It isn’t a coincidence that legendary Pittsburgh middle linebacker James Farrior’s surname almost rhymes with “warrior.”
Farrior rose from relative obscurity during his five years with the New York Jets to become an integral part of Dick LeBeau’s 3-4 defense with the Steelers from 2004 to 2011.
With Farrior at inside linebacker, Pittsburgh won two Super Bowl titles between 2006 and 2009.
Surprisingly, the Steelers were the only team that was interested in him when he became a free agent in 2002.
Farrior eventually became a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Honor 18 years later.
James Farrior was right all along—he was meant to play inside linebacker wearing Steelers black and gold.
James Alfred Farrior was born in Petersburg, VA on January 6, 1975.
Farrior’s younger brother Matt suited up at linebacker for the NCAA’s Florida Gators and NFL Europe’s Frankfurt Galaxy in later years.
Farrior’s parents gave him the moniker “Potsie” because of his prominent potbelly, per Richmond Magazine’s Gage Harter.
Farrior told Jim Gehman of the New York Jets’ official website in September 2021 that he grew up following Bill Parcells’ New York Giants in the 1980s.
Farrior attended Matoaca High School in Chesterfield, VA.
He excelled at running back and played special teams for the Matoaca Warriors.
Farrior earned Richmond Times-Dispatch Co-Player of the Year honors in 1992 after racking up 1,006 yards on the ground for the Warriors.
He also had 78 tackles, 11.0 sacks, and five blocked kicks for Matoaca High that year.
James Farrior remained in-state and emerged as a top-notch linebacker with the Virginia Cavaliers in the next phase of his gridiron journey.
College Days With the Virginia Cavaliers
James Farrior attended the University of Virginia from 1993 to 1996.
Farrior knew his days at running back were numbered when he entered the collegiate ranks.
The reason: Tiki Barber.
Virginia Cavaliers head football coach George Welsh eventually made Barber his number one running back as his college football career progressed.
As for Farrior, he made the switch to linebacker—a position he’d excel at with the Pittsburgh Steelers when he played in the National Football League several years later.
Farrior wasn’t a vocal presence on the Cavaliers—he led by example.
“(Farrior) always led by example, by the way he worked and the way he played,” Virginia defensive back Anthony Poindexter told VIRGINIA Magazine’s Randy Hallman in 2011. “But if something needed to be said, he spoke out.”
Virginia averaged eight wins per year with Farrior wreaking havoc at linebacker from 1994 to 1996.
The Cavaliers won consecutive bowl games—the 1994 Independence Bowl and the 1995 Peach Bowl— in Farrior’s sophomore and junior seasons, respectively.
Farrior ended his college football career with a bang—he earned First-Team All-ACC honors following his senior campaign in 1996.
Farrior remembered New York Jets assistant Bill Belichick—who eventually helped the New England Patriots win six Super Bowl titles as their head coach in later years—showing up at the Virginia campus on Pro Day.
Belichick did some scouting for the Jets in a corner by himself. Nobody had any idea what was on his mind.
Little did James Farrior know that Bill Belichick put him on the Jets’ draft radar that day. Farrior recalled that fond memory for Gehman nearly 24 years later.
Although Farrior entered the National Football League as a New York Jets linebacker in 1997, he spent his best years with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Pro Football Career
The New York Jets made James Farrior the eighth overall selection of the 1997 NFL Draft.
According to the Jets’ official website, there wasn’t much indication that Farrior was on the Jets’ radar.
The Jets were coming off an abysmal 1-15 win-loss campaign under former head coach Rich Kotite.
It was their worst showing in their 36-year franchise history.
The Jets promptly hired former New York Giants and New England Patriots mentor Bill Parcells to become their head coach and general manager in 1997.
The Jets had the number one overall selection that year—many pundits expected them to choose Ohio State Buckeyes tackle Orlando Pace.
Parcells also had his radar on Tennessee Volunteers quarterback Peyton Manning.
However, Manning decided to stay with the Vols for his senior year in 1997.
Consequently, the Jets traded down to the then-St. Louis Rams, who nabbed Pace first overall in the draft.
In exchange, the Jets received the sixth overall pick and three more draft choices from St. Louis.
Parcells, in turn, dealt that sixth overall selection to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the eighth overall pick and a fourth-round draft choice.
The Jets promptly swooped in on Farrior, who expressed shock that Parcells and company wanted his services.
“I was totally surprised,” Farrior told NewYorkJets.com in 2021. “Going into the draft, they had the No. 1 pick and I didn’t really think I was going to go No. 1.”
Despite the Jets’ ineptitude, Farrior felt the team was in good hands with Parcells at the helm. He knew it was just a matter of time before he turned things around in the Big Apple.
— Random Jets Players (@RandomNYJets) April 20, 2019
Parcells envisioned Farrior thriving as an outside linebacker in the Jets’ 3-4 defense.
Alas, James Farrior never made strides as a reserve outside linebacker under Parcells and Al Groh from 1997 to 2000.
He had 355 combined tackles, 5.5 sacks, six forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, and three interceptions during his time with Gang Green.
Farrior admitted to the New York Post’s Mark Cannizzaro in January 2006 that he was frustrated during his first few years in New York.
He said it took some time to adjust from the collegiate ranks to playing football at the highest level in the Big Apple.
Playing in New York City also taught Farrior to deal with the harsh local media—when things went well, they had the team’s back.
On the flip side, when things started to sour for Farrior and his team, the New York media quickly turned against them, per Cimini.
When Gehman asked Farrior in 2021 if he felt he played out of position when he wore Jets green, he replied in the affirmative.
However, the experience still taught Farrior the nuances of the outside linebacker position. He felt it helped him as his NFL career progressed.
When Farrior was with the Jets, they were a far cry from the team they were under Kotite.
New York averaged ten wins per year from 1997 to 2000. Unfortunately, they never made it past the AFC Championship Game during that stretch in franchise history.
Farrior showed flashes of his true potential in his fifth year in the pro football ranks when Herm Edwards took over as Jets head coach.
A rejuvenated James Farrior racked up a career-high 145 combined tackles at the turn of the century in 2001.
The Jets’ switch to a Tampa 2 defense reinvigorated Farrior’s pro football career. Edwards told him he saw him playing the way Derrick Brooks did with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers under that particular scheme.
As a result, the Jets won ten games and ended their two-year postseason drought.
Regrettably, the Jets fell to Rich Gannon’s Oakland Raiders in the AFC Wild Card Game, 38-24.
The Jets decided to replace Farrior with former Buffalo Bills Pro Bowl linebacker Sam Cowart at season’s end.
James Farrior tested the free-agent waters following the 2001 NFL season. When he signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2002, his career took off.
Farrior eventually earned several accolades and helped the team win Super Bowl titles during his ten-year stint in Western Pennsylvania.
Richmond native James Farrior is a former NFL linebacker who played for 15 seasons! He played for the University of Virginia and then professionally with the New York Jets before retiring as a Pittsburgh Steeler! He earned two Super Bowl rings with the Steelers! pic.twitter.com/ncWOvJ771E
— Homage Hall (@homagehall757) January 11, 2022
Letting James Farrior walk away in free agency was one of the lowlights of Herm Edwards’ NFL coaching career.
Parcells admitted to Cimini in 2011 that Farrior played out of position during his five-year tenure in New York.
Parcells added that players of Farrior’s caliber find ways to play with the cards they’re dealt.
“The cream always rises,” Parcells said about Farrior in 2011. “He’s a special kid.”
Farrior also noticed that the Steelers normally didn’t take the free-agent route—they typically stuck to the players they drafted.
In that regard, Farrior felt honored to be one of the few free-agent pickups who thrived in Steelers black and gold for a number of years, per the New York Post.
Farrior revealed to Pittsburgh sportscaster Stan Savran (via Steelers Depot’s Alex Kozora) in February 2021 that he signed with the Steelers because they were the only team that was interested in him when he became a free agent in 2002.
Farrior’s agent Ralph Cindrich vouched for his client’s signing with Pittsburgh—he spoke highly of the Rooney family’s loyalty.
“If you do well by them, they will treat you right,” Farrior told Savran in 2021. “Everything he said came true.”
One of the reasons behind Farrior’s success in Pittsburgh was his switching to the inside linebacker position in defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau’s blitzing 3-4 scheme.
“I felt like I was born to be an inside linebacker in Pittsburgh,” Farrior told ESPN’s Rich Cimini in February 2011. “I really don’t think about anything else.”
Pittsburgh averaged 11 wins per season through Farrior’s first four years with the squad from 2002 to 2005.
Farrior’s 95 combined tackles, three sacks, three forced fumbles, and three fumble recoveries in 2004 made him a Pro Bowler and First-Team All-Pro selection for the first time in his 15-year pro football career.
Farrior played a crucial role in Pittsburgh’s memorable postseason run in 2005.
The Steelers squandered an 18-point lead early in their AFC Divisional Round showdown against Peyton Manning’s Indianapolis Colts on January 15, 2006.
The Colts trimmed the deficit to three points in the final moments of the game.
Steelers running back Jerome Bettis had a chance to put the Colts away after he took the handoff from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger with 1:17 left in the game.
Alas, Bettis fumbled at the Colts’ three-yard line after a hard hit from Colts linebacker Gary Brackett.
Fortunately for Pittsburgh, Roethlisberger tackled Colts defensive back, Nick Harper, at the Colts’ 42-yard line before he ran the ball back for a defensive touchdown.
After the improbable turn of events, James Farrior was the epitome of grace under pressure.
Farrior nonchalantly buckled his chin strap and asked defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau what play he wanted to run.
The Steelers held on to win 21-18 after Colts kicker Mike Vanderjagt’s potential game-tying field goal sailed wide right in the game’s final seconds.
Farrior finished the game with a team-high of 10 tackles and 2.5 sacks.
The pinnacle of Farrior’s first four years with the Steelers was beating Shaun Alexander’s Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XL in February 2006, 21-10.
James Farrior earned the first of his two career Super Bowl rings.
A year-and-a-half after Farrior earned his first Super Bowl ring, he and his brother Matt founded the James Farrior Foundation.
Farrior’s non-profit organization assists student-athletes in the Ettrick, VA; New York City, NY; and Pittsburgh, PA areas.
Farrior became the Steelers’ de facto pre-game speaker after linebacker Joey Porter left for the Miami Dolphins prior to the 2007 NFL campaign.
He told the Richmond Times-Dispatch (via VIRGINIA Magazine) four years later that his Steelers teammates anointed him because none of them wanted to take Porter’s place.
Farrior chalked up his anointing to his veteran savvy and wisdom—he had already earned his teammates’ respect at that point in his career. It was easy for them to listen to his words and follow his example.
James Farrior singled out the 2008 AFC Championship Game against the Steelers’ arch-nemesis, the Baltimore Ravens, as the game with the most electrical atmosphere he was ever part of.
More than 65,000 Terrible Towel-waving fans packed Heinz Field on a cold, 26-degree night in January 2009.
Legendary safety Troy Polamalu’s late game-clinching pick six helped seal Pittsburgh’s trip to Super Bowl XLIII, 23-14.
“It was a very exciting play, and I still haven’t been to a game or been part of an atmosphere that was that electric,” Farrior told Steelers.com (via Steelers Depot’s Josh Carney) in February 2022.
The Steelers beat Kurt Warner’s Arizona Cardinals 27-23 in Super Bowl XLIII—one of the most exciting Super Bowl games in recent memory.
….sometimes the bear gets you. I was distracted from the glare😬 pic.twitter.com/y7Bm9JjaNp
— James Farrior (@JamesFarrior) April 10, 2017
James Farrior was a Super Bowl champion for the second time in his pro football career.
Farrior also earned Second-Team All-Pro honors and his second Pro Bowl berth at season’s end.
At the height of Farrior’s success with the Steelers, he loved visiting Richmond, VA to feast on his mother’s home cooking.
He also told Richmond Magazine in 2010 that he was a regular at Kona Grill in the city’s West End.
The Steelers made their third trip to the Super Bowl in five years several months later.
This time around, they squared off against another storied franchise—Aaron Rodgers’ Green Bay Packers.
Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin acknowledged James Farrior as the team’s undisputed leader in the weeks leading up to the big game.
“I think if you polled anybody, player or coach, equipment man or receptionist, they realize he sets the tone for this outfit,” Tomlin told VIRGINIA Magazine in February 2011.
Steelers linebacker Stevenson Sylvester echoed his head coach’s sentiments—he told Hallman that Farrior was the kind of leader who exuded the vibe of a friend and coach.
Unfortunately, Farrior lost his chance at a third Super Bowl ring after the Packers beat the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV, 31-25.
Pittsburgh released Farrior in March 2012. He hung up his cleats shortly after.
James Farrior finished his memorable 15-year NFL career with 1,440 combined tackles, 35.5 sacks, 18 forced fumbles, 12 fumble recoveries, 11 interceptions, and one defensive touchdown.
Farrior told NewYorkJets.com in 2021 that he credited his longevity to his faith. Relatively good health, lack of major adjustments, and a bit of luck were key factors as well.
When Gehman asked Farrior what his proudest accomplishment in his NFL career was, he said playing for legendary coaches Bill Parcells and Bill Cowher stood out the most.
“I’m looking back at my career now and I think playing for a few head coaches, and a couple of them already in the Hall of Fame, is something that I look upon as being special,” Farrior told the Jets’ official website in 2021.
Farrior also gave props to his former Jets coaches Bill Belichick, Romeo Crennel, Al Groh, Todd Haley, and Eric Mangini.
However, he never mentioned Herm Edwards and Ted Cottrell, his first NFL defensive coordinator, per ESPN.
Farrior told Savran in 2021 that both head coaches Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin fostered a player-friendly atmosphere during his time with the Steelers from 2002 to 2011.
It was ultimately something Farrior enjoyed while he fought in the trenches for the Black and Gold for a decade.
James Farrior, his wife Iman, and their four children currently reside in Southern California.
Iman Farrior works full-time as an author, lawyer, and real estate broker. She’s also a TV business affairs executive at Creative Arts Agency (CAA) in Los Angeles.
Her husband has been more of a stay-at-home dad after his retirement from the National Football League in 2012.
“I’m a carpool dad, after-school programs, breakfast, lunch, and dinner are some of the things that I do every day,” James Farrior told NewYorkJets.com in the summer of 2021.
I’m still on a high from this past weekend’s ceremony. I’ll cherish this humbling honor forever! Thank you to the @steelers, the Rooney Family, the nominating committee, my family, friends, and supporters, and last but never least, Steelers Nation! Go, Steelers! pic.twitter.com/Ti4Sl4it45
— James Farrior (@JamesFarrior) November 18, 2021
James Farrior became a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Honor in the fall of 2020. The Virginia Sports Hall of Fame inducted him four years earlier.
NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero (via SteelersNow.com’s Alan Saunders) named Farrior one of the five most underrated linebackers in league history in the summer of 2022. The others were Larry Grantham, Carl Banks, Otis Wilson, and Mo Lewis.