"If y'all looking for tears," Harrison said to the handful of former Steelers teammates who attended his retirement news conference, "you ain't going to get it."
Tears would have been anything but apropos considering Harrison was one of the NFL's most feared players over the past decade -- and because he has no regrets after authoring a most unlikely success story.
Cut four times -- three by Pittsburgh -- before finally sticking in the NFL, Harrison won two Super Bowls and an NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award in nine seasons with the Steelers. His 100-yard interception return for a touchdown in the 2008 Super Bowl is on a short list of the greatest plays in the game's history, and it helped deliver the Steelers' sixth championship.
Harrison announced his retirement last Saturday via social media.
His return to Pittsburgh showed that there are no hard feelings over the five-time Pro Bowler playing his final season in Cincinnati after Harrison and the Steelers couldn't agree on a pay cut in 2013.
"It's really family here and I wanted to come back and finish it off where it started," Harrison said.
The Steelers granted Harrison's request to return to the organization and retire.
"I have been asked over the years if a player leaves the team is he able to come back and call himself a Steeler? And I think the answer to that is, 'depends,'" team president Art Rooney II said. "Certainly when you're someone like James, who helped us win more than one championship and probably had the greatest play in Super Bowl history and certainly the greatest play in Steelers Super Bowl history, I think the bond is unbreakable."
That bond is what compelled former teammates such as Troy Polamalu, Joey Porter, Brett Keisel and Ike Taylor to attend the news conference. They were no doubt too hoping Harrison would dissolve into tears like Hines Ward did at his retirement news conference in 2012.
That Harrison didn't come close to breaking down is probably one of the few times he has disappointed his former teammates.
Harrison was a driving force on the teams that won two Super Bowls and played in another one from 2005 to 2010. The former undrafted free agent replaced Porter at right outside linebacker in 2007 and helped elevate a defense that had perennially ranked among the best in the NFL.
The edge Harrison played with put him on a collision course with Roger Goodell after the NFL commissioner cracked down on helmet-to-helmet hits. Harrison was fined multiple times and even suspended for a game by Goodell, but his Steelers teammates rallied around him -- and sometimes railed against Goodell's player safety initiative.
Harrison is fourth on the Steelers' all-time sacks list with 60, and he emerged as one of the organization's most significant figures in the post-Steel Curtain era.
And yet ...
"My greatest accomplishment hasn't happened yet," said Harrison, who turned 36 in May. "I'm hoping I can raise two boys to become men."
In addition to fatherhood, Harrison will pursue a career in real estate, and he said he wants to be a "mini tycoon."
Harrison cited a desire to spend more time with his children as his reason for retiring when he initially announced his plans.
He played last season for Cincinnati but didn't prove to be a good fit on that defense. The Bengals released Harrison in March with one year left on his contract.
Reflecting on the NFL success that came despite getting cut a total of five times, Harrison said, "They said I couldn't do this, I couldn't do that. Saying what I can't do is something that motivates me."