NEWARK, N.J. — Percy Harvin had become the forgotten man.
That seems impossible for a dynamic wide receiver who was once one of the nation’s top prep prospects at Landstown High in Virginia Beach, Va., helped Florida win two BCS national titles in college and had 281 receptions in his first four years in the NFL.
The Seattle Seahawks traded three draft picks, including a valuable 2013 first rounder, to the Minnesota Vikings last March to bolster a pedestrian receiving corps. As an added bonus, Harvin, 25, had five kick returns for touchdowns in four NFL seasons.
And yet as his Seahawks teammates rampaged through the NFL in 2013 with a 13-3 record, all Harvin had to show for it was one catch in his only regular season game on Nov. 17 against his former team, the Vikings.
Expected to miss four months after hip surgery in July, Harvin’s year almost ended when he suffered a setback in that game against Minnesota. He later sustained a concussion in the divisional round of the playoffs against New Orleans. What should have been a dream season had turned into a nightmare. It was about all he could take.
“I’m going to be really blunt and straightforward. If it wasn’t for my teammates being there for me the way they were, I might’ve just shut it down,” Harvin said this week. “Just being discouraged. There came a point in time where the training staff didn’t know whether it was a smart idea to try to come back in the same season…A lot of frustration came with it.”
But after missing the NFC title game against San Francisco with lingering concussion symptoms, Harvin has been cleared to play in the Super Bowl on Sunday against the Denver Broncos. It is one last chance to contribute to a potential championship team.
But what version of Harvin are the Seahawks getting? Long known as one of the sport’s most explosive players, is it realistic to think he can provide what he brought to the Vikings for four seasons? Harvin refused to say he was 100 percent, only that his hip felt good enough to allow him to play a full football game and that his concussion symptoms have faded. He can’t guarantee more than that. But his teammates are just happy to have him back.
“I think the biggest thing is getting the ball in his hands,” Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson said. “Don’t force it to him, but just get the ball in his hands and just trust that he can make the plays. You know he will. He’ll be ready. He’s been itching to play all the time. Percy Harvin, you think about the past four years that he’s played, he was arguably the best player in the National Football League before he got hurt.”
If the Seahawks aren’t quite sure what to expect from Harvin, however, that leaves the Broncos in a bind, too. They have to account for his speed and the variety of ways offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell could try to get him the ball. If he does at all. Because Percy Harvin, who lasted just 19 snaps against the Saints, could simply be an exceptionally valuable decoy.
“Even though he’s going through injuries, you can’t let that fool you,” said Denver cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. “It’s hard to prepare for [Harvin] because you don’t have much film on him. You have to go back and look at what he did before.”
Added veteran Broncos corner Champ Bailey: “Not sure what to expect. One thing I do know is they will use him. He’s too good of a player for them not to.”
So Harvin has served a purpose just by being cleared to play. Denver has used valuable preparation time thinking about how Seattle might employ Harvin. It’s a small thing, but maybe it doesn’t matter if this weekend he’s not the player he was in Minnesota.
The Seahawks signed Harvin to a six-year, $67 million contract after the trade with the Vikings and gave up that first-round pick, a seventh-round selection in 2013 and next year’s third rounder. It was a steep price – and one that he could still make worth it.
“I want to hold up my end of the bargain and do the things I was brought here to do,” Harvin said. “I’m not looking to pay anything back or anything of that circumstance. I’m not. I’m looking to go out there, play a great game and try to make some plays for my teammates. Just being out there with them gives me joy.”