DENVER -- Well, Evelyn Rochelle Harris, this one’s for you.
And cradling the game ball as if it were his newborn daughter, Denver Broncos defensive lineman Shelby Harris said he was “close to tears" after the week that was concluded with his interception Sunday that sealed the Broncos’ 24-17 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Dad on Friday, football hero on Sunday. It was a big week indeed for the fourth-year defensive lineman.
“I’m going to take it to the hospital," Harris said of the football. “This week has been good, this week has been huge, I am really just living my best life. My wife is a trooper -- she had a C-section -- they are doing great. [I’m] just really running on fumes these last few days, but I am truly blessed and really cannot complain. I am on cloud nine."
Harris and his wife welcomed their 5-pound, 8-ounce daughter on Friday. Harris was excused from the team’s work that day, then returned Saturday and played Sunday. And by the time Sunday’s game was over, Harris had one of his biggest plays, perhaps the biggest, since finding a place on the Broncos’ roster last season.
Before latching on in Denver, Harris had been waived by the Oakland Raiders four times as well as waived once each by the New York Jets and Dallas Cowboys. It is a winding road his teammates have learned to respect as he has become a key player in the defensive line’s rotation.
“Shelby, we love Shelby," said safety Darian Stewart. “Shelby, he will say he has the best hands on the team and he’ll probably hold this over the DBs now who don’t have any interceptions. But he made that play so we’ll listen to what he has to say. Seriously, though, everybody loves Shelby."
The Broncos were clinging to a 24-17 lead in the closing minutes Sunday as the Steelers took the ball from the Pittsburgh 44-yard line to the Broncos’ 3-yard line in seven plays. The Steelers, who had already crossed the 500-yard barrier on offense, had a first-and-goal from the 3-yard line with 1 minute, 57 seconds to play.
On first down, Chris Harris Jr. defended the fade attempt from Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to JuJu Smith-Schuster as the pass fell incomplete. On second down, the Broncos stopped Steelers running back James Conner for a 1-yard gain.
On third down, Roethlisberger tried to fit a pass over the middle to Antonio Brown that Harris, who said he had been blocked as if it were going to be a run play, snared it first. Harris then fell to the ground, took the touchback and the Broncos' offense ran out the block on the win.
“I actually did not do what I was supposed to do, but it ended up working pretty well," Shelby Harris said. “During the play I didn’t know what [Roethlisberger] was trying to do. It was supposed to be a run and he decided to pull it and throw it. I just saw it floating and I caught it. Anyone could have made it, but I was lucky to be there and make it."
Asked following the game what he saw on the play, Brown said simply: “All I saw was the interception." Roethlisberger said he didn't think in "a million years" Harris would make the play.
Harris had split a sack with linebacker Von Miller earlier in the game, one of the Broncos’ two sacks on Roethlisberger on the day. In all, Harris was credited with three hits on Roethlisberger overall to go with three assisted tackles.
For the season, Harris has been most often as a passing down alternative at nose tackle for Domata Peko. Coming into Sunday’s game, Harris had played just over a third of the defense’s snaps -- 223 -- for the season, behind only the team’s three starters in the defensive line (Derek Wolfe, Peko and Adam Gotsis).
“I was just sitting there staring at what [Roethlisberger] was doing but it worked out," Shelby Harris said. " I couldn't ask for more."
“He was in the right spot at the right time," Stewart said. “Just when we needed it."