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Hard-working Steelers LB Harrison vows not to change with big contract

PITTSBURGH -- First, James Harrison says, he wants to dispel the notion that it has taken him all this time to recover from his exhausting, 100-yard interception return for a touchdown in Super Bowl XLIII.

Two months? No way. Two days is more like it.

2008 Statistics
Tackles: 101

Sacks: 16

INTs: 1

Harrison began lifting weights just a couple days after his length-of-the-field run helped the Steelers beat the Arizona Cardinals 27-23, the All-Pro linebacker said Tuesday after signing a six-year, $51.75 million contract to stay in Pittsburgh.

The Steelers staged their Super Bowl parade before an estimated quarter-million people in downtown Pittsburgh on Feb. 3, two days after winning in Tampa, but Harrison apparently had enough time to slip in a workout that day.

"That's what took so long," Harrison said of needing two days -- and not one -- to work out again. "I had to recover from the run."

Some NFL players might think about hitting the weights again a couple of weeks after the season ends, but to go back to work so soon after making one of the biggest plays in Super Bowl history?

"I go on my own schedule," Harrison said. "Some guys do things differently. I don't like to be out of it too long because then it takes too long to get back into the shape that you were in."

Harrison's new contract guarantees him about $20 million -- slightly more than the $5,000 the Steelers gave the undrafted rookie out of Kent State as a signing bonus in 2003, before they cut him three times and the Baltimore Ravens cut him once. Then, he had only enough bonus money to buy a motorcycle.

Now, Harrison is the second highest-paid player in Steelers history after reaching a deal that is surpassed by only quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's eight-year, $102 million contract, which is worth a guaranteed $36 million.

Harrison, the only non-drafted player to win the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award, insists that being a big-money player for the first time won't change him. He had a team-record 16 sacks last season for the NFL's top-rated defense.

"I want to make them proud and not let them down," said Harrison, whose most recent contract paid him $5.5 million over four seasons. "I don't want them to feel like they gave me this money and now I'm going out there and not perform. That is what is going to drive me."

Neither Harrison nor his family yet comprehend the kind of money he is about to make. Once agent Bill Parise wrapped up the deal, Harrison said his mother called and asked, "How much?"

"I don't know that it really has sunk in," Harrison said. "I guess it is a lot of money. I guess once I get it in my hand it will be different."

Harrison joked that the contract negotiations were delayed because he sought a provision that allows him to fly with Steelers owner Dan Rooney. The 76-year-old Rooney is a longtime pilot who often flies his small, private plane to NFL meetings.

Rooney has been nominated to be the U.S. ambassador to Ireland and will leave the day-to-day position he has held with the Steelers throughout his adult life if his appointment is confirmed.

"We had to get a clause in there that I can fly with Mr. Rooney before he leaves," Harrison said. "That was what took so long. We were holding out for a month before they decided they would let that in there."

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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