Former Jets linebacker David Harris announced his retirement on Friday. The GGN staff left thoughts on his decade with the Jets.
When I heard that Harris retired, I tried to come up with a ranking of his greatest plays or greatest games as a Jet for an article. Aside from his big first quarter interception of Tom Brady in the 2010 Divisional game, I drew a blank. Instead I thought of how I probably wrote some variation of, “Harris played well. He was all over the field and helped the Jets shut down the run,” around 100 times after a Jets game during Harris’ time with the team. And that really sums up what Harris was. He wasn’t flashy. He didn’t stand out unless you were watching closely. He just showed up every week, barely missing a game or a snap over a decade, and did his job effectively.
Watching guys like this is part of what makes following one team so much fun. When you can really focus on one team every week, you get to appreciate the consistent guys who do the little things. That shared experience is what bonds us as fans. Any casual football fan would have known Darrelle Revis. If you met somebody at a bar or an airport, and they started talking about David Harris, you knew that person was a diehard Jets fan and a new friend.
Here’s to a great career.
David Harris almost wasn’t a Jet. It took one of GM Mike Tannenbaum’s infamous trade-ups to secure Harris’ services. In the 2007 NFL Draft Tannenbaum shipped the Jets picks #63, #89 and #192 to the Green Bay Packers to move up 16 slots and grab Harris at Pick #47, along with Green Bay’s pick #235, which turned into wide receiver Chansi Stuckey. It was one of the better trades of the Tannenbaum era. Harris turned into a mainstay of the Jets defense for the next decade. The picks traded away turned into three backups for the Packers.
David Harris’ career was defined by quiet, steady excellence. He wasn’t the fastest linebacker or the best athlete. He wasn’t great in coverage and he wasn’t a perennial All Pro. What he was, was the consummate professional who took pride in his craft and delivered the goods game in and game out for a decade. He was the defensive signal caller who made sure everybody else was on the same page. He was the leader by example who made everybody else on the field a little better.
David Harris finished his Jets career way up on the Jets career leader board in a number of categories. He ranks 3rd all time in Jets tackles, trailing only Kyle Clifton and Mo Lewis. He led the Jets in tackles 8 out of his 10 years with the Jets. Harris ranks 8th in sacks, 8th in forced fumbles, and 7th in passes defended. But Harris’ career was not defined by numbers. His career was defined by getting out there on the field and doing what needed to be done, every day, nearly every game (he missed only 6 games in 10 years with the Jets), for a decade.
The one moment in a career of understated goodness that stands out in my memories of David came in the 2010 AFC Playoffs. The New England Patriots came into the Divisional Round of the 2010/11 AFC playoffs a prohibitive favorite, and for good reason. The 2010 Patriots were a juggernaut, perhaps the best Patriots team in history outside of the 2007 16-0 team. The mighty Patriots had destroyed the AFC competition all year, to the tune of a 14-2 record. The Patriots hadn’t lost a game in two months, hadn’t lost at home the entire year. The Patriots had turned the ball over once in two months and Tom Brady hadn’t been intercepted in three months and more than 300 passes. The last time the Jets had faced the Patriots the game had turned into a 45-3 massacre. Beating the Patriots in Foxboro seemed like an impossible dream.
Then David Harris happened. Inside of the first eight minutes of the game the Patriots were driving with relative ease for what seemed like an inevitable score en route to an inevitable rout of the Jets and an eventual Super Bowl title. Tom Brady dropped back to pass and let fly a short attempt in the direction of his law firm running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis. David Harris, like so many times in his career, was in the right place at the right time. He intercepted the pass at the Jets 30 yard line and rumbled 58 yards to the Patriots 12. Just like that the air of Patriots’ invincibility evaporated into the cold New England air. Just like that the machine like precision of Tom Brady was disrupted and doubt crept into the Patriots.
Like everything else in Harris’ lunch pail career, it wasn’t a work of art. Harris ran like he had a piano on his back and was caught from behind short of the goal line. The Jets proceeded to miss a short field goal attempt and it seemed they had squandered a golden opportunity to jump out to an early lead. But Harris’ play made a statement: the Jets weren’t intimidated, Brady wasn’t perfect, and the Patriots weren’t invincible. The tone had been set, and the Jets went on to stomp the Patriots in a 28-21 win that wasn’t as close as the score indicated. Harris, as usual, led the Jets in tackles.
It would be the last time up to the present that the Patriots would miss an AFC Championship Game, and it would be the last playoff game ever won by the Jets to this day. As always, David Harris faded into the background in the victory celebration, the post game coverage dominated by Bart Scott’s boisterous “Can’t Wait!” interview. But Jets fans know who set the tone that day, and Jets fans know who came to play every day for a decade of quiet excellence. Thank you David Harris for the memories. It’s been a privilege watching you play the game.
As a younger Jet fan, David Harris will go down as a legend of sorts in my memories as a fan. Between all the drama that ensued around the team, Harris continued to simply stay quiet and provide strong production deep into his career. He’s the prototype fan favorite; a gritty leader who the rest of the league won’t appreciate, but would love the same if he were on their team. The Jets’ competitiveness in the late 2000s is what led to me becoming a fan, and Harris was a huge part of making that happen. I’ve watched him play more snaps than any other Jet. So, thanks for a ROH career David Harris!
David Harris was a pleasant surprise after Jonathan Vilma went down. He stepped up in his rookie year and then took over. He quietly did his job. He didn’t seek out attention and didn’t get into trouble. He was able to succeed in different systems under different coaches. I’m proud to have had him on the Jets.