Harrington says he can take a hit

Young quarterback tries to stay positive despite uneven year

ALLEN PARK, Mich. Ñ Joey Harrington never promised his shtick would work in the NFL. You know, the shtick that includes the boyish enthusiasm, the fearless leadership and the skills that made him an Oregon legend and NFL first-round draft pick.

But it was him. Well, sort of him, as he acknowledges wanting to copy the formula for success used by Green Bay's Brett Favre Ñ an enthusiastic boy in pads, a fearless competitor, a legend and NFL star. This week, Harrington is playing his Favre card again.

'Oh, I'm looking forward to this game,' Harrington tells Detroit columnist Mitch Albom, as his Detroit Lions prepare to play Tampa Bay on Sunday at Ford Field. 'I want to get ear-holed by Warren Sapp. I want to see what it feels like.

'I want to earn Sapp's respect É I want Tampa Bay to stand across the line from me and say, 'This is a guy who's going to play until he's dead.' '

Before a worried Valerie Harrington calls her son or a nervous agent David Dunn gets on the line with his multimillion-dollar client, let it be known that the Detroit rookie quarterback clarified himself:

'Warren Sapp once said that 'Brett Favre earned my respect because I kept hitting him, and he kept getting up.' These are guys that I've grown up watching Ñ (Tampa Bay's) Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, Hardy Nickerson Ñ and guys I've been playing against all year I've been watching for years on Sundays.

'I just want to earn their respect. I'm going to get hit, but I'm going to get up, too.'

No, there hasn't been any 'I've fallen and I can't get up' from Harrington this year. Despite leading a dismally undermanned and poorly managed team, Harrington has kept his head up, taken the shots, dismissed the boos and still stands with his chin up heading into Sunday's game against the mighty Buccaneers.

Opposing defenses have duped him into bad interceptions Ñ some in the end zone, others resulting in touchdowns Ñ and forced him to rush his throws, for which his stats have suffered.

He has completed 50 percent of his passes for 2,294 yards, 12 TDs and 16 interceptions.

'It's not second nature,' he says of playing quarterback in the NFL.

The Lions (3-10) find ways to lose. If Harrington isn't throwing interceptions, James Stewart isn't running effectively, the defense isn't defending at crunch time and coach Marty Mornhinweg isn't coaching, especially when he defers the ball in overtime (as he did against Chicago).

The winds have been blowing in Detroit, and both Mornhinweg and General Manager Matt Millen may get blown right out of the Motor City, leaving Harrington and the workable Lion players wobbling.

What are you playing for, Joey?

'Pride. Like I said last week, we're not going to give up,' Harrington says. 'This team showed its character last week by fighting on the road in overtime.'

The only thing is, Detroit led Arizona in the second half and lost in overtime 23-20. The Cardinals ended a six-game losing streak. Two weeks before, in the infamous overtime game where Mornhinweg deferred after winning the coin toss, Chicago ended an eight-game losing slide.

But there are positives surrounding the Lions' prized rookie. Harrington has been sacked the fewest times of any quarterback in the NFL (seven), compared with the 68 sacks of Houston rookie David Carr. It's a stat analysis taking up two pages in the Detroit media booklet, and a point arguable because Harrington may avoid sacks but sometimes makes poor throws doing it.

Harrington already has established Detroit rookie quarterback records for passing yards in a season and game (303 versus Minnesota), and season touchdown passes, pass attempts and pass completions. Harrington has the top five rookie pass-attempt marks in games at 44, 44, 42, 41 and 40.

Harrington says his goal will be to finish with more touchdown passes than interceptions. Check out these rookie touchdown-to-interception ratios: John Elway, 7 TDs to 14 interceptions; Terry Bradshaw, 6 to 24; Phil Simms, 13 to 14; and Troy Aikman, 9 to 18.

Knowing that 'makes me feel better, honestly,' Harrington told reporters last week. 'It helps keeping my frame of mind, keeping focused, keeping positive.

'I'm also realistic in knowing there are going to be some bad times no matter how old you are, no matter how long you've been playing. Brett Favre threw seven interceptions in two weeks (recently). Those things happen, but I'd like to think I've seen my share of tough times.'

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