Al Harris has moved onto the second book of his professional football career but officially closed the cover on the first by retiring as a member of the Green Bay Packers.
"Just over my career I had an awesome time, but the better part of my years were in Green Bay, (so) it was just important to me to retire as a Packer,” Harris, now an assistant coach with the Kansas City Chiefs, told reporters on a conference call on Thursday, one day after the team made the announcement. “I had a great experience in Philadelphia, great experience in Tampa and everywhere else I played, but Green Bay is a special place to play football.”
A sixth-round pick out of Texas A&M-Kingsville by Tampa Bay in 1997, he spent that year on the Buccaneers’ practice squad before making a name for himself during five seasons with Philadelphia.
In February 2003, then-coach/general manager Mike Sherman sent a second-round pick to Philadelphia to acquire Harris. It would have been one of the best trades in franchise history, even if the Eagles hadn’t thrown in a fourth-rounder.
Harris started all 102 games he played in for the Packers over seven seasons. One of the best press-man corners of the era, Harris set the Packers’ single-season record for passes defensed (tracked since 1982) with 28 in 2004. Harris was named to the Pro Bowl in 2007 and 2008 and was second-team All-Pro in 2007. He had 14 interceptions during his time in Green Bay.
He didn’t miss a game in his career — playing in 175 in a row, including playoffs — until he sustained a lacerated spleen in 2008. An injury that potentially was season-ending instead kept him out for just four games.
Harris’ final game with the Packers came on Nov. 22, 2009, against San Francisco, when sustained a devastating injury to his left knee. His comeback, in all of its grueling and painful detail, was captured in a series of YouTube videos. When the 2010 training camp opened, the Packers put Harris on the physically unable to perform list. Rather than activate him at midseason, the Packers released him on Nov. 9, 2010.
He’d later play three games with Miami in 2010 and nine games (with five starts) with St. Louis in 2011 before tearing the ACL in his right knee. He retired at season’s end.
"I knew I was on the clock. Your body can only take so much," Harris said. "I pushed it to the limit for so long and I was so fortunate and blessed not to miss a game. I looked at it as God telling me, 'OK, it's time to turn the page.' I didn't have any problems struggling to say, 'Do I want to play?' I knew exactly what I wanted to do, and that's the path I went with."
In 2012, Harris served as a coaching intern under Joe Philbin in Miami, where he discovered his “passion” for coaching. When John Dorsey hired Andy Reid as the Chiefs’ coach for 2013, Reid hired Harris. Harris played for Reid in Philadelphia.
"I reached out to Andy, I called to congratulate him, and I kind of let him know what I was thinking," Harris said. "He let me know what he was thinking and we went from there."
Harris said he wouldn’t change a thing.
"Guys have problems when they can't face the facts. When you can't do it anymore, you can't do it anymore," he said. "God's been good to me. If I had to take it all over again, I'd take the same path."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.