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Apologetic Harris should play vs. 49ers
By Bob LeGere | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 11/9/2009 2:15 PM | Updated: 11/9/2009 8:39 PM

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If there's an upside to Tommie Harris getting tossed just four plays into Sunday's game for punching the Cardinals' Deuce Lutui, it's that he should be the freshest player on the field Thursday night against the 49ers.

That's provided he doesn't get slapped with a league-imposed suspension on top of the obligatory fine, which is imminent.

Neither Harris nor the Bears expect a suspension, and it would be a shock if the team voluntarily sat him down after he missed essentially the entire game Sunday.

"Tommie has missed quite a bit of not helping this football team," Bears coach Lovie Smith said Monday. "We'll let the league go in and that will be the next step after we see what the league does."

Harris has missed the last two Bears losses - he was benched for the 45-10 loss to the Bengals on Oct. 25 - during which the defense allowed 86 points and 886 yards from scrimmage.

An apologetic Harris vowed Monday afternoon to make up for the indiscretion that got him ejected in Sunday's 41-21 blowout loss to the Cardinals.

"I was embarrassed for my actions," said Harris, who was penalized 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct after punching Lutui through his facemask. "I apologized to him (Sunday). I called (Cardinals wide receiver) Larry (Fitzgerald) and had a chance to apologize to him.

"I just wanted to apologize to my fans first off, and the little kids out there that saw that. I shouldn't have behaved in that manner, and I apologized to my teammates, and I'll make up for it the next time I get out there.

"I feel like I hurt my team."

Harris may have helped in both of the most recent losses, but the Bears were so badly outplayed, it's ridiculous to even consider that he might have affected the outcome.

"He certainly would have made a difference, but he wouldn't have made a 41-point difference," middle linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer said. "Tommie's a great player. When Tommie's at his best, he's one of the best players in the NFL, and I've told him that before.

"But with that potential comes a huge responsibility in terms of what he needs to be for this team, and so, obviously, when he's not out there, that hurts our football team. I hope he's back out there (Thursday), and I hope we see the Tommie that we've come to depend on over the years for the rest of the season."

That version of Harris, the one who was voted to the Pro Bowl three straight years (2005-07), has been an apparition for most of the season, although he had arguably his best game of a disappointing season on Nov. 1 against the Browns.  

A more and more common opinion is that Harris has worn out his welcome with subpar performances since he signed a four-year, $40 million contract extension on June 19, 2008.

"It's not unfair at all for people to say that," Harris said. "People are going to be people. I just have to continue to keep approaching my job on a regular basis and be a professional, and that's what I'm going to do."

According to Bears defensive lineman Israel Idonije, Harris was kneed by Lutui on the play that led to his ejection. But Harris said he still overreacted.

"He did some unnecessary stuff during the game, but I still have to be able to control myself," Harris said. "In the six years I've been here I've never done anything like that, and he kind of pushed me to my limit, and I apologize for all that."

In addition to apologizing to his teammates, Harris said he had a brief conversation with Smith.

"He just (said) that wasn't the right thing to do," Harris said. "That was it and they're going to take care of whatever they have to take care of with the league and get back to me."

Smith said he believes Harris is repentant, but that doesn't excuse his behavior.

"I knew right away Tommie was sorry for his action," Smith said. "But still, the action stood. He didn't play a football game. He didn't help the Chicago Bears (Sunday), and we just have to get past that."