For the last nine seasons, James Harrison has been a Pittsburgh Steeler.
And I don't just mean in the sense that he has been employed by the Steelers or contractually obligated to play football for the Black and Gold. He has been more than just a member of the team.
He has embodied the Steelers DNA over the past decade: toughness, grit, determination, strength, unwillingness to quit and success.
After being signed by the Steelers as an undrafted free agent out of Kent State in 2002, released and brought back three times, signed by the Baltimore Ravens in 2003, sent to the Rhein Fire of NFL Europe and once again cut, Harrison's NFL career looked doomed before it ever really got a chance to start.
But in 2004, the Steelers gave Harrison a fourth chance, and it turned out to be one of the best moves in franchise history.
In the subsequent nine seasons, "Silverback," according to Pro Football Reference, compiled 451 combined tackles, 64 sacks, 29 forced fumbles, five interceptions, 20 pass deflections and one touchdown. He was named to five Pro Bowls, two All-Pro First Teams and two All-Pro Second Teams. He won Defensive Player of the Year in 2008 and helped the Steelers to two Super Bowls in 2005 and 2008.
Harrison was reviled around the league for his hard-hitting nature and aggressive style. But he was beloved in Pittsburgh for the exact same reason.
Alas, Steeler Nation—and Harrison—were given an all-too-merciless reminder that the NFL is indeed a business first and foremost. In desperate need of shedding some salary this winter, Pittsburgh decided to cast Harrison aside following a 2012 season in which his production declined.
Adding fuel to the fire, Harrison signed with the Cincinnati Bengals, a heated division rival.
On Monday night, the 35-year-old from Akron, Ohio, will meet his former team for the first time. He'll stand on the opposite side of the line from Ben Roethlisberger for the first time since college, when he sacked Big Ben four times.
He's still downplaying the significance:
But you would expect him to say that.
When it comes down to it, there's no way Harrison isn't getting incredibly fired up to play the Steelers. He meant everything to Pittsburgh, and as you can see in this video of him talking about defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, it's impossible to overstate how much Pittsburgh meant to him:
With the exception of his return to Pittsburgh, no regular-season contest is going to be filled with more emotion than this one for Harrison.
We've seen over the past decade that he needs no help getting motivated. But we've also see that emotion, energy and electricity are the very things that help him thrive.
He'll have that in droves on Monday night.