DENVER — The most important play of Sunday's game came from the man in the midst of the most important week of his life.
So you'll have to forgive Shelby Harris if his game-winning interception with a minute left on the clock is his second-favorite moment from the past few days, and it's not particularly close to the first.
On Friday, he became a father.
“I’m not going to lie to you guys, [the interception is] not the biggest part of my week,” he said. “I had my baby girl on Friday. It’s a blessing, man, all this at once. I could really burst into tears, man. I’m just blessed.”
And that means the traditional celebration of his first career interception and a big win for his team is going to have to wait.
“After this, I will drink some water, maybe a Gatorade, sit in the car, drive to the hospital and sit there the rest of the night,” Harris said. “There is no celebration. I am just happy to have a healthy baby, a healthy wife and a healthy family. The people I want to celebrate with — it made me almost cry. I looked in the stands, and my wife was not there. I know she is in the hospital with our daughter, so I cannot wait to go see them.”
And he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I am truly blessed and really cannot complain,” Harris said. “I am on cloud nine.”
That much was clear in the moments after the interception, one of the biggest plays of Shelby Harris’ career.
The Steelers — trailing 24-17 with about two minutes remaining — drove to the Broncos’ 3-yard line. On first-and-goal, Chris Harris Jr. blanketed JuJu Smith-Schuster, forcing an incompletion. On second down, Steelers running back James Conner darted to his left toward the end zone, only to be forced back by Todd Davis and Shelby Harris, who burst over from the middle of the formation to make the stop.
That set up third down, where the Broncos’ newest father made the play of the game.
While still being blocked by Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey, Harris alertly jumped up, getting his hands on a pass intended for Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown.
“I’ve been telling people all year I’ve got hands, and they don’t believe me,” said Harris with a laugh. “So I had to go out there and show them a little bit.”
As he sheepishly admitted, though, he might not have gotten the opportunity to show off his hands without a little luck.
“I actually did not do what I was supposed to do, but it ended up working out pretty well,” Harris said. “During the play, honestly, I did not know what [Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger] was trying to do. It was supposed to be a run, and he decided to pull it and just throw it. Honestly, I saw it floating up there and just caught it. I [thought about] trying to return it, but no, I am a little too tired for that, so I dropped to the ground and then just laid there.”
It was a well-deserved rest for a man who has been in and out of the hospital caring for his wife and daughter while also preparing for a crucial game.
And though Harris’ interception on third-and-goal proved to be the pivotal moment in the team’s second straight win, it was hardly the only impact he had. Playing on a defensive line that rotates players often, he also added a half-sack — his first of the season — and three combined tackles, second-most among the Broncos’ defensive linemen.
For a man who was released by three different teams — and continued to work tirelessly through it all — before finding a home in Denver, it was undoubtedly a night to remember.
“I’m so proud of Shelby, man, just the way he’s worked and hasn’t complained,” Chris Harris Jr. said. “[He’s] just been making plays [on] whatever snaps he gets, no complaining. I just love his attitude man, and I’m just thankful we have guys like him who are selfless and put in the work and still go out there and make plays.
“… He’s a guy that came out of nowhere, and people cut him and cut him, and he just kept fighting, man. … Salute to Shelby, man, [for] just continuing to work.”
But if you ask Bradley Roby, perhaps there may have been a little more at work on the play than just Shelby Harris’ keen eyes, soft hands and determination. The play unfolded right in front of Roby, who was covering Brown on the play and may have been in position to bring in the interception if Harris hadn’t gotten his hands on it. From Roby’s point of view, the defensive lineman’s first career interception might have been brought on by a higher power — perhaps a divine interception.
“Just God at work,” Roby said. “I don’t think he’s supposed to do that on that play, but something told him to do it, and I think it was God. [Roethlisberger] threw it right to him. [Roethlisberger] threw it short, and [Harris] caught it. ... I was like, ‘He just had a baby. This was meant for him.’”
As most players would after their first interception, Harris made sure to keep the football. Unlike most players, though, this ball won’t be going in a trophy case. Instead, it will go somewhere that will bring more pride and joy than any on-field accomplishment could.
“I’m going to put it right next to the crib,” said Harris, his voice strung with emotion, “so she knows it’s for her.”