KUSA - Ryan Harris is retiring from playing football before the game could retire him.
Considering what Harris endured during his 10-year career, leaving the game on his own terms is one of the more underrated upsets of the NFL offseason.
Selected out of Notre Dame by the Denver Broncos in the third round of the 2007 draft, Harris did not make it through his rookie training camp before he had to undergo his second back surgery in 11 months. Who would have bet at that point he would have made it 10 years in the league?
In all, his body has endured three back surgeries, a surgery to essentially replace the broken bones and torn ligaments in his big right toe, a leg infection, two releases, four teams and three separate stints with the Broncos.
“It’s been a long journey,’’ Harris told 9News. “You have to overcome injuries. That’s the NFL. The injury rate is 100 percent. You have to have belief, you have to have a great surgeon, you have to have belief in yourself. You have to take the small increments, the changes in your flexibility for months. You have to take it in stride and it made me a better professional and it made me a better man.
“I have a complete appreciation for the game of football. I’ve taken so much from the game, the game has taken some from me. It’s just a great time in my life to part ways and move forward.’’
Harris, who turns 32 next week, played mostly right tackle in his career, but impressively switched to starting left tackle during the Broncos’ Super Bowl 50 run in 2015. He came on during his second season of 2008, when he played all 1,109 offensive snaps as a 16-game starter for the Broncos. He then started the first six games of 2009, when Denver started 6-0 under new head coach Josh McDaniels.
But the toe injury suffered against Baltimore in game 7 ended Harris’ season and, not so coincidentally, began a Broncos slide to 8-8.
“I was about four games away from a big bonus and you get bull-rushed by Terrell Suggs and your toe pops out,’’ Harris said. “But again, it’s football. It’s how you handle those things. Look, I’ve been very fortunate. I put myself in a great position. These struggles in overcoming these injuries, it’s made me appreciate my career all that much more. It brought me to more yoga, more meditation, really broadening a total body health program that works for me and ultimately helped me become a world champion.’’
Harris forged on. After another disc problem during training camp with Philadelphia in 2011 led to a third back surgery, Harris thought his career was finished. He even started taking Law School Admission Test classes during the season. But the Broncos brought him back for two weeks of playoff insurance at the end of that 2011 season and it gave him enough momentum to play the next two years with Gary Kubiak in Houston and the 2014 season in Kansas City.
The bumps, bruises, bandages and travel all became worth it when Harris reunited with Kubiak and the Broncos for the 2015 season. Harris started all 19 games, including three in the postseason for the Super Bowl-champ Broncos, at both right and left tackle.
Harris didn’t join the Broncos in 2015 until after starting left tackle Ryan Clady went down with a torn ACL on the first day of OTAs. Perseverance was rewarded as his season ended with a parade.
Harris then signed a two-year contract with Pittsburgh last season but after playing five games, a shin bruise swelled to the size of a baseball. An infection occurred during the draining process, leaving Harris in the hospital for two weeks and taking IV antibiotics for another four weeks.
He had one year and $1.9 million left on his contract but his retirement will spare the Steelers the expense.
Harris played 62 of his 115 NFL games, and had 50 of his 70 career starts with the Broncos. The highlight?
“Winning the Super Bowl and getting handed the (Lombardi) trophy by Peyton Manning on the stage,’’ he said. “And then celebrating with the offensive linemen, really the whole team, the group of guys we had that won the Super Bowl. Everything I had been through to everything we had accomplished was phenomenal.
“And then to get a chance to play with the Steelers, one of the NFL’s most storied franchises, and play with some of players and coaches I’ve always looked up to, was a dream come true.’’
Harris and his wife have two young children and have settled in the Denver area. He’s already begun his second career as co-host of an afternoon sports radio talk show with Nate Kreckman on 950 AM.
“The biggest thing is I’m just so happy right now,’’ Harris said. “I’m just enjoying the life that I was looking forward to. I’ve really worked hard to put my family in a good place for retirement. I’ve been planning for this since Day 1 in the NFL. I’m fortunate. Not that many guys get the chance to retire. This is that time.’’