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Steelers LB Harrison cools off, decides against retirement

That retirement talk by James Harrison didn't last nearly long enough for some NFL quarterbacks.

The three-time Pro Bowl linebacker resumed practicing with the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday, one day after he threatened to retire because of the NFL's stricter punishment of players for dangerous hits.

Harrison was one of three players fined a total of $175,000 by the NFL on Tuesday for flagrant hits last weekend -- he was docked $75,000 for a helmet-hit on Cleveland Browns wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi -- and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on Wednesday followed up the fines by releasing a memo emphasizing significant penalties will be imposed upon players who strike an opponent in the head or neck in violation of existing rules.

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Harrison, arguing the restrictions won't allow him to play football as he has always played it, met with Steelers coach Mike Tomlin on Wednesday to discuss the changes. Tomlin decided to give Harrison a cooling-off day and sent him home from practice.

Harrison's teammates didn't take his threat to retire seriously, saying he enjoys playing too much to quit during the second season of a six-year, $51.2 million contract. Harrison agreed with that in a statement issued Thursday by the Steelers.

"I have come to the decision that I cannot and will not let the league office stop me from playing the game that I love," Harrison said.

Harrison didn't talk to reporters before or after practice. The team said the statement would be Harrison's only comments.

"I will continue to play the game with the same passion, intensity and focus with which I have always played and let the chips fall where they may," Harrison said. "I have never given up, quit or walked away from anything in my life, and I am not about to start now."

Too bad for the New England Patriots' Tom Brady, who joked that life for NFL quarterbacks would be easier if Harrison retired.

Steelers safety Ryan Clark also found some levity in the situation. Asked about the notoriously intense Harrison's mood upon returning to the team, Clark said the linebacker isn't "a fluffy person" even when he's in a good mood.

"He's fine," Clark said. "Obviously, it's a tough situation, and he was able to handle it the way he needed to. We're glad to have him back."

In his statement, Harrison said player safety must be emphasized, but he argued again that his hit on Massaquoi was permissible under NFL rules. Tomlin also said the hit was legal.

"I feel the real reason for the fine was the statement I made after the game wherein I said that I try to hurt people, not injure them," Harrison said in the statement. "In the same sentence, I attempted to clarify my meaning. But I understand that my comments leave a lot open to interpretation. The statement was not well-thought out, and I did not adequately convey my meaning. I apologize for making that statement, and I want it to be known that I have never and would never intentionally try to injure any player."

Browns center Alex Mack suggested that Harrison should be worried about his own health. Mack said Harrison's concussion-causing hits Sunday on Browns wide receivers Massaquoi and Joshua Cribbs weren't isolated.

"If you watch the game film, he was doing that to everyone on every play. People would be on the ground, and he would try to spear them," Mack said. "There's a play on film where (running back) Peyton Hillis is tackled, and he (Harrison) comes up and spears him. It's like you're being cheap, you're being dirty."

Dirty, he said, and dangerous.

"You're ruining your own brain, and you're damaging other people," Mack said. "It's your brain. You need that a lot."

Neither Massaquoi nor Cribbs was able to practice Wednesday or Thursday. Browns coach Eric Mangini said both players could be medically cleared for practice Friday.

Steelers nose tackle Chris Hoke insisted Harrison, who was the 2008 Associated Press NFL Defensive Player of the Year, isn't a dirty player who lives off cheap hits.

"That's not James -- that's a misunderstanding," Hoke said. "He goes out and plays hard. There's not a dirty ounce in his body. ... It's all about hard work for him. He's one of the first guys in here in the morning and one of the last to leave. He's a class act. It's good to see him back, because he's a humongous part of our team."

Although Harrison's one-day absence was the predominant topic in the Steelers' locker room, defensive end Aaron Smith said it wasn't a distraction. Many veteran Steelers players routinely take days off from practice during the season; the only difference was Harrison didn't watch from the sideline or attend meetings.

Smith also said Harrison's situation won't be a distraction Sunday.

"When you go out there on Sunday, all you think about is the football game," Smith said. "You don't think about anything else."

And the Steelers will play ... uh, the Miami Dolphins, right? With so much talk about Harrison, Steelers players are being asked relatively few questions about their opponents.

"Is that who we're playing?" Smith said, only kidding.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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