James Harrison puts on show for HBO

PITTSBURGH -- Cincinnati Bengals outside linebacker James Harrison has become an unwitting star of the HBO series “Hard Knocks,” for the same reason that defined him in Pittsburgh as much as his teeth-rattling hits.

He is intimidating and ornery, and that unique blend has made for good TV, especially since the former Steelers Pro Bowler made it clear to cameramen that he does not approve of the inside access to which they have been privy while chronicling Bengals training camp.

“I’ve seen him sticking his fingers at the cameras,” Steelers inside linebacker Larry Foote said with a smile. “He’s a character, everybody knows that.”

When asked if the cameramen have reason to be nervous when in the vicinity of Harrison, Foote said, “Were you afraid of him?”

Loaded question, Larry, but point taken.

His former Steelers teammates, after all, didn’t nickname him “Deebo” for nothing.

Deebo is the neighborhood bully in the movie “Friday,” and Harrison could do a pretty good impersonation of that character if he didn’t like a line of questioning or didn’t feel like talking at all.

But that was James being James, several of his former Steelers teammates said. That is also their read on the hostility he hasn’t tried to hide while the HBO cameras are rolling.

“Looks mean," Foote said of Harrison, "but we over here know he’s a big teddy bear. But he can play that role.”

Steelers outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley said that’s exactly what it is: a role “We know his personality, we know what type of guy he really is,” Woodley said. “If you know James, he is a funny guy. If you don’t know him you might take it a different way.”

“Hard Knocks,” which showed Harrison arm-wrestling a teammate Tuesday night, wraps up next week. What will really be must-see TV is when Harrison faces his former teammates in a prime-time matchup on Sept. 16.

The Steelers visit Cincinnati for a "Monday Night Football" game that will be televised by ESPN.

It will be the first time Harrison, a five-time Pro Bowler in Pittsburgh, faces his former team.

“It’s always weird when you see somebody change jerseys,” Woodley said of what it will be like to see Harrison in Bengals orange and black, “but it’s always just good to see that he’s out there still playing football, doing what he loves to do.”