Each day balancing act for Harris

Ravens safety does his job while coping with wife's illness

September 16, 2001|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

The 11 hours it took Ravens safety Corey Harris to drive from his Nashville, Tenn., home to Baltimore gave him plenty of time for uninterrupted reflection.

Harris, who was forced to drive Tuesday rather than fly because of the nationwide shutdown of airports, thought about his personal life, his professional life and the world's troubles.

He had just left the side of his wife, Antoinette, and was headed back to one of the other loves in his life, football. Antoinette is recovering from August surgery to remove a cancerous tumor from her brain.

Earlier Tuesday, terrorists had carried out the most destructive attack in the history of the United States.

Instead of pulling off to the side of the road and burying his head in his hands, Harris pushed ahead, not allowing himself to be overcome by the circumstances.

"It was just time to put things in perspective," Harris said. "I can't say that things aren't heavy on my mind, but I've been blessed with a spirit that does not allow me to worry about things I don't control. In some instances, people say that is nonchalant and insensitive, but in instances like these, it's mentally strong."

So much so that Harris is able to play football through personal anguish. He is the starter at strong safety for the first time in his five seasons with the Ravens and will remain so, though the team signed former Pro Bowl player Carnell Lake that same Tuesday.

Harris said when he is on the field, he is able to focus solely on the game.

"People may look at me and be like, `Ah, he's insensitive. You're here and your wife has cancer,' " said Harris, 31. "But me and my wife talk a lot. I love football, and I love my wife. If me being there could change anything, without a doubt it would be goodbye to football. But this is something that brings her a lot of joy, too - her watching me play. That's really what it amounts to."

Harris had seven tackles and a pass defensed in the Ravens' season-opening victory over the Chicago Bears last Sunday. To his teammates, it was a solid and inspirational performance.

"It takes a hell of a man to do that," free safety Rod Woodson said. "A lot of people probably would have handled it differently. I think I would have. I don't even know if I would be playing. He's definitely dedicated to this football team. Plus, the way he played [Sunday], he played a good football game. That makes everything he's doing that much more impressive."

Harris' mind is a little more at ease knowing his wife is doing well. He said she's able to speak, but she has a long road to recovery.

"She's doing good," Harris said. "She's spiritually good. We're just waiting for a prognosis, in terms of chemotherapy. She's had a lot of prayers. It's something that we don't control. It's something that is already dealt with on a higher level. We're just trying to control the things we can and spend whatever time we do have, whether it be 50 years or five."

There had been signs that Antoinette was not well. She fainted last year during one of the Ravens' games, though she had had few health-related problems since.

But a couple of weeks into training camp, she was rushed to the hospital after suffering multiple seizures. Harris missed the Ravens' first two preseason games.

"We didn't know exactly what it was," Harris said. "It [the tumor] was on the dormant side of her brain, which is why she didn't have a whole lot of symptoms. As far as headaches every other week or something like that, that didn't happen."

In light of the events of the past week in which some NFL players spoke out vehemently against playing in the wake of the attacks, citing their focus being affected, Ravens coach Brian Billick singled out Harris as an example of how to balance the outside world with football.

"What you need to understand is this is our job," Billick said. "It doesn't feel like that to the fans in the sense that this is a game. Whether you put importance on that or not, this is our job, and how we provide for our families.

"Corey Harris is an excellent example of a young man who certainly, if given the opportunity, would prefer to spend time with his wife and help her through that difficulty. But he has a job. He has a responsibility to her and the rest of his family members to support them the way that he does. He has a responsibility to his teammates. That's a lot to balance."

Said cornerback Chris McAlister: "He's a big uplift for us. Corey's experience out there helps us, especially me being a younger guy. He helps the whole defense as far as getting it orchestrated, what coverages we're in."

Once the games are over, Harris is off to Nashville, a privilege gladly offered by the Ravens.

"As soon as games are over, my full attention is to go home," Harris said. "I have to interpret what she needs. Sometimes, she needs to be independent. Sometimes, she needs me to be there to cry with her. When I'm not doing that, I've got to get ready to play to help this team win.

"At the point that I can no longer do that, that I jeopardize either, then I'd have to let one go. I'd have to let football go. At the point when my wife needs me, and I can't be there, then that's the decision I'm going to have to make."

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