The last time Bernardo Harris was in New Orleans for a post-season game, he watched his Green Bay teammates running around the Superdome with the NFL’s Lombardi Trophy after their 35-21 win over New England in Super Bowl XXXI.
“My best memories are just being there on the field at the end of the game – all the confetti coming down and the guys running the trophy all around,” Harris said.
“Then there was the plane ride home. Everyone took turns holding the trophy and having their picture taken. It was just a joyous time.”
After his time with Green Bay, Harris spent the last two seasons of his eight-year NFL career with the Baltimore Ravens.
Today the former linebacker is a guest with the Ravens’ contingent inside the Superdome for Super Bowl XLVII.
“It’s just a blessing and an honor to be here,” Harris said.
Harris flew into New Orleans on Wednesday evening and spent most of Thursday just settling in and seeing the sights. Friday, he spent a little time with the Ravens and wanted to give them a few thoughts from his experiences.
“From the time you get up in the morning to the end of the game, this is a day a player will remember for the rest of his life,” Harris said. “You better give it everything you’ve got, because these 12 hours at the stadium are 12 hours you’ll never get back.”
Harris, a Chapel Hill High School and University of North Carolina alum, played 2002 and 2003 with the Ravens on the same team with Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Terrell Suggs.
“In my first five years in the NFL, I played in three (NFC) championships and two Super Bowls with Green Bay,” Harris said. “I was blessed to be part of two classy organizations – Green Bay and Baltimore.”
Harris originally signed as a free agent out of UNC with Kansas City but quickly made his way to Green Bay in what was the best move of his life. He played 1995-2001 on Packers teams led by quarterback Brett Favre and defensive lineman Reggie White, two of the best ever in the NFL.
They had a victorious 1996 season and won the ‘97 Super Bowl, the highlight of Harris’s career, and they made it back to Super Bowl XXXII as the favorite, but lost 31-24 to Denver.
People will say just making it to the Super Bowl is a triumph. Don’t believe it, Harris said. That’s one of the things he wanted to tell the current Ravens.
“The agony of losing is stronger than the joy of winning. Much stronger,” Harris said. “Getting all the way to that game, all the work you have to put in just to get there, all the preparations just to get ready for that one game, and then losing is unbelievable.
“Losing a Super Bowl is such an intense pain it’s hard to explain it to someone who’s never experienced it.”
Like most professional athletes, Harris endured a downturn in fortunes toward the end of his career. After signing with Baltimore, he had to sit out the Ravens’ first game in Charlotte.
“Ray Lewis was the best linebacker in football, but it was tough for me to sit out that game while he played,” Harris said. “That was difficult for me, with all my family and friends there. That as the first time in my life I had been healthy and active for a game but didn’t get to play.”
But soon thereafter, Lewis was injured and Harris played 11 games as a starter. His second year, Harris was on the injured reserve list almost the entire season, and he figured it was time to call it a career.
That helped give Harris the perspective he has today.
Carpe diem, he says.
“Watching that other team take the trophy is just terrible. You never want to experience it,” he said. “I felt terrible, and I already had a ring. I couldn’t imagine what it was like for my teammates who never had won a Super Bowl.”
So, he tells the Ravens to give it everything they’ve got. It doesn’t matter that San Francisco is favored. There are no guarantees of ever getting back to this game.
Play like it’s the last time you’ll ever walk on a football field.
“There are a ton of distractions. You just have to handle them and play,” Harris said. “You’re a professional, and you need to be professional from the time you get up Sunday to the last second of the game.”