August 31, 2014
by Rob Rossi
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Photo credit: Christopher Horner/Tribune-Review
He was not heralded, and so he was not handed his spot. He worked for it. He kept working for it after getting it because that was the only way he believed he would keep it. So, what worked against him became what worked for him. He had picked himself up long before he assumed the heavy lifting.
Something about him just seemed to fit.
He was perfectly Pittsburgh, at least the Pittsburgh that Pittsburghers liked to hold dear. He harkened of that work ethic, inner strength and will of steel – the stuff of generations that came before to these three rivers.
Others had come to play in front of us. Some said they played for us.
He had come to play like we thought we would were we blessed with his physical gifts. He would want it like he did. We would go at it as if every play might be our last.
James Harrison retired on Saturday.
Josh Harrison worked the hot corner on Sunday.
They’re not just professional athletes with the same last name. They’re Ohio boys who won over Pittsburgh partly because their stories were ones to which Pittsburghers could relate.
Harrison won me over on one of the final days in 2005. It was Christmas Eve, a day unlike any other in the calendar year for my family. It is also a day without TV.
That’s is one of my mother’s rules for the annual Christmas Eve party that brings together both sides of the family at my parents’ house. The television stays off. That was true when I was a child and now when the children are few.
There is only one exception to this rule.
They are, after all, the exception to most moms’ rules in Pittsburgh.
If the Steelers are playing on Christmas Eve the TV is on. Even if the last thing a mom’s sports-reporting son wants to do is to watch sports on Christmas Eve, even if the preparation that goes into the Christmas Eve party is still happening well into its first hour.
If they’re playing, the Steelers will be on TV at my parents’ house. All the time. Even on Christmas Eve.
I thought of this on Saturday upon hearing of James Harrison’s retirement. It was Labor Day weekend and I was watching a soccer match on a Saturday afternoon, but I kept thinking of Christmas Eve, mom’s rules and the importance of the Steelers in my life.
Had the Steelers not played on Christmas Eve in 2005 the TV would not have been on at my parents’ house. It was, though. So everybody at the house caught replays of James Harrison body slamming a Browns fan to the turf at Cleveland Browns stadium.
Everybody included Grandma Jean, who laughed and laughed and laughed before finally saying to me, “See what you get for being from Cleveland.” Then she yelled something unseemly at the TV before going back into the kitchen to get into dad’s way as he prepared the codfish cakes.
My grandmother, God rest her soul.
Family photo: Jean May Flynn Oliverio at Christmas Eve
Alzheimer’s disease caught up with her many years later, but even when it did I liked knowing she was with it enough to really enjoy the Steelers’ fifth Super Bowl win a couple of months after Harrison’s slam of that Browns fans. That Christmas Eve in 2005 was one of the last that I can remember us getting the Grandma Jean that we loved, the one who knew certain truths to be indisputable.
Browns fans were always wrong.
Notre Dame was always right.
The Pirates would always deserve better.
People either were or wanted to be Pittsburghers.
Those were her rules, at least some of the ones that I remember.
She would have loved Josh Harrison.
In fact, I wish I had to chance to explain to her that the Pirates’ Harrison isn’t the same Steelers player who slammed that Browns fan on Christmas Eve.
>> It’s Browns Week, by the way. Check back here for all of the Trib’s stories leading up to the Steelers’ opener.
>> Columnist Joe Starkey was at Heinz Field on Sunday to witness Pitt taking care of its football business.
>> Jerry DiPaola with other Pitt details.
>> Chris Adamski was in Ireland with Penn State, which recorded what felt like a big win in Week 1.
>> Bob Cohn spent time in Atlanta with WVU, and the Mountaineers showed something in a loss.
>> Our area high-school students are back playing, and Kevin Gorman’s iPreps blog is a must follow for all things WPIAL.
A brief vacation is over and I’m back Monday with a Pirates column. Until then, some goodies on the baseball club can be found, including this gem on Gregory Polanco from Travis Sawchik.
Be EXCELLENT to each other,