No. 10: Steelers LB James Harrison

We guarantee James Harrison would focus on getting Hall of Famer Joe Namath. MATCHUP GALLERY ESPN.com Illustration


ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine sought a list of the 20 current players who a 20-member Pro Football Hall of Fame panel and ESPN's John Clayton believe could excel in any era of the NFL.

Or, to put a finer point on it -- when Mike Ditka looks at today's player, whom does he want lining up next to him ... or across from him?

Which of today's players did our group of Hall of Famers deem really old school?

The playing days for our 20-member Hall of Fame panel spanned the '60s (Jim Brown) to the turn of the century (John Randle).

We'll present four players a day, culminating with our top four on Friday.

Use the #NFLAnyEra Twitter hashtag to get involved in the conversation or just follow along at @ESPN or on our Facebook page.


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MARCUS ALLEN: A guy I think could play in the years past, old school, is James Harrison. He gets reprimanded playing the game I grew up wanting to play like and admired and so forth. They are called dirty players and, unfortunately, the game has changed a bit. The league has made quite a bit of money off the hits we see in highlights, and there is generation of kids who grew up watching and were taught that's the way you play.


MIKE SINGLETARY: I picked him because of his mentality. He's been cut so many times and yet he kept coming back. He's not the biggest guy in the world, but when he lines up, he plays, and he plays every down and that's what you've gotta have on defense, so that's why he's there. Simply, it's because of his mindset -- greatness to me is all about what you overcome, and he's been tremendous.


LYNN SWANN: James will take on two blockers at a time, he'll stop them and then stop a guy for a loss, and that fires up a team. With these guys, every game you are looking for a hit or a major stop or a picked-off pass. With Harrison, you don't know if the contribution will be a sack, a hit for a loss, a big stop for a loss on fourth down or dropping back in coverage to pick off a pass.


JERRY RICE: I picked James Harrison not because of all the fines, but because the guy is a bruiser on that defensive line and in that secondary. He's going to hit you no matter what the consequences are. He plays the game the way it should be played, and that's physically.



Harrison missed some time this season after he fractured his right eye socket. But the Steelers linebacker said that was nothing compared to what he endured last season. Harrison played with a back injury and needed two surgeries to repair a herniated disc this past offseason. He still led the Steelers with 10.5 sacks, forced six fumbles and was named to his fourth straight Pro Bowl.

Playing football last season was the toughest thing I ever had to do. Every week it hurt to play. I was in a lot of pain. But I didn't want to let my teammates down. It was tough mentally, too. Knowing I was injured was hard to deal with. But I played as hard as I could every game.



His fierce tacking style would have worked in the 1960s and 1970s. Harrison would have been a perfect defender for the Raiders-Steelers clashes. He reminds me of a much more fluid Charles Haley, the star for the Cowboys and Niners in late '80s and '90s.

CLAYTON ON HALL OF FAME CHANCES: Despite being one of the top defenders for a few years, he would need more years of play at a high level to merit consideration.

John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Follow Clayton on Twitter @ClaytonESPN



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Additional reporting by ESPN The Magazine's Morty Ain, Louise Cornetta, Amy Parlapiano and Alyssa Roenigk.