Former Browns running back, Jerome Harrison was a player on the rise who had already achieved great heights in his NFL career, before his life took a turn.
Hue Jackson and Kevin Mack have done an excellent job of welcoming Browns alumni back into team facilities over the past couple months.
With over 65 years of rich team history, the initial alumni outreach efforts have understandably focused on the past generations.
As Jackson and Mack open the doors for expansion era players to come by and visit, they should reach out to former Browns running back, Jerome Harrison.
Jerome Harrison: Browns Single-Game Rushing Record
Harrison was drafted in the fifth round of the 2006 NFL Draft. At a lean 5’9”, 205 pounds, the Browns looked for Harrison to serve in a complementary running back role similar to the role that Duke Johnson holds today. At Washington State, Harrison’s lateral quickness helped him run for 2,800 yards on 482 carries (5.8 yards per carry) and 25 touchdowns in two seasons.
Despite being overshadowed by Jamal Lewis and Peyton Hillis, Harrison showed some flashes of potential greatness. In starting seven of 14 games in limited playing time in 2009, he ran for 862 yards on 194 carries (4.4 yards per carry) and five touchdowns. He added 34 receptions for 220 yards (6.5 yards per reception) and two receiving touchdowns as he fought for a new contract and an opportunity to start.
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Harrison’s signature performance took place on December 20, 2009 as he stormed Arrowhead Stadium and ran for 286 yards on 34 carries (8.4 yards per carry) and three touchdowns in the Browns’ 41-34 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs. The performance broke Jim Brown’s 52-year-old record for the most single-game rushing yardage in team history, and was ten yards short of the NFL record set by Adrian Peterson in 2007.
Brown was on hand to congratulate Harrison and was not bashful in speaking positively about Harrison. As Brown told reporters: “This young man, I’ve encouraged him. I’ve been in his corner. It’s almost like my belief in him has paid off. That’s much greater than me holding onto one record or another record.”
Harrison’s final tallies in four and a half seasons in Cleveland were 302 carries for 1,401 yards (4.6 yards per carry), six rushing touchdowns, 61 receptions for 444 yards (7.3 yards per reception), and three receiving touchdowns. As a backup return man to Joshua Cribbs, he returned seven kickoffs for 87 yards (12.4 yards per kickoff return).
His career totals in six seasons were 356 carries for 1,681 yards (4.7 yards per carry), seven rushing touchdowns, 70 receptions for 490 yards (7.0 yards per reception) and three receiving touchdowns.
Overcoming Adversity: Brain Tumor, Blood Clot, and Stroke
Harrison was traded by the Browns to the Philadelphia Eagles in 2010, he was then signed by the Detroit Lions in 2011, The Lions attempted to trade Harrison back to the Eagles, but that is when his life changed forever. In October of 2011, a brain tumor was discovered during a routine trade physical. As Harrison recalled from the doctor’s evaluation, “He was amazed I was still walking and talking.”
Immediate surgery was scheduled for Harrison. Unfortunately what was expected to be a three-hour surgery to remove the tumor led to the discovery of a blood clot, which evolved into a stroke and a near death experience for Harrison.
The road to recovery was quite challenging. As his wife Michelle recalls: “He was declared a quadriplegic. He had paralyzed vocal chords. He was ‘trached’ and had a feeding tube.”
In 2012, the NFL on CBS’s Thanksgiving Day coverage included an encouraging update from Harrison and his family. Harrison had been receiving physical therapy as he worked to regain full daily functionality. The Michigan Fitness Foundation has shared an updated version of this video on YouTube, as Harrison received the Governor’s Fitness Award in 2013:
Last year, Harrison was inducted into the Washington State University’s Athletic Hall of Fame. Although he remains limited in overall physical movement, he has recovered from the brain tumor, blood clot, and stroke and is able to give his full attention and energy to his wife and children.
Welcome Back, Browns Alumni
In their long history, the Browns have had their share of interesting characters in the backfield. Some have fallen apart amidst life struggles while others have overcome great adversity.
Anytime the Browns need an example of toughness and heart, they should remember Jerome Harrison.
In facing arguably insurmountable odds, Harrison was quite the warrior on and off the field. Despite being one of the smallest players on the field, he made franchise history in rushing for more yards in a game than the legendary Jim Brown. Then, he went from being a young football player with a lot of potential to someone who might never walk again, let alone living a full adult life. Yet, Harrison just kept pushing through, and he and his family live with humility and gratitude.
Although Harrison’s contributions on the football field ended up being less than he had hoped for, his contributions off the field have been nothing less than inspiring. Standing tall after “a beautiful struggle”, Harrison should be added to the long list of Browns alumni seeking to serve as role models for the next generation of Browns players.