Skip to main content

Joey Harrington hopes some of that Irish luck rubs off in Atlanta

FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) -Joey Harrington watched every shot on television, as amazed as everyone else that his cousin Padraig managed to win the British Open despite knocking two shots in the water on the 72nd hole.

Think that was improbable? What about Joey becoming the No. 1 quarterback on a team that has Michael Vick.

It's been quite a week for the Harrington family - especially for those two distant cousins, who hail from different sides of the Atlantic but manage to stay in touch.

"I haven't spoken to him directly but I sent him a (text) message," said Joey, whose great-grandfather was the brother of Padraig's grandmother. "I'm sure he's got a thing or two on his plate now."

So does Joey. Two days after his cousin defeated Sergio Garcia in a thrilling playoff at Carnoustie, the Falcons announced that Joey would take over as their No. 1 quarterback while Vick was dealing with federal dogfighting charges.

With a trial set for late November and the NFL pondering a possible suspension, it seems highly unlikely that Vick will play for the Falcons this season, if ever again.

Harrington, who signed in April with hopes of reviving his flagging career as Vick's backup, now gets a chance to do it as the starter. Maybe some of Padraig's good fortune is already rubbing off on Joey.

The Irishman won his first major championship despite making a double-bogey on the final hole of regulation, when he knocked two balls into the Barry Burn.

"Maybe the luck of the Irish can work its way to Atlanta," Joey said, breaking into a smile.

The quarterback will take whatever edge he can get. Harrington was the third overall pick in the 2002 draft, but his career in Detroit never took off as he struggled with a bad team. After going 18-37 as the Lions starter, he was let go after the '05 season.

Winding up in Miami, he started 11 games a year ago after Daunte Culpepper was injured. But Harrington lost that job, too, getting benched at Buffalo late in the season while struggling through the worst performance of his career, going 5-of-17 for 20 yards with two interceptions.

His passer rating in that one: 0.0.

Can't get any lower than that.

All this adversity has taken some getting used to, especially since Harrington led Oregon to a 25-3 record during his college career.

"Every time we were behind in the fourth quarter, we came back and won. There's was never a bump in the road," he said. "Then, I got into the NFL and hit a little more than a bump. I hit a brick wall."

Saddled with a 23-43 record in the pros, he certainly didn't expect to start in Atlanta. Vick, after all, was a three-time Pro Bowler and coming off a season in which he became the first quarterback to rush for 1,000 yards.

But, just weeks after Harrington signed, investigators raided a Vick-owned home in rural Virginia, seizing dozens of vicious pit bulls and evidence of dogfighting. Last week, he was named in a stunning federal indictment that accused him of sponsoring an operation that executed losing dogs by all sorts gruesome methods: shooting, hanging, even electrocution.

"It sort of came out of left field," Harrington said. "Things seems to die down a little bit. I was on vacation with my family and somebody called and told me. It was very surprising."

A day after Padraig's golfing triumph in Scotland, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell barred Vick from Atlanta's training camp while the league investigates. The next day, the Falcons confirmed that Joey would be their starter.

Harrington's teammates closed ranks around him, insisting he can finally live up to the potential he showed coming out of college.

"Mike is an exceptional athlete," receiver Joe Horn said. "But Mike's not here right now. We are dealing with the players that are here. We are going to rally behind Joey Harrington and the other quarterbacks and make plays."

New Falcons coach Bobby Petrino knows he will need to make adjustments in his offense, going from a quarterback known for his ability to run and improvise to one who is mostly a drop-back passer.

The key, according to Petrino, is learning Harrington's strengths and coming up with a playbook he feels comfortable with.

"I'm looking forward to getting to know him better and him getting to know me better," the coach said. "It's a special relationship between the quarterback and the play caller. We have to try to make sure we get on the same page."

Harrington said he's not looking at this as a make-or-break season, feeling he already put too much pressure on himself in Detroit. And even though the numbers weren't all that great in Miami (57.5 percent completions, 12 touchdowns, 15 interceptions), he felt it was the first step toward restoring his confidence.

"I was kind of able to break away from that bad environment and really get my head back," Harrington said. "I got that gunslinger mentality back a little bit."

Besides, if his cousin can overcome a six-stroke deficit on the final day of the British Open - not to mention a double-bogey on the 18th hole - Joey has every reason to believe he can turn things around, too.

"I feel good about how I've dealt with it," he said. "I feel good with what I've learned from it. I feel like I'm a better player because of it. Now, I'm looking for an opportunity to show that."

He's got it.

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.