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Posted: Friday May 22, 2009 1:15PM; Updated: Monday May 25, 2009 6:47PM
Ross Tucker Ross Tucker >
INSIDE THE NFL

More distressing than Harrison's White House snub? Logic behind it

Story Highlights

James Harrison's excuses for skipping the White House visit lack logic

Explaining why offensive lineman prefer to face the 3-4 D than the 4-3

More mail on drinking, smoking and stereotypes in professional football

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Despite playing a key role in Pittsburgh's Super Bowl victory, James Harrison elected to skip the celebratory White House visit.
Despite playing a key role in Pittsburgh's Super Bowl victory, James Harrison elected to skip the celebratory White House visit.
John Biever/SI
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James Harrison is one of my favorite players in the NFL. He plays angrily, which I like, and he plays violently, which I love. And after hearing his young son is being treated in a Pittsburgh hospital after a dog attack, my heart goes out to him. But despite that, and despite my affection for his on-field demeanor and aggression, I can't condone his decision to skip out on the Pittsburgh Steelers' visit to the White House. The only thing more disconcerting than Harrison's decision to miss the event was the logic, or lack thereof, behind it.

Let's address some of the things I've heard in support of Harrison. First, someone in the Steelers organization tried to throw Harrison a life preserver by leaking the tidbit that Harrison fears flying. Harrison's teammate Ryan Clark recently publicly substantiated that report. But I couldn't care less. It's not that far of a drive from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C., so I think we can safely call that excuse weak. Very weak. Plus, the guy's flown at least 10 times a year each of his seasons in the NFL, so it can't be that much of an issue for him.

Then there are those who believe this is yet another example of the media taking a nothing story and running with it for the sake of a juicy headline, of crucifying a player for a decision that, at the end of the day, really isn't a big deal. If you feel that way, fine, consider this a column written by a former player rather than a member of the media, a former player who dreamt about winning a Super Bowl and envisioned what the parade, White House visit and ring ceremony would really be like. The post-championship festivities are a big part of what makes winning a championship so special and I have railed in the past against players like Jeremy Shockey for deciding not to participate in one or more of these events.

Harrison, of course, has every right to not attend the event and to speak his mind about his choice. That's part of what makes this country so great. I'm disappointed in his decision, but it's his decision to make. Still, his public comments on the matter have been so ridiculous that someone has to call him out. What's that expression about keeping your mouth shut and letting people assume you are something rather than opening your mouth and removing all doubt? Kind of seems like that applies here.

Harrison implied that President Obama only invited the Steelers because they won the Super Bowl and that he would have invited the Cardinals instead if they had won. Yes, James, that's pretty much how it works. Does Harrison want Obama to invite the Detroit Lions and St. Louis Rams instead? Maybe to boost their morale?

Harrison's decision does not appear to be political in nature, but such a stance would have made some type of sense. If I were Harrison, if I inexplicably didn't want to attend such a prestigious event, I think I would have gone with the fear of flying excuse or simply kept my mouth shut.

Fortunately, most if not all of Harrison's teammates felt differently. Troy Polamalu flew in from California for the event and spoke glowingly about it afterward. Byron Leftwich missed practice and a day of competition for the starting quarterback job with the Bucs to fly up from Tampa for the rare opportunity.

Even the normally loquacious left tackle Max Starks was pretty much speechless when he first heard Harrison's comments on my show on Sirius NFL Radio last Saturday. Starks took the high road and spoke eloquently about what an honor it was to meet the man holding the highest public office in our country and how he couldn't believe he got to experience a once in a lifetime opportunity for a second time.

Hopefully, somewhere, James Harrison was listening. That would sure beat him talking.

There, that's off my chest. Now onto your e-mails ...

Does the "dumb, non-athletic" stereotype drive pro o-linemen crazy? Considering the vast amount of offensive plays to memorize, defensive schemes to face, blitz pickups, footwork, technique, drive blocks, pass blocks, etc., and the fact that there are no plays off for the men up front, it seems sad to me that for some reason this label continues to persist.
-- Eric, Stewartville, Minn.

I don't think the majority of NFL offensive linemen really care about that stereotype. If you've made it to that level and are making a great living playing professional football, you're largely held in high esteem, even if people feel you only have the job because you were blessed with great size.

The fact is, there are thousands and thousands of guys out there who stand 6-foot-3 or taller and weigh over 300 pounds yet never make a dime playing football. Size is just one factor. The two characteristics you mentioned, athleticism and intelligence, are at a premium for every offensive line roster spot in the NFL. Randy Moss is a fantastic athlete, but a guy like Seattle's Walter Jones or Philadelphia's Jason Peters is an entirely different type of athlete and is truly rare. Plus, it's pretty much indisputable that outside of the quarterback, offensive linemen have to be the smartest players on the field.

A ton of media attention has been rightfully given to steroids, but other drugs are mentioned when a player is charged with a crime. What I'd like to know is this: How frequently are two legal, yet proven addictive substances used in the NFL? I'm specifically wondering how many players smoke tobacco and/or drink excessively.
-- David Reynolds, Placerville, Calif.

I don't recall seeing a player smoking a cigarette, though I'm sure it happens. Seems pretty counterproductive to me. However, snuff tobacco, or dip, is popular among some groups of players, usually linemen. Guys mainly use it as a stimulant to keep them focused during the long meetings they have to sit through all day. Call it linemen's coffee.

For players who choose to go that route, alcohol will always be the substance of choice. But I sense excessive drinking is trending downward because of the effects it can have on decision making as well as the recent research that illustrates the negative impact alcohol can have on a player's body and recovery time. Why spend so much time building a body up just to tear it down?

With my team, the Packers, going to the 3-4 along with a few others, do you think the 3-4 really offers what people say it does: better run defense and better run stopping than the 4-3? And during your career, did you find it harder to block and plan against a 3-4 defense than a 4-3 defense? Basically, what's it like as an o-lineman vs. the 3-4?
-- Thomas DeCaro III, Albuquerque, N.M.

If executed correctly and with the right personnel, a 3-4 offers a better run front and more options from a pressure standpoint.

The key to the 3-4 from a run perspective is having outside linebackers who can effectively "set the edge," which really means stuffing the tight end or the offensive tackle from outside-in and forcing the runner to cut back inside toward the other six defenders who are maintaining their proper gap discipline.

As for the offensive lineman's perspective, it really depends on the position and the player. Personally, I preferred going against 3-4 defenses. If the defensive lineman is attempting to "two-gap" the offensive lineman by holding his ground and controlling the gaps on either side, he's usually not penetrating into the backfield, and that's really what I was most concerned about because a quick penetrator can really make you look bad. I liked the predictability of the 3-4 defense, which is usually so fundamentally sound that opposing lineman can anticipate technique and don't have to worry about the unexpected.

 
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