Ashley Fox | Harrison is grace under media fire

MIAMI - It was so comical, so completely out of character and comfort zone that even Marvin Harrison found it somewhat funny that he was subjected to an hour-long interview session yesterday.

For a man who shuns attention, who shifts uncomfortably under the gaze of many, who would rather pull out his fingernails with pliers than reveal his favorite Anita Baker song, Super Bowl media day quite possibly was Harrison's worst nightmare. Thousands of reporters. An annoyingly large number of faux media, including those freaky, geeky American Idol cast-offs trolling this week for Jimmy Kimmel. And so many eyes trained on him.

"This is a little nerve-racking right now, with so many microphones and cameras in your face," Harrison said early on during his mandatory session at Dolphin Stadium, site of Super Bowl XLI between the Indianapolis Colts and Chicago Bears. "But I don't mind doing it."

The 34-year-old Harrison has spent the last 11 seasons catching 1,022 passes for 13,697 yards and 122 touchdowns, shattering record after record along the way. But he talks to the media about as frequently as he misses a scoring opportunity, which is to say, next to never.

However, a prerequisite to playing in a Super Bowl is enduring, or possibly enjoying, the absurdities of media day. Harrison politely, if not somewhat nervously, did just that yesterday.

He fidgeted with a cell phone while answering just about every question asked of him. Harrison deflected the first couple of queries about his quarterback, Peyton Manning, by saying things like, "I've answered that a hundred times. I don't have to answer that again."

He appeared irritated when some pseudo-reporter asked to see his touchdown dance - "Everyone knows I don't have a touchdown dance," Harrison said.

But Harrison played along when Warren Sapp, the Oakland Raiders' hulking defensive tackle who is working this week for the NFL Network, draped an arm around his slender shoulder.

"What's up, Sapp?" Harrison said.

"This is outside your element, Marv," Sapp said.

"I know," Harrison replied.

"Soak it up and enjoy it," said Sapp, who played for Tampa Bay when the Buccaneers beat Oakland in Super Bowl XXXVII. "You've got two weeks [leading up to the game]. I only got one."

Harrison probably would rather have one day of buildup instead of two weeks. Although the players are supposed to talk to the media again today and, for a final time, tomorrow, Harrison said he is one-and-done. "That's why I'm so comfortable up here now," he said.

"I wouldn't say this isn't my favorite thing to do," Harrison added. "It's just that doing it on a weekly basis, day in and day out, I don't think there's that much to talk about. I'm the type of guy that wants to go out and play the game and not talk about it. But I don't mind talking to the media."

The perception of Harrison is that he is moody and standoffish, which is somewhat true. During Colts games, while the defense is on the field, he sits alone on the far right-hand side of the Indianapolis bench, far away from his offensive teammates.

Harrison said there is nothing to his seat selection, or to his constantly blowing off the media. He insists he merely is a simple person who cherishes his privacy. He wants his on-the-field actions to speak for him.

And speak they do.

Long removed from his standout high school career at Roman Catholic, Harrison is one of four players in NFL history with 1,000 catches. He trails all-time leader Jerry Rice by 527 receptions, a milestone that may not be completely out of reach.

Although he will turn 35 before the 2007 season begins, Harrison said he is not even thinking about retirement. He wants to keep playing, possibly, like Rice, into his early 40s. If he could use his 95 catches from this season as a predictor of future production, Harrison would surpass Rice in 2012.

Harrison is a smart man, and he seemed genuinely bemused by all the questions about his shyness in the media.

"I don't need to be more famous," Harrison said. "At the end of the day, I just want my teammates to know that I was a great player that did a lot to help us win football games. Hopefully, I'll have the opportunity to do what a lot of other receivers haven't, which is winning the Super Bowl."

When his duty was complete, Harrison stepped off the dais and saw a familiar face. "Thanks for coming," he said. "This wasn't too bad."


Contact columnist Ashley Fox

at 215-854-5064 or afox@phillynews.com.