Nolan Harrison, Steelers Defensive Lineman, 1997-1999, Senior Director NFLPA
First, you played six years for the Raiders before coming to the Steelers in ’97. What brought you to the Steelers – what made you decide to sign with Pittsburgh and who were the guys you bonded with early on the Steelers?
Jim Haslett was the defensive coordinator for the Steelers then. He was also the linebackers coach for the Raiders when I was there. He called me to Pittsburgh to offer me the position. I met with he and coach John Mitchell who as you know has coached many Pro bowl lineman.
What convinced me to come was when Coach Mitchell showed me the film of nose tackle Joel Steed destroying various offensive lines. I knew that I wanted to play next to that guy!
Donnell Wolford and I were new so we bonded immediately especially since he had just come from Chicago which was my hometown. Levon Kirkland, Joel Steed, Fred McAfee and Jason Gildon I took a liking to very quickly.
Who were the biggest characters on those Steelers teams and what made them so? Any examples?
Earl Holmes was one of the biggest talkers I’ve ever played with. He was an absolute character. Fred McAfee was the life of the locker room and kept everyone loose as did Jerome Bettis. Training in tae kwon do with Carnell Lake, Rod Woodson (when he was in town) Ernie Brown and watching Greg Lloyd get his fifth degree was amazing as Chuck Norris came into town to present it to him.
You left the Steelers for the 2000 season to play in Washington. What prompted the move and how hard was it for you to leave Pittsburgh?
The Steelers decided not to re-sign me but we had practiced, scrimmaged and played against Redskins the past two seasons. They knew me, and knew what I was capable of. Coach Terry Robiski was also on the staff of the Redskins. Coach Robiski was on the Raiders staff as well when I was there so that made the transition easier.
What are some of your greatest memories as a Steeler?
Winning the AFC Central division title. Breaking many of the steel curtain defense’s records and having the best record of my playing career at 11-5. Having a monster game against the New England Patriots to help us get to the AFC championship game. Playing in the 1997 AFC championship game against Denver. Even though we lost that game, it was an outstanding experience that I will never forget.
You were very active as a player rep throughout your career. What got you started in that role and what about it did you enjoy?
The player reps for the Raiders and the Steelers were very strong. Tim Brown, Chester McGlockton along with Mike Tomczak were strong leaders as well as members of the executive committee. What I enjoyed most was being able to change the lives of our players for the positive.
Whether we were giving back to increase benefits, or creating new ones, or helping to create rules that would make the game better for future players, those are the things I enjoyed the most.
One of your accomplishments as a rep was to spearhead the movement to get the NFL to ban chop blocks. How did you go about doing so and how did you succeed?
There were many players around the league who were having their careers put in jeopardy or cut by the chop block. I decided to take action and reach out to all the defense of players around the National Football League to sign the petition to ban the block. Once I got the signatures I also obtained film showing the type of devastating injuries that occurred from this block. I was able to get a hearing in front of the competition committee and Commissioner Paul Tagliabue to argue my case.
I was supported by The Leadership of the NFL Players Association. I successfully argued the case and the block was made illegal and also a fineable offense that will go up incrementally for repeat offenders.
This was one of my crowning achievements during my ten-year pro football career.
Tell readers about your role now as the Senior Director of Retired Player Services – what does your job entail and how did you find yourself in this job?
We are here to act as a resource and advocates for our former players. To assist them in creating a better quality of quality of life for themselves.
I have been in former player leadership since I retired from the NFL serving in roles of chapter president and as a member of the Board of Directors. I was offered the position in late 2010 by Executive Director DeMaurice Smith.
What are your thoughts on the new CBA as it related to retired players – what should players and fans know and do you think enough has been done for the older retired players – especially in regards to the pension sizes that are less than those of baseball players?
The new CBA offers a $620 million legacy benefit paid to players who play before 1993 for the rest of their lives and is protected like a pension is protected. Of the $900 million achieved in former player benefits this season and $20 million is the largest ever be given to one class of former employees.
You cannot compare the pensions of the two sports. It is well known that the NFL has the best retirement benefits of all the professional sports.
Any last thoughts for readers?
Thank you to the fans of Pittsburgh, when I played and every day since then, for your support. You made my time as a Steeler one of the most memorable times of my life.