Harris answers the bell - big time

, lvmarran@aol.com
Posted Oct 9, 2005


Before Sunday’s date with the Saints, the Packers’ problems were plentiful: the team was off it its worst start in 15 years, injuries to key players kept piling up, miscues cost the team dearly in all four close games and keeping the faith was becoming a more difficult task. In order to stop the bleeding the team’s veterans – the shrinking number who are healthy enough to play – had to take charge.

Cornerback Al Harris answered the bell as loudly and clearly as anyone could have imagined.

Harris turned in a career-best day as he helped the Packers to a 52-3 blowout of the Saints. It was not only their first win of the season but one of their most lopsided victories in decades.

The ninth-year corner had his first two-interception effort, broke up three passes and notched his first career sack. His show-stopper came early when he picked off Aaron Brooks’ pass intended for Donté Stallworth and returned it 22 yards for a touchdown in the final minute of the first quarter.

“I was surprised that he threw it – really surprised,” Harris said. “I had been really, really close before. On one the receiver made a great pay, on the other I just dropped it. I was looking downfield.”

On his third try, he made it happen.

The defensive TD put the Packers up 14-3 – their biggest lead of the season. It also may have given Packer fans an episode of déjà vu. The last time Harris was seen flying into the end zone, one hand raised and braids streaming behind him, was a scene from Packer playoff history that won’t soon be forgotten. In the wildcard playoff round following the 2003 season, Harris picked off Seattle QB Matt Hasselbeck in overtime and raced 52 yards for the game-winning score.

Harris’ latest pick brought back those happy memories for Packer coach Mike Sherman.

“I’m partial to the Seattle game,” Sherman said in his post-game press conference when asked if Sunday marked the best game of Harris’ career. “He’d have to have 10 interceptions to exceed that because it was so critical in the playoffs, but today has to rank among one of his very best.”

The Packers’ first defensive touchdown of the season set off a jubilant celebration on the Packer sideline. Offensive players – not surprisingly led by Brett Favre – streamed onto the field to congratulate Harris.

Less than a minute later, on the final play of the first quarter, Harris made Brooks see double. Harris picked off the beleaguered Saints QB again, at nearly the same spot on the field on another pass intended for Stallworth. This diving pick couldn’t be returned, but the results were the same. The ensuing possession resulted in a touchdown and a 21-3 Green Bay lead.

Not bad for a guy whose has been a question mark all week due to a back injury. Sherman said as of midweek the outlook was dismal, and the decision to play Harris came at the last minute. Harris also hyper extended his left knee during the win over the Saints but was able to return and finish out his banner afternoon.

Just as Harris answered the call, he also fulfilled the prediction made by Favre. With Harris’ injuries and other struggles no secret to the Saints, Favre knew it was likely that Brooks would throw toward the veteran corner.

“ I was just hoping they’d try to pick on Al,” Favre said. “Because I know what our team can do.”

Harris didn’t think he was “Joe Horn was hurt so Stallworth ended up on the side I was on. I don’t think they were attacking me, I just think they were going to their guy.”

You have to get turnovers in this league. That’s what helps you win. The fact that we had a lot of turnovers contributed to us winning, and the offense played great also.”

Fast fact: Of Harris' five picks as a Packer (including post-season), three have come against former Green Bay QBs. Harris picked off Hasselbeck in the 2003 playoffs, Jacksonville's Mark Brunell in 2004 and added Brooks to the list Sunday.



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