Indianapolis Colts  

 

Parting with star WR Harrison is such sweet sorrow for Colts

  • By NFL.com Wire Reports
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Marvin Harrison can play wherever he wants now.

In Indianapolis, he'll always be a Colt.

Marvin Harrison , WR
Indianapolis Colts

Career Statistics
Receptions: 1,102
Yards: 14,580
Touchdowns: 128

Team owner Jim Irsay on Tuesday grudgingly honored Harrison's request to be released, a move that becomes official Wednesday.

Colts officials turned the news conference to announce Harrison's release -- the wide receiver didn't attend -- into an emotional tribute to one of the most identifiable players in the franchise's Indianapolis era.

They took turns recounting stories that stretched back more than a decade. Irsay's halting words at the start and team president Bill Polian's reddened eyes at the end were indicative of how hard it was to let go of one of the best wide receivers in NFL history.

"I've always treasured the time I've had with him because I respected him so much as a person," Polian said. "He worked so hard at his craft, he was always so prepared and he did every little thing he could to win. And he did it with quiet dignity, superb professionalism and with a sense of contribution to the team that really is second to none."

Irsay saw the announcement as more of a temporary goodbye than a permanent farewell. He plans to induct Harrison into the team's Ring of Honor after he retires and expects the wide receiver to return to the city where he became a star.

Irsay also wants to re-sign Harrison again, one day, so he can leave the game as a Colt.

The move to release Harrison was made because his price tag was too high.

After the two sides couldn't agree on a restructured contract, Harrison asked the Colts for his release, NFL Network's Adam Schefter reported Sunday.

Harrison is the second member of the Colts' original triplets -- running back Edgerrin James and quarterback Peyton Manning were the others -- to depart.

"It has been a privilege to play football with Marvin Harrison for the past 11 years," Manning said in a statement on his website. "I will always be indebted to Marvin for what he has done for my career. I know that I would not be the QB I am today if not for Marvin.

"It will be strange to line up under center and not see No. 88 out on my right," Manning said. "He is a Hall of Fame receiver, I am proud to have played with him, and he will always be an Indianapolis Colt in my book."

Harrison, 36, would have counted $13.4 million against the cap in 2009, the highest of any NFL wide receiver. Although the Colts wanted to restructure Harrison's contract, Polian said there was no feasible way to do it.

Releasing Harrison saves the Colts about $6 million, with about $7.4 million in prorated bonuses still on the books. With three-time Pro Bowl selection Reggie Wayne and two-year pro Anthony Gonzalez ready to make up for Harrison's absence, the team couldn't afford the luxury of keeping three former first-round picks.

Over the past two seasons, Harrison hasn't played up to his usual standards. He missed all but five games in 2007 because of injuries, underwent offseason knee surgery and then caught 60 passes in 2008 -- less than half of the NFL-record 143 he had in 2002.

Yet Colts coach Jim Caldwell and Polian continued to insist that Harrison hadn't lost a step.

The decision might have been hardest on Irsay, who remembered Harrison as the only remaining player from his early days as owner in 1996, following his father's death.

Before filing the paperwork and publicly announcing the decision, Irsay had a private conversation with Harrison. It was billed as a final effort to get Harrison to stay, but that's not how the discussion went.

"I wanted to make sure Marv and I had a chance to talk this afternoon and really thoroughly go through things together," Irsay said. "I know he wishes to go forward and pursue opportunities in the National Football League, and that's something we honor with his release."

Harrison was the Colts' first-round draft pick in 1996 out of Syracuse, and it didn't take long for him to make an impression. Polian, then with the Carolina Panthers, called Harrison's personal workout that year the most impressive he has ever seen from a wide receiver.

Harrison proved better than advertised with his delicate toe-taps and penchant for acrobatic catches. Of the five first-round wide receivers drafted in 1996, Harrison was easily the most productive over the longest period.

Harrison has caught 1,102 passes for 14,580 yards and 128 touchdowns -- all rank in the NFL's top five. He broke all of the Colts' major single-season and career receiving records, most previously held by Hall of Famer Raymond Berry, and teamed with Manning to form the most prolific passing duo in league history.

Harrison won a Super Bowl championship and was selected to eight Pro Bowls.

But it's not the numbers or the accolades that Indianapolis fans will remember. It's the moments.

"I'll never forget the catch at Tennessee, which in my mind is the signature play of his career," Polian said. "He was suspended in mid-air, reached out with one hand, hauled it in and then got up and waved the rest of the players down the field. That was quintessential Marvin."

After Manning's arrival in 1998, Harrison spent countless hours trying to perfect the timing with his new quarterback. And when he scored touchdowns, he usually flipped the ball to the official.

Around teammates, Harrison was nearly as quiet as he was with reporters. Harrison skipped Tuesday's news conference, Polian said, because he didn't want to slight anyone at the team complex.

"The best way I'd describe him is there's an old saying that goes lead by example and, when necessary, use words," Caldwell said. "That's what Marvin did. He rarely used words."

Harrison stayed out of the spotlight, refraining from the headline-grabbing antics that have made other star wide receivers famous.

Last year, for the first time, Harrison was involved in some high-profile off-the-field trouble.

Philadelphia police believe one of Harrison's guns was used in an April shooting in his hometown. No charges were filed against Harrison, and the man who made the accusation was convicted on a misdemeanor charge of lying to police.

Harrison doesn't believe his career is finished. He hopes to sign with another team, possibly as early as Friday when the free-agent market opens.

Polian didn't rule out the possibility of bringing Harrison at a lower price, either, though there already has been speculation that Harrison might be interested in playing for the Philadelphia Eagles and reuniting with his former college teammate, quarterback Donovan McNabb.

"I had a chance to reflect on a lot of what has happened over the last 12-plus years," Irsay said. "I really look forward to the time he goes into the Hall of Fame and the Ring of Honor at our stadium."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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