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Al Harris played the cornerback position with a physical, aggressive style.

Harris: 'I emptied my tank'

By JASON WILDE

GREENBAY-- In truth, Al Harris doesn't know how this works. He's not sure if he'll sign a ceremonial one-day contract and fax it back to 1265 Lombardi Avenue, or if Wednesday's nice announcement and press release from the public-relations department was it, or what.

All that mattered to the Green Bay Packers two-time Pro Bowl cornerback was that he was somehow able to say he retired as a Packer, and the organization obliged him with the opportunity. The details didn't matter as much to Harris as his feelings did.

"I'm not sure. I'm not sure," Harris said with a chuckle during a conference call with Wisconsin reporters Thursday, nearly 3 1/2 years since he played his final snap for the Packers. "It was (just) important for me to retire as a Packer.

"Just over my career I had an awesome time, but the better part of my years were in Green Bay, (so) it was just important to me to retire as a Packer. I had a great experience in Philadelphia, great experience in Tampa and everywhere else I played, but Green Bay is a special place to play football."

Harris, now an assistant coach with the Kansas City Chiefs, said he came up with the idea the day he announced his NFL retirement in December 2011, while playing for the St. Louis Rams.

He spent 14 seasons in the NFL after entering the league as a sixth-round draft pick by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers out of Texas A&M-Kingsville in 1997. Harris spent his first NFL season on the Buccaneers practice squad, then the next five years with the Philadelphia Eagles before being traded to the Packers. He arrived in Green Bayin 2003 and quickly became a fan favorite for his fierce man-to-man pass coverage and physical style of play.

He was incredibly durable during his first 10 NFL seasons, never missing a game. Then, in 2008, he suffered a ruptured spleen that was initially supposed to end his season. Instead, he missed just four games and ended up playing 12 games that year.

His final game in Green Bay came on Nov. 22, 2009, when he tore the anterior cruciate ligament, the lateral collateral ligament, the IT band, the fibular collateral ligament and the lateral hamstring in his left knee against the San Francisco49ers. He underwent reconstructive surgery by team physician Pat McKenzie eight days later, and despite a rigorous rehabilitation program that was chronicled in YouTube videos, Harris would never play for the Packers again. He began the 2010 season on the physically unable to perform list while coming back from the knee injury, but he was waived and never activated that season. The Packers went on to win Super Bowl XLV and Harris received a Super Bowl ring from the team.

After the Packers released him that year, Harris caught on with the Miami Dolphins and played three games but suffered a hamstring injury that landed him on injured reserve, from which he was later waived. He signed with the Rams before the 2011 season and appeared in nine games with five starts, including against the Packers on Oct. 16, 2011  at Lambeau Field. He finished that season with 20 tackles, seven pass breakups and a fumble recovery and by all accounts was playing well when he suffered his second torn ACL, this time in his right knee.

"I knew I was on the clock. Your body can only take so much," Harris said of his late-career injuries. "I pushed it to the limit for so long and I was so fortunate and blessed not to miss a game. I looked at it as God telling me, 'OK, it's time to turn the page.' I didn't have any problems struggling to say, 'Do I want to play?' I knew exactly what I wanted to do, and that's the path I went with."

That path has led him to coaching, which in turn has given him a greater appreciation for his defensive coordinators -- particularly Emmitt Thomas and Jim Johnson in Philadelphia and Ed Donatell, Bob Slowik, Jim Bates, Bob Sanders and Dom Capers in Green Bay -- and what he put them through.

"God bless every coordinator that ever had to deal with me," Harris said with a laugh. "Some of them I may have made their job easy, and some of them I might've made their jobs hard, just with the style of play I played with."

Harris said he first started seriously considering coaching after a conversation with former Packers cornerbacks coach Lionel Washington. After getting his son, Al Jr., ready for his high-school career -- Al Jr. is a heavily recruited high-school junior in Florida whom Harris said is getting college scholarship offers "every other day" -- the idea began to grow.

After his second ACL injury, then-Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo allowed Harris to attend defensive coaches meetings, and he interned last summer with the Miami Dolphins, coached by former Packers offensive coordinator Joe Philbin.

"Toward the end, people around me knew I wanted to coach. They knew how important coaching my son was to me, so just coaching him and loving the game, staying around the game (was important)," Harris said. "This is what I know, and this is what I have a passion for. I didn't want to wait around, I wanted to jump right into it. I thank Joe Philbin for giving me a shot to intern last year with them to really see if it was what I wanted to do. And I think he saw and everybody else saw that this is what I really wanted to do."

In Kansas City, Harris has been reunited with Andy Reid, his head coach with the Eagles who took over the Chiefs this offseason.

"I reached out to Andy, I called to congratulate him, and I kind of let him know what I was thinking," Harris said. "He let me know what he was thinking and we went from there."

Harris said he's happy to be entering this new phase of his life and has "no regrets at all" about his playing career or how it ended.

"Guys have problems when they can't face the facts. When you can't do it anymore, you can't do it anymore," Harris said. "God's been good to me. If I had to take it all over again, I'd take the same path."

Harris said he recently talked with his friend and ex-Packers teammate Charles Woodson, whom the Packers released Feb. 15. Woodson has yet to catch on with another team but intends to keep playing, and Harris said he encouraged his friend to continue.

"I was injured, so it was different for me. I wasn't going to rehab again, I wasn't going to put myself, my family through that process again," Harris said. "With Charles not being injured, and I personally still think he can do it, and with him moving to safety, I would say go for it.

"The one thing you don't want to do is you don't want to leave the game and think that you still had something left in the tank. When you've emptied your tank, you're at peace with yourself. I emptied my tank."

Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m.to 10 a.m.on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.