Colts media and fans never really got to know Marvin Harrison the person. Many of the Colts coaches and teammates of Harrison didn't, either. I've never talked to Harrison and, like most Colts fans, never really felt like I got to know the real Marvin Harrison. But one thing I absolutely know for sure is that Marvin Harrison is absolutely a first-ballot Hall of Fame player.
Harrison never had to say anything for us to see that. Unlike some players (like Richard Sherman) who dominate the news for what they say, Harrison never did and instead let his play on the field do the talking. And it was too loud to ignore.
In 13 NFL seasons, Harrison racked up 1,102 catches for 14,580 yards and 128 touchdowns - all of which rank among the top 7 in NFL history (as does his 76.7 receiving yards per game). From 1999-2006 (8 seasons), Harrison topped 1,000 yards and caught at least 10 touchdowns every single year, and in four in a row (1999-2002) he caught over 100 passes - including an NFL single-season record 143 in 2002 (nobody has ever been within 20 of that mark). In 190 career games played (188 starts), Harrison had 16 games with 10+ receptions, 59 games with 100+ yards, and 28 games with multiple touchdowns. He has the longest streak in terms of consecutive games with a reception to start a career, catching at least one pass in every single one of his 190 games played. Harrison and quarterback Peyton Manning combined to become the most prolific passing duo in NFL history, combining for 953 receptions, 12,756 yards, and 112 touchdowns. He is a member of the Colts Ring of Honor, being inducted in week 12 of the 2011 season. I think that Marvin Harrison has a very legitimate case as having the second most prolific career by a wide receiver ever, behind only the great Jerry Rice.
The Indianapolis Star's Mike Chappell talked to Harrison recently in advance of the Hall of Fame voting, which will take place this upcoming Saturday, February 1, 2014. It was a great read overall, but here's a particular part that I found very revealing into the type of player that Harrison really was:
Practice was when Harrison honed his craft, lifted it to Hall of Fame-caliber status. That's when he became an exquisite route runner who routinely bedazzled cornerbacks.
"When you ran a (specific) route, it had to be 15 yards," he said. "Not 16 and not 14. When I watched film, I might have been good, but I knew I could be better.
"I knew how things were supposed to be. Perfect."
Harrison recalled a practice-related conversation with Dungy.
"I told coach Dungy in a joking way that, 'I'm the highest-paid practice player in the league. You pay me to practice. The games are on me,' " he said. "That was my motto. Who wouldn't want to play on Sunday?"
Harrison showed up to play each and every Sunday and he really produced. While I'm disappointed that there are even some people who think that there are "reasons" why Marvin Harrison shouldn't be a first ballot Hall of Famer, I want to actually look at the most common objections people give and show why they really don't hold up.
Objection Number One: "Most of Marvin Harrison's Production Came from Peyton Manning!"
It is true, most of Marvin Harrison's production in his career came with Peyton Manning at quarterback, but Manning was the quarterback for 11 of Harrison's 13 seasons in the NFL - of course most of his production is going to come from that quarterback. Additionally, Harrison and Manning broke every significant record for a quarterback and wide receiver duo - that has to count for something. Before Manning even arrived in Indianapolis, Harrison was the first round pick of the Colts in the 1996 draft and caught 137 passes for 1,702 yards and 14 touchdowns in his first two seasons in the league - those numbers are good for any receiver in his first two years. Lastly, might I add that most of the great receivers in NFL history have played with a great quarterback. Heck, Jerry Rice played with two Hall of Famers in Joe Montana and Steve Young, yet is still considered the greatest of all time by a wide margin (and rightfully so). Montana is also considered to be one of, if not the, best quarterback of all time. A quarterback and a wide receiver can both be among the all-time greats - it's not mutually exclusive, and that is exactly the case with Marvin Harrison and Peyton Manning.
Objection Number Two: "There's a Wide Receiver Logjam to get into the Hall of Fame!"
Sure there is a logjam at the receiver position right now, but the number of years waited to get into the Hall of Fame doesn't prove one bit how good a player is. While there are a number of deserving Hall of Fame caliber receivers waiting to get in, Harrison immediately jumps to the top of the group. Don't believe me? Here's a comparison of Harrison and the other two receiver finalists for the Hall of Fame this year, Andre Reed and Tim Brown:
Both Reed and Brown are worthy candidates, but their resumes pale in comparison to Harrison's. I wouldn't be opposed to putting in more than one of them, but there is absolutely no way to say that Harrison isn't the best of the bunch and the only argument going for the other two is that they have been waiting for years to get in while this is the first time Harrison has been eligible.
Objection Number Three: "Marvin Harrison Might have Shot Somebody!"
Hall of Fame voters are supposed to vote players in based on on-field merit and not off-the-field issues. I can understand keeping a player out if they were guilty of shooting someone, despite the fact that they claim to not factor that into the decision. There certainly has to be a certain level of protecting the name and reputation of the game, especially at such a prestigious level as a Hall of Fame induction. But let me be very, very clear on this point: Marvin Harrison was never charged with shooting anybody. The incident, of course, was the April 2008 incident that happened near Harrison's bar in North Philadelphia where a man was shot, and the gun belonged to Harrison. Harrison was questioned but never charged. Some publications around that time made a huge deal out of it and painted Harrison as a criminal, but they were missing one essential point: there was never any evidence that it was Harrison and he was never charged with anything. So keeping him out of the Hall of Fame based on some speculation that perhaps it was Harrison who was the shooter is completely against what the Hall of Fame claims to stand for in their voting (on-field merit and not off-field) and is completely unreasonable.
On October 20, 2013, the Indianapolis Colts hosted Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in Lucas Oil Stadium in the very emotional return of the legendary and beloved quarterback. Marvin Harrison and Edgerrin James returned to Indianapolis for the game, reuniting "the Triplets" once again. There is a very good chance that one day they will be reunited in the Hall of Fame together, and Marvin Harrison will likely be the first one in. In fact, when the Hall of Fame Class of 2014 is voted on this Saturday and later announced, there is absolutely no reason that Marvin Harrison should be left out. None. If he is left out, the credibility of the Hall of Fame should and will take a significant hit. There is no way that a receiver like Marvin Harrison should have to wait any longer than the required five years. While fans never really got to know Marvin personally, they've known for a long time that he was destined for Canton. This Saturday, he should finally get there.