Inside The NFL

December 23, 2002

Strictly Business
The Colts' Marvin Harrison quietly added the league's
single-season receiving record to an impressive resume

On the night before last season's Pro Bowl, more than a dozen of
Marvin Harrison's relatives and closest friends gathered in the
lounge of a Honolulu hotel to toast the occasion. They sipped
exotic cocktails, joked about old times and hung around until the
wee hours listening to the energetic receiver with the confident
smile boast of his exploits. The only thing missing was Harrison,
who, preoccupied with the game, had repaired to his room at 8
p.m., leaving his pals with voluble Bucs wideout Keyshawn
Johnson.

"Keyshawn talked all night about himself," recalls Stephen
Murray, one of Harrison's oldest friends. "He was cool, but he
talks so much. Marvin is quiet. He lets his numbers do his
talking."

Harrison's statistics aren't merely talking, they're blaring, as
if amplified by a bullhorn. On Sunday he eclipsed Herman Moore's
single-season reception record of 123, hauling in nine passes for
172 yards and two touchdowns in a 28-23 win over the Cleveland
Browns. With two games left in the season Harrison has caught 127
balls for 1,566 yards and 10 touchdowns. No player has caught
more passes in the first seven seasons of his career than
Harrison (649); he's also the first player in NFL history to have
four consecutive 100-catch seasons.

A three-time Pro Bowler, Harrison, 30, has thrived without being
one of the prima donnas so common among today's top receivers. No
Sharpies (Terrell Owens). No books demanding the damn ball
(Johnson). No declarations about playing only when he wants to
(Randy Moss). "I'm not into talking because that's never won any
football games," says Harrison, whose career also includes 8,644
receiving yards and 72 touchdowns. "I don't know if you get more
respect that way, but I think if you just play and handle your
business, people will eventually see what you're doing."

To appreciate what Harrison is doing, consider that he's gouging
defenses even as Pro Bowl running back Edgerrin James has been
slow to recover from reconstructive knee surgery performed last
year. Opponents focus on stopping the Colts' passing game every
week, but as Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz
says, defending Harrison "is like trying to stop Michael Jordan
in his prime." He routinely beats double coverage with his
precise routes and does a wonderful job of disguising where he's
going. "He's probably the marquee route runner in the NFL," adds
Schwartz. "He can run underneath and break in or out or
double-move and go deep, and it all looks the same." Cornerbacks
rarely try jamming him at the line because "if they whiff, he's
going 80 yards for a touchdown," says Colts quarterback Peyton
Manning. "You just don't want him to kill you."

Harrison's instincts are also impressive. Though he studies
little film, he has a knack for reading coverages. If Manning
recognizes a particular defense during games, he'll shout
"Buffalo '99" or "San Diego '99," and Harrison will know exactly
what pattern to run based on what he did against those teams.
"I'll just adjust to whatever I see," Harrison says.

"I've only been around a couple receivers who saw the game like a
quarterback, and Marvin does that," says Colts coach Tony Dungy.
"Cris Carter was the same way [Dungy was a Vikings assistant from
1992 to '95]. He'd come up with ideas for formations or how we
could set something up. A lot of guys come back to the huddle
saying, 'I'm open.' Marvin sees the big picture."

The 19th selection in the 1996 draft out of Syracuse, Harrison
was moderately productive in his first three years; he never
caught more than 73 passes in a season during that span. Then
Manning arrived as the first pick in the '98 draft, and after
that season the quarterback and the wideout worked hard together,
spending hours discussing every scenario they might encounter.
Since then Harrison has had 453 receptions in his last 62 games.

His own high expectations help explain his consistency. When he
makes mistakes--such as dropping a potential touchdown pass in a
27-17 loss at Tennessee on Dec. 8--they gnaw at him for days.
"People wanted to talk about my record after the Titans game [he
became the franchise's career receptions leader that afternoon],
but all I could think about was blowing a routine play," he says.

The bar has been set high, but Harrison is on pace to at least
challenge many of the receiving records that Jerry Rice has
established. Of his success Harrison says, "The numbers are
crazy. Every time I think I've had a great season, an even
greater one comes along." His friends aren't surprised. "These
records mean everything to him," Murray says. "This didn't just
happen. Though Marvin would never say this, he planned to be the
best."

Carson Palmer's Prospects
Heisman Winner Will Need Time

Entering his senior year at USC, quarterback Carson Palmer had
thrown 39 touchdown passes and 39 interceptions--all while
playing in systems that changed from year to year. Given the
opportunity to play in the same offense for a second straight
season, Palmer flourished this year, completing 63% of his
attempts while throwing 32 touchdown passes and only 10
interceptions. That's why the NFL scouting community has one
piece of advice for the team that selects the Heisman Trophy
winner high in the first round of the April draft: Be patient.

"I don't think you want to hand the ball to Carson on Day One,
the way Houston did with David Carr [this year]," says Mike
Hagen, the Falcons' national college scout. "There's going to be
a learning curve with him. But the thing I really like about him
now, other than his football skills, is his ability to persevere.
After what he's been through at USC, he's not going to be
intimidated by tough times early in his career."

Here's the book on the 6'5", 225pound Palmer, who turns 23 later
this month: good feet for a big man, average deep arm, good
accuracy, makes all the intermediate and short throws, may throw
better on the move than in the pocket, can take a pounding, plays
well in the clutch. He'll need all those attributes, and more, if
the 1-13 Bengals, who in the past decade have wasted first-round
draft picks on highly touted passers David Klingler (1992) and
Akili Smith (1999), choose him with their first pick, at No. 1 or
No. 2. --Peter King

Dispatches
Jets' Chrebet Drops the Ball

Heaven knows what wideout Wayne Chrebet was thinking when he
tried to leap over a tackler near the Chicago 15 with his Jets
down 20-13 and 1:10 left in the game. Chrebet dropped the ball
as he braced for a headfirst fall, and the Bears recovered. "It's
certainly going to stick with me for a long time, if not
forever," Chrebet said, after the 7-7 Jets suffered a severe
setback in their bid to make the playoffs.... If the Packers want
to keep wideout Terry Glenn happy, they'd be wise not to cut back
his playing time in the last two games, even if it costs them a
middle-round draft pick. One of the terms of the March trade that
brought Glenn from New England is that Green Bay will have to
give the Patriots a 2003 fourth-round pick if Glenn catches at
least 55 passes or has 770 receiving yards this season. He's
eight receptions and 56 yards short.... Browns president Carmen
Policy lit into his coaching staff and players after Cleveland
fell to 2-5 at home by blowing a 16-0 halftime lead and losing
to Indianapolis. "This team should make the playoffs," Policy
said. "We've broken our fans' hearts so often, and we turn around
and break them again." ... After his team won at Tampa in October
2001, Steelers safety Lee Flowers called the Bucs "paper
champions." The teams meet again on Monday night, and Flowers
isn't backing down. "I've never seen so many Pro Bowl players on
a team that's never won a championship," Flowers said last week.

Read Peter King's Monday Morning Quarterback every week at
cnnsi.com/football.

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER Harrison broke the record in style, hauling in nine passes for172 yards and two scores. COLOR PHOTO: PETER READ MILLER (PALMER) Among Palmer's strengths are toughness and the ability to throwon the move.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)