When Will Al Harris Be Back?
Alshinard “Al” Harris loves to prove people wrong. The most famous example of this took place in the 2004 Wild Card round of the NFL playoffs. After the Seahawks won the coin toss to start overtime, the Seattle quarterback, Matt Hasselbeck, couldn’t wait to get his hands on the ball. His infamous declaration of “We want the ball, and we’re gonna score!” still resonates, albeit quite differently, with Seahawks and Packers fans (I still get goosebumps when I watch the video). As Harris raised one arm to signal victory while running back a Hasselbeck interception for a touchdown, Packers fans rejoiced. Al Harris had delivered.
Harris grew up in Pampano Beach, Florida, and, as he proudly states before Monday Night Football games, attended the University of Texas A&M-Kingsville. After being drafted in the 6th-round by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1997, he was waived after spending time on their practice squad for most of the season. He did not stay unemployed long, however. The day after he was cut, the Philadelphia Eagles signed the young cornerback, and he played primarily in nickel situations for the next 5 seasons.
In what was quite possibly Mike Sherman’s best move as general manager of the Green Bay Packers, the Eagles packaged Al Harris and a 4th-round pick in exchange for the Packers’ 2nd-round pick in the 2003 NFL Draft. The rest, as they say, is history. Harris has gone on to a fruitful career in Green Bay, which has included 2 Pro Bowl appearances (2007, 2008) and an All-Pro selection (2007).
Fast forward to November 22, 2009. During what amounted to be a costly victory over the San Francisco 49ers, Al Harris shadowed receiver Michael Crabtree in coverage. Crabtree cut and Harris moved to mirror the receiver. Untouched, Harris fell to the ground, immediately clutching his left knee. Harris’, and the entirety of Packer nations’, worst fears were confirmed in the following days; Harris had a torn ACL and would miss the remainder of the season.
As more tests were conducted on Harris’ knee, it was revealed that his injury was worse than initially thought; not only did he tear his ACL, but he also tore the lateral collateral ligament, the iliotibial band, the fibular collateral ligament and the lateral hamstring.
Many people began to speculate that Harris would never play football again. However, from the moment Harris was injured, he vowed to play again – and not just play again, but be back on the field in 6 months:
I’m going to be back in six months…and I’m going to play three to four more years. This injury wasn’t in my plan. Playing a few more years is.
Harris’ injury turned out to be so severe that a month after the initial surgery, doctors had to go back into Harris’ knee for a second procedure in order to “stretch his knee and break up the scar tissue.” Doubts about Harris’ return to football continued to build.
But then Packers fans witnessed something never seen before. Al Harris and his agent Jack Betcha (founder of the National Football Post website) began to post videos of Harris’ rehab. At first, the weekly videos showed Harris simply jogging, stretching the knee, and doing some light work with weights. By week 6, Harris’ progression was becoming more evident; he was running and doing agility work. Aside from a scary moment or two, Harris’ rehab has been ahead of schedule.
And now, we sit perched on the eve of training camp, and head coach Mike McCarthy has already singled out Al Harris as the one player he doesn’t anticipate being ready:
I think Al is going to be definitely challenged to make it at the beginning of training camp. I’m sure Al may tell you something differently, but that’s kind of my assessment of the information I’ve been given.
Despite McCarthy’s – or anyone else’s – opinion, Harris has been adamant about being in the lineup for the first week of the regular season against his former team, the Philadelphia Eagles:
There’s no doubt in my mind. There is no doubt in my mind. At all. That was my goal from Day One, and that’s still my goal today.
A more cautious, or perhaps skeptical, assessment of his return would place Harris on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list for the first 6 weeks of the regular season. This scenario would make him eligible to return to action on week 7, which happens to be a home game against the rival Minnesota Vikings. However, it’s tough to bet against Al Harris. This is the same Al Harris who recovered from a supposedly season-ending spleen injury in a mere 4 weeks. This is the same Al Harris who has missed only 10 games in his 12-year career. It’s tough to bet against Al Harris because he loves to prove you wrong.
Can Al Harris return to the field this season and become the dominant player he was before the injury? As Alshinard himself would say: The proof is coming soon.