The most fascinating part of this year's Super Bowl Media Day was the buzz around Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Marvin Harrison. He's never been a big fan of interviews, so the horde of reporters flocking around his booth on Tuesday afternoon had to be somewhat overwhelming.
But this really isn't a story about how Harrison handled that circus-like atmosphere. It's a story about how the man simply vanishes in the postseason. Despite all his gaudy numbers -- he's one of only four receivers in NFL history with 1,000 career receptions -- he's never been a difference-maker in the playoffs and the Colts desperately that to change in Sunday's game against the Bears.
This postseason, Harrison has 10 receptions and no touchdowns after a regular season in which he caught 95 passes and earned his eighth consecutive Pro Bowl trip. He has only one 100-yard effort in 13 career playoff games, that one coming in 2003, the same year he scored the only two touchdowns of his postseason career. He's averaging just 4.2 receptions and 60 yards per game in 13 postseason contests.
Before I go further, I will say that I understand some of what Harrison has had to endure. He's faced some talented cornerbacks in this postseason alone, with Kansas City's Ty Law, Baltimore's Chris McAlister and New England's Asante Samuel all providing daunting challenges. He also plays in an offense that has other receivers who can make plays if Harrison is covered, most notably fellow Pro Bowl wide receiver Reggie Wayne and H-back Dallas Clark. As Harrison says, "If I make first downs and move the ball, that's really all that matters. Teams don't want us to make big plays, so we are going to do whatever it takes to put points on the board."
The only problem with that attitude is that this is the time of year when elite players show why they're elite. Top receivers don't take what a defense gives them. They take what they want and they find ways to elevate their game. Pittsburgh's Lynn Swann didn't come anywhere near producing the numbers that Harrison has generated in his 11-year career, but Swann made his name with clutch receptions in the Super Bowl. Like Swann, San Francisco's Jerry Rice rarely let defenses dictate how he performed in the Super Bowl, either.
I also remember how Terrell Owens returned from a broken leg to torch New England's defense in Super Bowl XXXIX and how Patriots wide receiver Deion Branch won MVP honors in that game with an 11-catch, 133-yard effort. You don't think they had to deal with defenses targeting them?
You can bet that Chicago will attack Harrison the same way every other team does. They will jam him, rough him up, pound him when he catches the ball and hope that he wears down as the game progresses. They've got the cornerbacks (Nathan Vasher, Charles Tillman) and the scheme (Cover-2) to do it and they know the Patriots often frustrated Harrison in previous years by abusing him in similar ways, even with the league's installment of the illegal contact rule. It's just the most effective way to defend him.
What Harrison has to decide is how he will respond this time around. Will he vanish again? Will he merely accept that his fellow teammates will have to pick up the slack for him when defenses force Manning to look elsewhere? However he reacts, it's a certainty that we will know a lot more about Marvin Harrison after this year's Super Bowl. Because if he fades away again, it won't just be Peyton Manning's legacy we'll be talking about afterwards. It will be Harrison's as well.