INDIANAPOLIS – Marvin Harrison arrived in Indianapolis in 1996 as a quiet rookie who was the fourth of five receivers taken in the first round.
Harrison exited as a quiet 13-year professional who set club records so high they never may be eclipsed.
Like Greta Garbo, one saw a wonderful performance, but knew very little beyond it. But what a performance it was.
Harrison starred on center stage for the Colts, performing acts of belief-suspending nature – at least until he topped it moments later. His exploits have put him in line in the near future for Hall-of-Fame consideration.
“With Marvin, there are so many great memories,” said Jim Irsay. “You’re talking about one of the greatest football players ever to step onto the field. His accomplishments, speed, quickness, hands, intelligence, all of those things (are special). I really think combined with that was hard work.
“He developed an incredible, uncanny ability to run every route out of the gate the first few steps the same. He was virtually uncoverable. Whenever he got over the top and Peyton (Manning) got him the ball deep, those were some of the most exciting plays we ever had in Colts history. There are so many memories of him.”
Harrison played in 190 career games and totaled 1,102 receptions for 14,580 yards and 128 touchdowns. His receptions, yards and scoring receptions broke club records held by Hall-of-Famer Raymond Berry, marks that stood since 1967.
Harrison had 59 100-yard reception games, a total that still ranks among all-time NFL leaders. He caught passes in the first 190 games of his career, an NFL record at the time he set it.
“You just know how much a player like that when his time is done is going to be hard to replace,” said Irsay. “I remember looking at his jersey and looking at him in his uniform before he left the locker room, particularly when it was getting near the end of his career, because I always wanted to have that image in my mind.
“Knowing Johnny Unitas, Mike Curtis, Bert Jones, Eric Dickerson and those guys who wore the Colts uniform, it’s special when you see them about to leave the locker room and go out on the field. He was such a great route-runner. He had everything you are looking for in that over-the-top receiver. He could get you five yards, or he could get you 85 yards. What a great Colt.”
Harrison set the NFL seasonal record with 143 receptions in 2002. From 1999-2002, he became the first NFL player with 100 receptions in four consecutive seasons.
From 1999-2006, Harrison had eight consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, and he is the only player ever to produce eight straight seasons with 1,000 reception yards and 10 scoring receptions.
His work with Manning yielded unprecedented results in league history and forever could place them as the game’s best quarterback-receiver tandem. In 158 games together, Harrison and Manning collaborated on 953 completions for 12,766 yards and 112 touchdowns – totals that far exceed any other duo.
“There are so many great things about Marvin Harrison,” said Manning. “I always used to talk to defensive backs (of other teams) in the off-season and asked them, ‘Who is the hardest receiver to cover?’ All of them in the past decade would say, ‘Marvin Harrison.’
“The main reason they would say that was the first 10 yards of his routes all looked the same. They couldn’t tell if he was going 10 yards and out, 10 yards and in, deep down to the field to the post or the corner, back to the quarterback. They had to respect the fact that he was going to go deep and they would back off then all of the sudden they would think, ‘He’s not going deep.’ They would squat down and he’d go right by them.”
Harrison was all about work. He practiced as hard as he played. Every drill was important for a perfectionist.
“As a receiver, he took a lot of pride in the amount of (practice) balls he caught,” said Manning. “He kept up with the routes we threw in practice and how many catches he had in a row. If we had an incompletion, he’d (say), ‘That’s the first incompletion in 70 throws.’ That was a special guy who took the time and pride in his profession.
“He and I developed that sixth sense and had a great understanding of where he was going to be or where I wanted him to be. It was a wink there, a head nod there if we saw things the same way. He had unbelievable recall. He could remember a game from 1999 and he would say, ‘They’re playing the same thing Buffalo played in ’99, what about this adjustment?’ Boom, we’d do it. We would put him in the slot some and he would come in motion towards the quarterback and as he came by we’d whisper a different route. I’d say, ‘Pump it,’ or ‘Run the fade,’ or ‘Run the corner.’ It was always very flexible, but you can’t do that with a guy unless you put a lot of man hours in the off-season throwing together. There was a special bond, a special connection. I always feel lucky to say I played with Marvin Harrison.”
Harrison typically let his performance speak for him. Those who played with him, coached him or worked with him marvel about Harrison.
“Marvin Harrison is one of the 10 greatest receivers in NFL history,” said Bill Polian. “In an era when more publicly-heralded receivers drew attention to themselves at every opportunity, Marvin went about his business every day on the practice field and in the classroom with quiet dedication and meticulous attention to detail. His mental and physical preparation was second to none.
“Marvin Harrison never took a play off. Marvin let his preparation and play speak for him. He always came through in the clutch and was the epitome of a Hall of Fame player.”
Said Tony Dungy, “When I came to Indianapolis in 2002, I knew Marvin Harrison was a very talented receiver – quick, fast, sure-handed and explosive. But actually seeing him practice and work on his craft was eye-opening. Watching Marvin every day was like seeing a great artist at work.”
1996 (First-round pick, No. 19 overall)
Played 1996-2008, GAMES STARTED/PLAYED – 188/190
Notes: Totaled 1,102 receptions for 14,580 yards and 128 touchdowns, setting club records. Had 59 100-yard games, third-most in NFL history at retirement. Caught passes in first 190 career games, an NFL record and set NFL seasonal record with 143 receptions in 2002. From 1999-2002, became first NFL player with 100 receptions in four consecutive seasons. From 1999-2006, had eight consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. Is the first player ever with eight straight seasons with 1,000 reception yards and 10 scoring receptions. Eight-time Pro Bowler, three-time All-Pro and had 25 All-AFC or All-NFL nominations.