Harris' style opens eyes on, off field

January 03, 2001|By Mike Preston

SOMETIMES, IT'S easy to lose Corey Harris out on the football field.

Off the field, you can't miss him. His hair color changes like the leaves. One month he is bald, two months later he is back to autumn brown. Then it's Madonna blond.

Harris, the Ravens' Mr. Fix It, doesn't get the publicity of Ravens stars like Ray Lewis, Shannon Sharpe and Jonathan Ogden, but he does make statements with his play.

As the Ravens' nickel defensive back, kickoff returner and leading special teams tackler, he is the team's unsung hero. But once the stadium lights go off, the spotlight goes on Harris.

After games, it's a fashion show between Lewis and Sharpe. The best-dressed big man award goes to defensive tackle Sam Adams, but the most original, and at times shocking, belongs to Harris.

Prince (formerly known as The Artist) and Sisqo (formerly with the group Dru Hill), take notice.

"Some days I can be booted for business, the next minute I look like I'm headed for South Beach," Harris said.

Several weeks ago, Harris was wearing a light brown, all-leather, snake-print suit that included black scales. Last week, he wore a light tan vest, matching pants and burnt orange sports jacket and shoes to match his blond hair.

The hair is conditional. If Harris is bald and the Ravens win, "The Dome" remains until they lose. But last week, Harris went blond because the last time that happened, the Ravens won four straight.

If they win three more, Harris will win the Super Bowl.

"I only have a few custom-tailored things," said Harris, who once wore platinum pants with a see-through sheer shirt. "I'm a mood dresser. I'm not much for dressing in a certain way, and some people feel uncomfortable in a suit. Ray, Shannon [Sharpe] and Sam, they are more conventional dressers. Me, I set the style. I'm the standard."

Harris takes some abuse for his fashion statements. There is a section in the Ravens' locker room called "The Corner" or "Jokeville," made famous by former special teams player Bennie Thompson. It's basically for the lower-salaried players.

Abuse is at a premium.

"They call me everything," said Harris, laughing. "Even my daughter [Lauren, 12] thinks I'm a little crazy. But that's OK. They will only get on me so much because they know I have a pretty sharp tongue with the one-liners."

Harris is not totally crazy. Actually, he is pretty smart and witty, and some of the act is contrived. After five teams and nine years in the league, he is known as a great locker room guy and unselfish player.

He has played that role for the Ravens this season.

With Kim Herring questionable because of a sprained left ankle, Harris might become the team's new starting strong safety in the AFC semifinal game against the Tennessee Titans on Sunday, not to mention his other jobs on special teams.

"This year, Corey has been a leader on special teams, not only in preparation, but on the playing field," said Ozzie Newsome, Ravens vice president of player personnel. "He has kind of picked up the slack from Bennie Thompson retiring. Corey is one of those players who understands his role and he plays it very well."

Well, not all the time. Sometimes, even Harris gets confused.

He plays on all special teams and led the Ravens in special teams tackles during the regular season with 26 and was 12th on the team in tackles (in the regular defense) with 37. He was 10th in the AFC in kickoff return yardage with a 23.3 average.

Ravens coach Brian Billick is expected to evaluate Herring's status today. Harris played most of the second half last Sunday against the Broncos after Herring was injured on the second-half kickoff.

"Rod [Woodson, free safety] had to help me out," Harris said. "He had to grab me by the collar once and say, `Look, you're over here.' But I'm not to the point where I'm lost. It happens in practice more than a game.

"But me knowing Kim and him knowing how big this game is, I would be shocked if he wasn't ready to play," Harris said. "This is my third year in the system. I know all the positions, and I feel comfortable. I'm an insurance policy, so I have to be ready to play."

Regardless, Harris knows he has to have a big game Sunday. He is unique, because as part of the Ravens' nickel coverage, Harris doesn't play in the secondary, but in the box next to Lewis as virtually another linebacker. He also has responsibility for controlling two of Tennessee's biggest impact players, tight end Frank Wycheck and wide receiver/return specialist Derrick Mason.

"I call him Mr. Mason, because he has earned that type of respect," Harris said of Mason, one of the game's most feared punt returners. "Wycheck is a great player, one of the most well-rounded tight ends in the game.

"He is one of those guys who seems to be around the ball all the time. He made a couple of catches against us last time where he snatched the ball with one hand and you're wondering how he did that. It will be a challenge this week."

Harris would prefer to start full time, but that's secondary. He would prefer to make more money, too, but that's No. 2 as well. The top goal is winning a Super Bowl, regardless of whether anyone notices his contributions.

"No one should be satisfied with not being a starter," Harris said. "But at times like this, in crucial situations where the team needs you, I'm comfortable with that. I don't like sitting down the whole game or just playing on special teams, but if the team needs you to come out and play in the last series to win the game, I'm for that. I don't need the pat on the back. I'm not here for the money; this is all about the ring."

A ring that would match any suit or hair dye that Harris could buy.

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