Although the sound of a coach’s whistle signaled the end for others, Damien Harris wasn’t done. He’d press the football tight against his body and keep pumping his arms and legs until he could go no farther on the practice field, all the way to the end zone.
This was how he both continued and concluded virtually every one of his training camp runs. It was, like the everyday sight of him toting a ball seemingly anywhere he went – including a Gillette Stadium press conference – more ritual than routine.
Which is why the irony of his final carry of the first game of Harris’s third NFL season was especially cruel. Eleven yards from a Patriots lead over Miami in the final 3 1/2 minutes, Harris took a handoff to the right and reached the Dolphins’ 9-yard line. As his 23rd attempt of the day, it put him at exactly 100 rushing yards.
But despite all those reps when he would not stop and all those times he couldn’t let go, Harris lost the ball. Miami’s Xavien Howard forced it loose, then fell on it. New England never got it back.
Soon after the final kneel down of the Dolphins’ 17-16 win, Harris stood before reporters and cameras and vowed that “one mistake” — that fumble — “won’t define me.”
Months later, sitting in a South Boston restaurant for teammate Kyle Van Noy’s YouTube series, “Elite Eatz,” Harris admitted that he “felt like the world was ending.” At the same time, Harris recalled, he drew from a saying his former college position coach and self-described father figure, Burton Burns, made a mantra for University of Alabama running backs.
“So what. Now what? Play the next play.”