When the Philadelphia Eagles traded then No. 3 cornerback Al Harris and a fourth-round draft pick to the Green Bay Packers for a second-round draft pick in 2003, Eagles head coach Andy Reid did so with some reluctance.
"Our defensive coaches didn't want to see him go," Reid said. "We considered him a starter when he was here."
As the Packers' No. 1 cornerback, Harris has started every game since coming to Green Bay three years ago. In the middle of one of his best seasons, he has 32 tackles, three sacks, two interceptions, 11 passes defended and a forced fumble this season.
While the Packers' shutdown cornerback will face his former team on Sunday, he said this weekend's game does not carry special significance.
"I'm just trying to contribute to a win. It doesn't matter who we face," Harris said. "I always look at it like it's the Green Bay Packers versus the Philadelphia Eagles, not Al Harris versus the Philadelphia Eagles."
In this weekend's game, Harris will not be able to serve as a spy, offering tips on the Eagles defense. The Eagles have overhauled that unit, adding defensive end Jevon Kearse and losing cornerback Troy Vincent, cornerback Bobby Taylor and defensive tackle Corey Simon, among other players, since Harris left.
"It's basically a new team," Harris said. "Most of those guys weren't there when I was there."
Having played in three different defensive schemes under defensive coordinators Ed Donatell, Bob Slowik and Jim Bates, Harris does not remember enough of the intricacies to advise his current offensive teammates either.
And Harris does not need to offer pointers to Packers defenders on what to look for from the Eagles' offense. Both teams run derivations of the same West Coast offense.
"We see the same thing every day," Harris said. "It's the same system."
Sherman should have a good understanding of how the Eagles offense operates. Harris serves as just one connection between the Eagles and Packers. Reid coached the Packers' tight ends from 1992 to 1998 and quarterbacks from 1997 to 1998. During the same period Reid served as quarterbacks coach, Mike Sherman coached tight ends and assisted on the offensive line. Their offices were down the hall from each other.
"I got to be pretty close at that time," Sherman said.
Harris has the same fondness for safety Brian Dawkins. Harris played with him for five years and said Dawkins taught him how to be a professional. No. 31 will seek him out after the game.
"I have a lot respect for (him) as a professional football player and as a man, as a family man," Harris said. "He's an all-around good guy."
Dawkins reciprocated those sentiments.
"That's one of my long, lost friends," Dawkins said. "He's a very aggressive corner. He's a friend of mine. He's very dependable."
Harris has one regret about facing the Eagles. He had hoped to match his skills against wide receiver Terrell Owens, who the Eagles suspended and deactivated for the rest of the season.
"The guy's a great a competitor. You can gauge your game when you play against him," Harris said. "He's going to play hard every single play. He's not going to let up. So you can't let up."
The Eagles may not have Owens or injured quarterback Donovan McNabb for the rest of the season, but they own the No.1-ranked passing game.
"They still have great athletes," Harris said.
The Eagles had so many great athletes on the defensive side that Harris became expendable. The Eagles already had Vincent, who made four Pro Bowls with the Eagles and Taylor, who made one Pro Bowl with the Eagles, and then drafted Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown in the first two rounds of the 2002 draft.
In exchange for Harris, the Eagles used that second-round draft pick as part of package to trade up for defensive end Jerome McDougle, the fifteenth pick in the first round of the 2003 draft. Although various injuries have sidelined McDougle for 13 games in his first two years and every game this year, he has shown flashes of potential.
It remains to be seen whether McDougle, a three-year veteran, will enamor himself to Reid as Harris did.
"Al's one of my favorite guys," Reid said. "He has a great personality and he's a good person. He loves to play the game."