Walter Jones was named a finalist for the NFL Hall of Fame today. This was a player that was so thoroughly dominant on the field that few doubt his qualifications a player deserving of being inducted the first year he is eligible. Part of his legend was born off the field, and before any games were played. Jones would famously miss as much training camp as possible after the team placed the franchise tag on him, and return just before the season. Most players need camp to get in shape and regain their rhythm. Jones was not most players. Defenders flailed hopelessly against Jones no matter their preparation or his. Seahawks fans are hoping Percy Harvin has a little bit of Jones in his make-up after hearing he will return to the lineup after missing nearly all of the past 23 games due to various injuries. Simply stepping on the field may be a moment never before witnessed in the NFL.
Ray Lewis made deer antler spray famous last season while returning from a torn triceps suffered in week six of the season to play in the Ravens Super Bowl run. His teammate, Terrell Suggs, ruptured his Achilles tendon in the off-season and made a miraculous comeback just five months later to play in eight regular season games and all four playoff games. Both these players did something amazing, and returned to help make their team stronger for the stretch run. Neither did what Harvin is aiming to do.
There is no comprehensive and efficient way to search the annals of NFL injury history, but it is hard to imagine a player who was coming off an injury has ever been acquired during the off-season, proceeded to sustain another injury that caused them to miss all but a few snaps of a single game, and then play their first full game for the new team in the playoffs. If there has been a situation like that, I'd bet it was not a player of Harvin's caliber, who warranted MVP consideration the year prior. These are uncharted waters.
Terrell Owens broke his leg and torn a ligament in his right ankle in his first season with the Eagles just seven weeks before the Super Bowl XXXIX. He shocked the medical community by making it back for the big game, and nearly helped the Eagles to victory. If he had, perhaps Tim Ruskell would not have been suckered into trading for what became Super Bowl MVP Deion Branch, but I digress. Owens comeback was remarkable, but he had played 14 games for the Eagles that season, piling up 1,200 yard receiving and 14 touchdowns.
Harvin has one catch and one kick return. Owens almost had more touchdowns that season than Harvin does snaps in Seattle. This is history in the making.
It is, though, more than a circumstantial oddity. No team--not even the Seahawks--know what to expect from Harvin in a Seahawks uniform. He may be the biggest acquisition in the history of the NFL, the biggest bust, or anywhere in between. Seattle may use him on deep patterns. They may exclusively use him on wide receiver screens and crossing routes. They may line him up in the back-field. Sure, the few snaps he got in the game against Minnesota offers some clues, but that was clearly a game where he was being held back. Pete Carroll, Harvin and teammates insist that will not be the case on Saturday.
That cannot be fun for Rob Ryan. Michael Crabtree made it back from an Achilles tendon injury of his own, and has made the 49ers a much better offense. There was already film on him in that offense. Opponents may not be happy to see him back, but they know what to expect from him. Ryan may want to pull up some 2009 tape of Harvin in Minnesota as a rookie running Darrell Bevell's system. Then again, he may not. Harvin was used in a variety of ways while collecting six touchdowns through the air and two touchdowns on kickoff returns.
Putting their best corner, Keenan Lewis, on Harvin will mean Doug Baldwin and Golden Tate will be covered by someone else. Putting Lewis on Tate, means Harvin will be matched up against a nickel corner for a team that is already missing two corners. Keep in mind, Tate led all receivers in the NFL in yards after catch at 7.9 (min 15 receptions). Harvin led all receivers in that stat last year at 8.7. Good luck with that.
Just weeks ago, it would have been foolish to consider the Harvin trade successful to that point. There is now real opportunity for him to help the team accomplish their ultimate goal. Stories like that are why we watch this game.