The Colts' Marvin Harrison quietly added the league's single-season receiving record to an impressive r�sum�
On the night before last season's Pro Bowl, more than a dozen of Marvin Harrison's relatives and closest friends gathered in the lounge of a Honolulu hotel to toast the occasion. They sipped exotic cocktails, joked about old times and hung around until the wee hours listening to the energetic receiver with the confident smile boast of his exploits. The only thing missing was Harrison, who, preoccupied with the game, had repaired to his room at 8 p.m., leaving his pals with voluble Bucs wideout Keyshawn Johnson.
"Keyshawn talked all night about himself," recalls Stephen Murray, one of Harrison's oldest friends. "He was cool, but he talks so much. Marvin is quiet. He lets his numbers do his talking."
Harrison's statistics aren't merely talking, they're blaring, as if amplified by a bullhorn. On Sunday he eclipsed Herman Moore's single-season reception record of 123, hauling in nine passes for 172 yards and two touchdowns in a 28-23 win over the Cleveland Browns. With two games left in the season Harrison has caught 127 balls for 1,566 yards and 10 touchdowns. No player has caught more passes in the first seven seasons of his career than Harrison (649); he's also the first player in NFL history to have four consecutive 100-catch seasons.
A three-time Pro Bowler, Harrison, 30, has thrived without being one of the prima donnas so common among today's top receivers. No Sharpies ( Terrell Owens). No books demanding the damn ball ( Johnson). No declarations about playing only when he wants to ( Randy Moss). "I'm not into talking because that's never won any football games," says Harrison, whose career also includes 8,644 receiving yards and 72 touchdowns. "I don't know if you get more respect that way, but I think if you just play and handle your business, people will eventually see what you're doing."
To appreciate what Harrison is doing, consider that he's gouging defenses even as Pro Bowl running back Edgerrin James has been slow to recover from reconstructive knee surgery performed last year. Opponents focus on stopping the Colts' passing game every week, but as Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz says, defending Harrison "is like trying to stop Michael Jordan in his prime." He routinely beats double coverage with his precise routes and does a wonderful job of disguising where he's going. "He's probably the marquee route runner in the NFL" adds Schwartz. "He can run underneath and break in or out or double-move and go deep, and it all looks the same." Cornerbacks rarely try jamming him at the line because "if they whiff, he's going 80 yards for a touchdown," says Colts quarterback Peyton Manning. "You just don't want him to kill you."
Harrison's instincts are also impressive. Though he studies little film, he has a knack for reading coverages. If Manning recognizes a particular defense during games, he'll shout "Buffalo '99" or " San Diego '99," and Harrison will know exactly what pattern to run based on what he did against those teams. "I'll just adjust to whatever I see," Harrison says.
"I've only been around a couple receivers who saw the game like a quarterback, and Marvin does that," says Colts coach Tony Dungy. " Cris Carter was the same way [Dungy was a Vikings assistant from 1992 to '95]. He'd come up with ideas for formations or how we could set something up. A lot of guys come back to the huddle saying, 'I'm open.' Marvin sees the big picture."
The 19th selection in the 1996 draft out of Syracuse, Harrison was moderately productive in his first three years; he never caught more than 73 passes in a season during that span. Then Manning arrived as the first pick in the '98 draft, and after that season the quarterback and the wideout worked hard together, spending hours discussing every scenario they might encounter. Since then Harrison has had 453 receptions in his last 62 games.
His own high expectations help explain his consistency. When he makes mistakes—such as dropping a potential touchdown pass in a 27-17 loss at Tennessee on Dec. 8—they gnaw at him for days. "People wanted to talk about my record after the Titans game [he became the franchise's career receptions leader that afternoon], but all I could think about was blowing a routine play," he says.