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Harrington keeps his feet on the ground

UO's golden boy awaits the NFL draft with equanimity and humor

Faced with the prospect of making $60 million on his first NFL contract and the tremendous pressure that goes with it, Joey Harrington has kept his college-boy charm and humor.

'Can't buy a golf swing,' he says. 'I have an average golf swing. I guess I'll settle for Callaway irons. Yeah, that's the first thing I'm going to do with $40 million is get a set of new golf clubs.'

Actually, Harrington says, he can't quite fathom the fact that he could sign such a humongous contract. Since his Jan. 1 starring role in the 38-16 Fiesta Bowl win over Colorado, the Portland native has gone from average pro quarterback prospect to possible first, second or third pick overall.

At worst, he will go somewhere lower in the first round, meaning his first contract could be worth only $20 million or so and his signing bonus only $4 million or so.

Part of Harrington's transition from college to professional football includes how to handle the money.

'How's that different than $1 million?' he says. 'How are you going to spend it? How much can you possibly buy? At a point, it becomes excessive.

'When we were growing up as kids, we'd always say, 'What do you need that money for?' It's weird because now I'm in that position, and I still don't know what I'd do with $50 million or $15 million. There's a point you can't spend it anymore or put it into a fund for unborn grandchildren.'

Needless to say, agent David Dunn won't be asking for less money when he sits at the bargaining table, across from an NFL owner and general manager. And, right now, the 23-year-old Harrington's stock commands such money in the NFL economy.

Harrington was forced to skip the Senior Bowl, scheduled for Saturday, and the practices leading up to the game after he suffered a strained knee in the East-West Shrine Game two weeks ago. He has been visiting family members and friends in Portland and Eugene, doing rehabilitation work with Oregon strength coach Jim Radcliffe, and working out.

He put his knee to the test in the grueling Olympic Torch Relay, and the joint held up in his two-tenths-of-a-mile jaunt.

'I'll be at full strength by next weekend,' says Harrington, who plans to attend the Super Bowl in New Orleans. 'I didn't have the mobility this week Ñ just started moving laterally. It wouldn't have been smart' to attend the Senior Bowl.

Walsh impressed

Besides, he performed well enough in Shrine Game practice to satisfy scouts, general managers and owners. San Francisco 49ers consultant Bill Walsh, who knows something about quarterbacks, raved about him. A 1-for-5 passing day in the game didn't matter. Next up is the NFL combine, the annual tryout and evaluation camp for many prospective pros, Feb. 28 to March 4 in Indianapolis.

'They've seen the results,' he says, referring to his Oregon career, in which he led the Ducks to 27 wins in 30 games. 'Now they want to see me up close.'

The areas for improvement are obvious.

'The main thing I need is foot speed,' he says, 'not quickness. I've always had quick feet, but not the flat-out speed. It doesn't really exist. I'm a 4.9 (40-yard timing) guy, and it's something I've always tried to work on. I've gone from really slow to just slow.'

As a pocket passer, he'll be judged at the combine by the strength and accuracy of his arm, release point, foot quickness and other physical traits. He says he can't wait to pit his skills against Fresno State's David Carr, another top-rated QB prospect. But he's not nervous, he says, 'because being nervous implies that you are not confident.'

Fitting in

The biggest adjustment for Harrington will be becoming professional Ñ being a high-priced rookie working with NFL veterans, some who claw and scrape their way on to the roster every year.

Harrington's father, John, says his son would play another year of college football if he was eligible.

The younger Harrington agrees. 'In a heartbeat,' he says. 'The weirdest thing is, I was introduced as the 'former' Oregon quarterback at the Shrine game. That kind of stung, to be honest. I miss it already.

'What I loved most about football is competing with your friends. It's your family. You put everything on the line on Saturdays, and you trust them Ñ they'll cover your back.'

Now? Even Harrington, the ultimate rah-rah collegian, doesn't know what to expect.

'It's a profession,' he says. 'It's something I have to feel out as I go. Dare I make this comparison, but I can take notes from (Green Bay's) Brett Favre, who plays with that energy and enthusiasm, gung-ho style. It does work, but he also has the respect of his teammates and players around the league.

'It won't happen right away for me. It's something I have to earn. Hopefully, I can use that style.'

Harrington dealt with fame all season Ñ ever since Oregon paid for a 100-foot painting of him in New York City's Times Square. He was promoted for the Heisman Trophy and eventually became one of four finalists, as well as Pacific-10 Conference player of the year.

A sign of his fame? He permanently parked his 1989 Toyota Camry, the trusty 'Rocket,' which needed transmission and clutch work and, in effect, was 'totaled without being in a wreck.' He has been seen in Eugene driving a brand new Lexus.

'A car,' he says, refusing to elaborate. 'It's white in honor of the 'Rocket.' '

One step at a time

Adjusting to fame has been a gradual process, he says. Part of the education came during the school year when his cousins, who are media consultants, taught him how to behave with the media and how to portray himself.

Now, he listens to the Los Angeles-based Dunn, who has several NFL quarterbacks in his stable. Harrington trusts Dunn like a brother and admires his low-key approach and for being a 'straight-up, genuine guy. He isn't throwing money at me. A lot of agents give out giant loans and buy stuff. Then, all of a sudden, things don't work out and your car is repossessed, and you're in debt to the bank.'

Recently, ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Ñ generally considered to be the NFL's pre-eminent media prognosticator Ñ said Harrington would be picked by the expansion Houston Texans as a franchise quarterback, after the Texans traded with Carolina, who would take North Carolina defensive end Julius Peppers with the No. 1 selection.

'Cool, but he's not picking,' Harrington says of Kiper. 'There are a group of players who could all be selected in the top 10. It all really depends on which teams needs what.'

As far as NFL courtship:

'You know what? I'm flying by the seat of my pants. I'm along for the ride, working out, rehabbing my knee, doing things I'd do no matter what and everything that goes along with it. They tell me to get on a plane, I pack my bag and get on.'

Contact Jason Vondersmith at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .