Born in Akron, Ohio on May 4, 1978, James Henry Harrison, Jr. is the youngest of Mildred and the late James Harrison, Sr.'s 14 children. In acknowledgment of his well-known public demeanor, he is nicknamed "Deebo" after the menacing character in the popular movie, 'Friday."
James attended Coventry High School in Akron prior to attending Kent State University, where he majored in general studies. At Kent State, he was a first-team All-Mid-American Conference selection at outside linebacker, was third in the league's Defensive Player of the Year balloting, and he led the MAC with 15.0 sacks and ranked second in the conference with 20.0 tackles for loss in 2001.
Despite his dominant college career, James Harrison's path to becoming an NFL star and a Pittsburgh Steelers legend was a rocky one. He went undrafted in the 2002 NFL Draft, but was signed by the Steelers as an undrafted rookie free agent that April. Over the next two years, he was cut four times from the Steelers' and Baltimore Ravens' practice squads and active rosters, and in 2003, played for the Rhein Fire in the NFL Europe developmental league.
After being cut the fourth time, James considered hanging up his cleats, but was given one more shot when the Steelers signed him during training camp in 2004. After playing mostly on special teams that year, he started his first game in Cleveland on November 14. He started in place of his teammate, Joey Porter, after Porter was ejected for participating in an on-field fight before the game. James recorded his first career sack in that game, bringing down Cleveland Browns QB Jeff Garcia for a three-yard loss.
James' NFL career would come full-circle in Cleveland in 2016, where he recorded his 77.5th career sack, and "Deebo" became the Steelers' All-Time Sack Leader with a takedown of Browns QB Cody Kessler for a five-yard loss. He ended the season with a total of 79.5 sacks, and also became the Steelers' leader in postseason sacks in 2016, recording his 11th postseason sack in the AFC Divisional Playoff Game vs. the Kansas City Chiefs.
His career was documented in an episode of NFL Films' "A Football Life" in 2021.
James was inducted into the Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Honor in October 2023.
In addition to his record-breaking year in 2016, James' legendary career includes a massive collection of accomplishments:
In 2017, James played in his 15th and final NFL season at age 39 with both the Steelers and the Patriots. He made an immediate impact in the Patriots' playoff run that culminated in his 4th career AFC Championship. He started in Super Bowl 52 for the Patriots in Minneapolis, MN, in what would be his final game. James announced his retirement from the NFL in April of 2018, just weeks before his 40th birthday.
Even following his football career, James has remained dedicated to maintaining his body in top form. He fully credits that commitment for allowing him to play at such a high level throughout his NFL career.
In addition to his early-morning workouts, "Deebo" employs a regular rotation of massage, chiropractic and acupuncture therapists. He also adheres to a strict diet. Taking into consideration of what he's been able to accomplish over the years, his efforts have been well-worth it.
James has developed a semi-cult following with his regular social media posts that give fans a glimpse into his intense and unparalleled workout sessions and body treatments. His posts are frequently reposted, aired and covered by media outlets around the world . He was featured in the February 2018 issue of ‘National Geographic’ magazine, in a cover article entitled “The Future of Medicine: How New Technologies and Ancient Remedies Are Transforming Health Care.”
James has many business interests outside of football , including commercial real estate development, which he has been involved in since 2009. He is owner & founder of DEEBO, LLC, which produces his official ‘DeeboGear’ workout merchandise. He offers his ‘Deebo Workouts’ app to anyone interested in following his workout & strength training routines, and he is co-owner of ‘OptimumEFX’ - sport-certified supplements that he used throughout his career.
Since he had always had interest in pursuing an acting career, James began taking acting lessons in 2019, and landed his first 'series-regular' role as the wrestler, "Apocalypse" in the Starz series, "Heels." He appeared in the 2013 season of HBO's “Hard Knocks” series, was a guest on “The Steve Harvey Show” on NBC in 2016, had a guest-starring role in an episode of “S.W.A.T.” (“The B-Team”) that aired on CBS on February 7, 2019, and was co-host of the three-part “Pro Football Arm Wrestling Championship” competition series on CBS in 2017.
His first role on the big screen was in the 2019 indie movie, “Remember Amnesia."
James has also been featured in several national advertising campaigns and was a regular sports analyst on Fox Sports shows ("First Things First;" “Undisputed with Skip & Shannon;” “The Herd with Colin Cowherd;” “Speak For Yourself” and “Lock It In”), in addition to frequent appearances on FOX NFL Sunday shows and on FS1 Digital.