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Home : News : Sports
9/20/2011 10:21:00 AM
Joey Harrington: A different kind of athlete
Harrington family photos
Joey Harrington tries to clear the bar at a CYO gradeschool track meet.  
Harrington family photos
Joey Harrington tries to clear the bar at a CYO gradeschool track meet.
Recovering from accident
Former University of Oregon star and NFL quarterback Joey Harrington took his share of hits on the gridiron. But this summer, a car took a shot at him and he's still recovering.

Harrington, retired and about to move into a home in Northeast Portland with his wife and 2-year-old Jack, was on a bike route he often takes, from downtown to Mount Scott and back. A motorist blinded by sun struck him from the back. The 6-foot-4 Harrington flew up the hood and then soared off to the pavement when the driver hit the brakes. He took two blows to the helmet, a piece of safety gear family members say may have saved his life.

Harrington, 32, was riding on Southeast Foster Road in a bike lane, but was hit at a place where the lane disappears. Mayor Sam Adams has expressed concern about the bicycle safety setup on that road.
Family say the recovery could take a few months.

"It will be tough," says John Harrington, Joey's father and president of Central Catholic High School. "He's used to being active."

Many friends and fans phoned from all over the nation to wish him well. Articles appeared in newspapers in the cities where he played, including Detroit and Atlanta.  

"It's been very overwhelming and heartwarming and humbling that so many people got in touch," says John Harrington.  

Joey told family he may become involved in promoting bicycle helmets, especially for youths.

Joey Harrington knows the height of athletic achievement as an all-PAC 10 Quarterback and seven-year veteran of the National Football League.  

But his path to the NFL started humbly through the Catholic Youth Organization and Camp Howard, both of which stress sportsmanship, balance and faith.  

A student at All Saints School in Portland during the 1980s and '90s, he played CYO basketball and took part in track and field. At Camp Howard, he was a multiple winner of the coveted Cougar Award, given for high character.

Harrington, 32, has always been a different kind of athlete, known for generosity and intelligence — and for playing the piano, which he has often done for Masses. Harrington is a longtime member of All Saints Parish.

One of Harrington's boyhood heroes was Joe Montana, quarterback for Notre Dame and the San Francisco 49ers.

Among others was his father John, himself a quarterback for the Ducks in the late 1960s and a man who played catch whenever his son asked. Joey's grandfather Bernie Harrington was an All-American in football at the University of Portland in the early 1940s. Also on the list of role models was his great-uncle Emmet, a longtime priest for the Archdiocese of Portland and an advocate of social justice.

Harrington learned about sports young, playing with family at Laurelhurst Park. He was also immersed in music, taking piano lessons starting at age 4, including some time with George Mitchell, Diana Ross’ keyboardist for 20 years.

Meanwhile, he watched from the sidelines as his father coached Central Catholic football. When it came time for him to start high school in 1993, the teenager had already shown himself as a smart athlete in youth leagues, including CYO. He became Central Catholic's starter as a sophomore and by 1996 was named Oregon's top quarterback in the division.

At UO, Harrington earned the top job in 2000 by staging several late game comebacks. In 2001, he had a stellar year and the Ducks beat Texas in the Holiday Bowl, with Harrington throwing for a touchdown, running for another and catching a flea-flicker pass for yet a third. In 2002, he led the Ducks close to a national championship and was nominated for the Heisman Trophy.   

He was drafted into the NFL by the Detroit Lions, but the joy was tempered by the death of his grandfather Bernie. He had seven seasons in the NFL, with some glorious moments and some disappointments.  

No matter what happened on the field with Detroit and several other teams, Harrington maintained his high character and faith and earned general respect.    

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