional styles of football.  What's it like studying under a man old enough to be your grandfather, but so young at heart? 

9)  What have you been up to this off-season in terms of staying in shape, getting stronger, and staying focused?

10) Having already won a Superbowl in 2005, then experiencing a considerable letdown in 2006, what do you think the coaching staff and your fellow teammates will do to keep the Steelers from experiencing a similar drop-off in 2009?

11) Your nickname "Silverback" comes from a name given to an adult male gorilla.  When did your teammates start calling you that?  Do you know who came up with it first?  What caused them to make the correlation?

12) How much easier would you say your job has been with LaMarr Woodley patrolling the other side of the line?  How much credit is he due for your success?

13) Who do you feel was the overall greatest mentor in your development as a player?

14)  Are there any younger Steelers that you've taken under your wing, or younger players that seem to seek you out regularly for advice and pointers?

15)  By what, if any, philosophy do you try to live your life?  Do you play football with the same philosophy?

16)  There was in incident during this past year's Superbowl where replays showed you striking Aaron Francisco of the Arizona Cardinals during a special teams play.  Announcers and fans say it was an offense worthy of ejection from the game.  In your own words, tell us what the cameras didn't show or the broadcast didn't focus on.  Was it a lapse in judgement on your part, or is there more to the story than is publicly discussed?

17)  With regard to your refusal to attend the White House reception last week, a good many media outlets and fans feel it wasn't so much disrespecting the President, but more of an insult to Dan Rooney, a man who awarded you a hefty contract earlier this off-season.  Have you spoken with Mr. Rooney about it, either before or after it was made public? 

18)  What has been your favorite individual moment in the NFL?  What has been your most embarrassing?

19)  Now that you've established yourself in the league, are there any specific goals you have set for your career?  Sack leader?  Superbowl MVP?  First-ballot Hall of Famer?

20)  When the time comes to hang up the cleats, what do you envision yourself doing? Do you plan to stay in football as a coach (be it at the collegiate or professional level)?  Perhaps pursue training in the veterinary field?  Or just sit back and rest?

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