Marvin Harrison stands at his locker in the RCA Dome, his back to a crowd of
reporters. They are all trolling for quotes and anecdotes to pump some life
into their stories about the latest win by the Colts, but they don't approach
Harrison. They know from long experience that he doesn't want to talk to them.
That he won't talk to them. The wideout quickly and quietly tugs on black
pants, ties the laces of his black shoes, buttons a black shirt over his
six-foot, 185-pound frame, wriggles into a black jacket, tugs a black baseball
cap down low on his forehead and darts out of the locker room. His only words
are a whispered goodbye to three security guards.
By the time his
teammates emerge from the showers to face that eager and inquisitive media
throng, Harrison has long since faded to black. The only sign that he was ever
there: a half-eaten doughnut in his locker and a bottle of blue Gatorade with
one swig taken from it.
will someday retire as one of the greatest players in NFL history--and possibly
its most inscrutable star. Over his 11 seasons with the Colts, he has averaged
93 catches a year, an NFL record. The Syracuse product set an NFL mark with 143
receptions in 2002, surpassing the previous record by 20. He has teamed up with
Peyton Manning for 878 receptions and 106 touchdowns, both marks records for a
quarterback-receiver tandem. Harrison has, obviously, accomplished all of this
in packed stadiums and in front of millions of television viewers. Yet off the
gridiron Harrison is uneasy in a crowd, especially when he's the center of
attention. The eight-time Pro Bowl player sometimes goes several weeks without
agreeing to do even the most perfunctory postgame interviews. Basic
football-related questions from reporters can bring terse responses, and
personal information is treated as if it were a state secret. He declines to
give a reporter contact information for his mother, saying, with a smile,
"She talks too much." Teammates and coaches see him at practices and
team meetings but seldom anywhere else. "He's like Batman," linebacker
Cato June says. "I don't know if I've ever seen him sit down and eat a
Indy's other Pro Bowl receiver this year, was initially stung by Harrison's
reticence; eventually, though, he realized that Harrison's silent treatment was
the norm. "We know he's going to get the job done, so we're not worried
about getting him to speak," says Wayne. "That's how he was when he got
here, and he's been ballin' ever since."
Aaron Moorehead is one of Harrison's closest teammates, but it took more than a
year for him to puncture Harrison's shield. When he did, Moorehead discovered
an engaging personality, a shrewd businessman--especially in real estate--and a
boxing connoisseur. "Some people think he's not outgoing enough,"
Moorehead says, "but it's fun to be around him. You have to understand that
he has certain boundaries. He's not going to open up to just anybody."
accomplishments speak for themselves. On Dec. 10 in Jacksonville, he became the
fourth player to reach 1,000 receptions. The catch came in his 167th game; 14
fewer than it took Jerry Rice to hit that mark. This season, he had 95. Says
Broncos All-Pro cornerback Champ Bailey, an eight-year vet, "Playing him my
first year and playing against him this season, the guy hasn't missed a
essentially competing as much with history as with his contemporaries. Next
season he should pass Tim Brown (third alltime with 1,094 catches) and Cris
Carter (second, 1,101). "How close to Jerry [Rice] do you put
Harrison?" says Hall of Fame coach John Madden. "There was a time that
I thought Randy Moss was the best receiver. Then I thought T.O. They've kind of
been up and down, but the one constant has been Marvin Harrison. I think that
he's very, very close to being the top guy."
apart in another way: In an era in which every touchdown seems to require a
dance, he is a stoic. "The big end-zone demonstrators--the Chad Johnsons,
the Owenses and the Mosses--they can't carry his sweatshirt," says Bills
general manager Marv Levy. " Marvin Harrison is more productive. He makes
fewer mistakes. He comes to play. He doesn't come to talk."
On those rare
occasions when he does talk, Harrison speaks softly and deliberately.
"People put me into their own categories," he says in a closed-door
office in the Colts' facility. "I don't like to talk in front of too many
people. I'm not going to be the one in the locker room who's the center of
attention. I'm not going to be loud, but I do talk."
He was a boy of
few words, in contrast to his younger sister and brother. "They wanted to
sing," says Linda Harrison, his mother. "They wanted to perform in
front of people. You could never get him to do any of that."