By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — It’s another road game for the Pittsburgh Steelers, the third straight as visitors Monday night in Cincinnati, and that means another flight.
For some veterans, it probably gets monotonous to get to the airport, board the plane and fly to a game. For James Harrison, however, even a short flight to his home state is an adventure. Harrison, you see, is afraid to fly.
“He acts all hardcore, but he’s actually really scared of a lot of things,” Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel said. “He and Casey Hampton hate flying, so it’s kind of funny to watch those guys when we take off. They’re shaking and in like a zone until we reach cruising altitude.
“Then, they’re good. I’m much better than them, but I always compare it to my first flight out of Cody, Wyo. to BYU for my official visit. That little plane was the shakiest flight I’ve ever been on. So, flying is no problem for me since then. I compare everything else to that, and they’re all OK.”
Some might not believe that Harrison fears anything, certainly not on the football field, but he just doesn’t like to fly. And his Steelers’ teammates know not to harass him about it.
You don’t play on that,” Harrison said. “It’s a fear, and that’s serious. (But) I’m probably the worst flyer on the team. I’m not afraid of heights, but I’m afraid of the plane crashing. That’s it. Anything. Turbulence. I think if I was flying the plane, I’d still be scared.
“If we’re in a car and the tire blows out, I still have a chance. But if we’re in a plane and the tire blows when we’re landing, there’s a good chance that we’ll probably die. So, I talk, listen to the radio, do some praying. But I have to be real tired to sleep. I maybe slept on the plane once or twice.”
With hindsight being 20-20, Harrison probably isn’t too thrilled that he boarded a plane on his day off Tuesday and flew to New York to meet with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. The two discussed Harrison’s $75,000 fine as a repeat offender for his hit on Cleveland wideout Mohamed Massaquoi.
They even talked about his hit on New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees that led to a penalty for a late hit. Harrison even asked Goodell if he would be fined for the hit, but the Commissioner didn’t have an answer for him. Instead, he waited until Wednesday night to fine Harrison $20,000 and offered this explanation.
“They were saying that I put my facemask into his back,” Harrison said Thursday before practice. From what the rule says, you cannot put the crown of your helmet, the hairline of your helmet or your facemask into a defenseless player, so if you’re trying to tackle someone you need to get your head out of the way. I didn’t think I put my facemask there.
“I thought it was off to the left, and it looks that way. But they had a different view of it or something. I thought we were supposed to keep our heads up to see what we hit, but I guess that’s not the case now. This was part of the reason that I was down there, and it was brought up. But they never said what they were going to do. But it was called a penalty.
“So, I assumed that there would be some kind of a fine,” Harrison added. “It happened after I saw you all. I got a call and told me they got me for $20,000. (So), I guess I have to be more aware of the placement of my facemask. I don’t know exactly how you can’t use any part of your head, especially when you want to see what you’re going to hit. Some part is going to touch them.”
Keisel practiced for the second straight day and expected to start at right defensive end when the Steelers face the Bengals. Keisel missed the past two games with a hamstring injury. With the other starting D-end, Aaron Smith, still out the Steelers started Nick Eason and Ziggy Hood last week with Hood in Smith’s spot. But Eason could start there this week, if Keisel returns.
“I feel good, and I’m ready to get back together with my teammates and working again. We’re taking it day-by-day, but having a Monday night game with an extra day of rest certainly will help me out.
“It’s tough sitting on the sideline, watching your team, especially with a loss, but it’s been good for our younger guys to get out there and complete as much as a they can give us. That’s how you learn how to play in this game.”
Emmanuel Sanders certainly should maintain his spot on game day, while fellow rookie Antonio Brown sits again. Sanders had another catch last week, but basically broke up what could have been a long gain to Hines Ward. He also appears to be improving on kickoff returns and even had a big punt return.
“I think I should have had two big returns, but I’m just missing by one guy,” Sanders said. “One man to beat. I look at it as one second away. And I’m going to break one really soon. You watch me. It’s more like a natural instinct. You just have to finish those close plays, and you’ll break loose for a long run.
“As a receiver, I’m starting to get more comfortable in there, too. The more comfortable I get with our offense, the better I’ll do out there. So, that’s what it’s all about. I need to know what I have to do out there, and the more reps I get the better I’ll be and the better communication we’ll have out there.”
Sanders said he was told that he’ll get more opportunities to return punts against the Bengals.