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Return To Philly Nothing Special For Harris


For Green Bay Packers cornerback Al Harris, there are plenty of reasons to be excited about Sunday's NFC Divisional playoff game against the Philadelphia Eagles.

But apparently the opponent isn't one of them.

"Man, it's the playoffs," Harris said with a snicker this week, when asked if he had extra motivation to go up against the organization that traded him away last February. "It doesn't matter who you're playing. You lose, you go home."

If not for Harris, the Packers might be home right now.

Last Sunday, Harris intercepted a Matt Hasselbeck pass in overtime and returned it 52 yards for a touchdown to give the Packers a 33-27 victory over the Seattle Seahawks in their NFC Wild Card game.

It was a play that Harris has since called the best of his career. And, strangely enough, it was a play that Packers fans might not be celebrating if not for the talent of the Philadelphia Eagles.

Drafted in the sixth round by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1997, Harris spent his first season out of Texas A&M-Kingsville on the Bucs' practice squad. A year later, he was released and picked up by the Eagles, joining a secondary that included eventual Pro Bowl cornerbacks Bobby Taylor and Troy Vincent.

It was from their success that Harris learned. But after five seasons in Philly, it was from their shadow that Harris hoped to escape when he requested a trade last offseason.

"I relish every moment that I spent in Philly," Harris said. "I learned a lot from Bobby and Troy and (Pro Bowl safety Brian Dawkins). I always wanted to do my own thing, but in the time that I was there I just sucked up as much knowledge as I could."

Of course, taking a backseat wasn't always easy.

Harris never missed a game in his five-year tenure with the Eagles, yet he made only 21 starts in that span.

"He always had to be the one who gets the leftovers," Vincent said. "That's what we used to call it.

"He didn't like that very much. Al didn't want to be considered the nickel or the third corner. Al always wanted to be considered a starter."

But that didn't happen until this season, his sixth in the league, when he was brought in to replace Tyrone Williams, who departed via free agency to the Atlanta Falcons.

Credited by coaches for adding an aggressive spirit to the Packers defense, Harris made three interceptions among his 14 passes defensed during the regular season, trailing only Darren Sharper and Mike McKenzie in both categories. Meanwhile, he never missed a start.

Yet his inaugural season with the Packers will almost certainly be remembered for what he did in the playoffs, anticipating Seattle's reaction to blitz pressure, jumping Alex Bannister's route and making a game-winning interception that pleased former teammates as much as current ones.

"I jumped out of my chair," said Vincent, who watched the game from home. "The kids started hollering because they didn't know what I was hollering about.

"We have a tremendous relationship and I feel like when he came on he wasn't a guy that accepted constructive criticism easy (until) he learned that the game far exceeds talent, that there is some classroom (work) involved. And now he's starting to see his game revolutionize and go to another level."

But Harris hasn't forgotten where he came from.

He still talks to Taylor and Vincent weekly and called the latter on his way home from Lambeau Field last Sunday looking for more advice.

"He asked me the question, 'Troy, what did it look like?'" Vincent recalled with a laugh. "What do you think it looked like? It was great, man. You picked the ball and you scored."

Not that Harris did everything right.

"I was upset he gave the ball away," Vincent said. "How do you give the ball away after that play?"

Some are just quick to move on.

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