Joey Harrington’s quarterbacking and leadership skills made him a special player during his college days at Oregon.
He seemed destined for a great career in the NFL.
Regrettably, Harrington was just a mediocre quarterback who played for bad teams.
Worse, he didn’t improve under center during his pro career – it wasn’t rare for him to throw more picks than touchdowns in a season.
His pro stint eventually ended with a resounding thud.
While Joey Harrington’s NFL career never met expectations, he has been a tremendous asset to the community since he played his last down.
Nevertheless, he will go down in history as one of those quarterbacks with tremendous potential but somehow fizzled out in the NFL.
John Joseph “Joey” Harrington, Jr. was born to John and Valerie Harrington in Portland, OR on October 21, 1978.
He has two younger brothers, Mike and Nick. They are of Irish Catholic descent.
Joey Harrington attended Central Catholic High School in Portland.
He grew up watching Oregon Ducks and Notre Dame Fighting Irish football games.
Football ran in the Harringtons’ bloodlines.
Joey’s grandfather suited up for the Portland Pilots while his father played for the Oregon Ducks.
The third-generation Harrington would eventually follow in their footsteps.
Joey played quarterback for the Central Catholic Rams.
He racked up more than 4,200 all-purpose yards and 50 touchdowns during his high school football career.
Harrington is enshrined in the Central Catholic Rams Hall of Fame.
Aside from football, he also played basketball, tennis, golf, and baseball.
Harrington was also a whiz on the jazz piano. In fact, he was All-District Jazz Piano in 1996 and 1997.
Oregon QB Joey Harrington plays the National Anthem on piano before 2002 Nets-Blazers game (for @SwaggalikeRus): pic.twitter.com/y9G6zHu6
— SI Vault (@si_vault) February 27, 2012
He was also an achiever in the classroom.
Harrington was class president, member of the student council, recipient of the Holy Spirit Award, and member of the National Honor Society.
Once his high school days were over, Joey Harrington was about to embark on a storied college football career with the Oregon Ducks.
College Career With The Oregon Ducks
Joey Harrington majored in business administration at the University of Oregon.
He hardly saw any action during his freshman year with the Oregon Ducks in 1998.
That year, he saw action in just two games. He was fourth in the quarterback depth chart behind Akili Smith, Jason Maas, and Lacorey Collins.
The 1998 Oregon Ducks went 8-4 but lost to the Colorado Buffaloes in the then-Aloha Classic on Christmas Day, 51-43.
A season later, Harrington moved up the Ducks’ depth chart during his sophomore campaign.
He became the main backup of junior starting signal caller A.J. Feeley.
After Feeley was sidelined due to an elbow injury, Oregon head football coach Mike Bellotti turned the reins over to Harrington.
Harrington responded by throwing for 1,180 yards, 10 touchdowns, and three interceptions in eight games.
The Ducks won nine of 12 games during the 1999 NCAA season.
Oregon upset the 12th-ranked Minnesota Golden Gophers in the 1999 Sun Bowl on New Year’s Eve, 24-20.
Minnesota took a 20-17 lead after Billy Cockerham threw a seven-yard touchdown pass to Rob Johnson in the opening moments of the fourth quarter.
— 808 Sports Customz (@808Customz) March 8, 2014
However, Harrington and Co. came through in the clutch.
Harrington found wide receiver Keenan Howry for a 10-yard touchdown with 1:32 left in the game to seal the outcome.
Despite the loss, Cockerham earned MVP honors after he tied for a Sun Bowl record three touchdown passes.
Nonetheless, Joey Harrington led his team to victory in his first bowl game.
Harrington’s performance in the Sun Bowl and Feeley’s graduation solidified the former’s status as the Ducks’ starting quarterback for the 2000 NCAA season.
Harrington made the most of his opportunity.
He threw for 173 yards, four touchdowns, and zero picks in a 42-13 blowout win over the Idaho Vandals on September 16, 2000.
He replicated his four-touchdown performance and finished with 382 passing yards in a 28-17 road victory over the USC Trojans on October 14, 2000.
Two weeks later, Harrington turned in one of the best performances of his college football career.
He threw for 434 yards, six touchdowns, and no interceptions in an exciting 56-55 double-overtime road win over the Arizona State Sun Devils.
During the early goings of the contest, Harrington showed true grit and leadership.
After the Sun Devils scored to take a 14-7 lead in the first quarter, Harrington put his teammates at ease:
“Joey sat us down and said, ‘Let’s do this one play at a time, I know it’s hot and we’re tired,'” walk-on Oregon wide receiver Jason Willis told FishDuck.com in 2011.”Once we started going we knew it was going to be a shootout; we just had to re-focus.”
Harrington struggled in the early going, converting just four of 11 passes for 40 yards.
His counterpart, Sun Devils quarterback Jeff Krohn, had already passed for 178 yards and two touchdowns.
Harrington found Keenan Howry for a 26-yard touchdown in the waning moments of the first half.
A few moments later, he passed to Marshaun Tucker for a 29-yard gain which set up the latter’s five-yard touchdown catch just before halftime.
CAPTAIN COMEBACK JOEY HARRINGTON KNOWS HOW LONG TILL KICKOFF!! pic.twitter.com/bMbJSV3vRs
— GO DUCKS (0-12) T-Mitch (@tswagg821) September 1, 2021
Harrington, who had earned the nickname “Captain Comeback,” would connect with Tucker again in the latter moments of the fourth quarter.
His 31-yard pass trimmed the Arizona State lead to 49-42 after the PAT.
Several plays later, the Sun Devils opted to pass on third down instead of punting the ball.
The ploy backfired.
Ducks cornerback Steve Smith tipped the pass, giving his team time to force an extra session.
In the ensuing Ducks possession, tight end Justin Peelle caught a 59-yard pass from Harrington.
As Harrington tried to connect with Peelle on a stick route on third down, a Sun Devils safety stuffed the Ducks tight end at the one-yard line.
Arizona reclaimed possession but chose to run the ball instead of running out the clock.
Ducks linebacker Michael Callier knocked the ball loose from Sun Devils freshman running back Mike Williams.
Oregon cornerback Jermaine Hanspard recovered the loose football.
In the Ducks’ subsequent possession, Captain Comeback pulled off the impossible.
He lofted a pass toward Peelle, who caught the football with a foot inside the end zone.
The score was tied 49 apiece at the end of regulation.
Ducks running back Allan Amundson’s touchdown run would prove to be the difference in his team’s improbable double overtime win.
However, it was Joey Harrington’s six-touchdown performance which caught the eye of many football pundits.
Three weeks later, Harrington turned in a zero-touchdown, five-interception debacle in a 23-13 loss to the Ducks’ in-state rivals, the Oregon State Beavers.
Harrington finished his junior season with 2,967 yards, 22 touchdowns, and 14 interceptions.
With Captain Comeback under center, eighth-ranked Oregon won 10 of 12 games in 2000.
It was the Ducks’ first 10-win season in its football program’s 105-year history.
Joey Harrington and Oregon beat Texas in the Holiday Bowl 35-30. pic.twitter.com/vfQaCMU3SC
— Pac-12 Sports History (@sports_pac) April 10, 2020
The win total included an impressive 35-50 triumph over the 12th-ranked Texas Longhorns in the Holiday Bowl on December 29, 2000.
Harrington went 19-of-30 passing for 273 yards and one interception in the win.
He was also the first quarterback to record a touchdown reception in the Holiday Bowl.
Harrington continued playing at a high level during his senior season at Oregon.
He also continued tormenting the Arizona State Sun Devils.
This time, it wasn’t close.
Harrington threw for 319 yards, six touchdowns, and zero interceptions in the Ducks’ 42-24 rout of the visiting Sun Devils on November 3, 2001.
Harrington’s inspired play propelled Oregon to a stellar 11-1 win-loss record in the 2001 NCAA season.
It was the most number of wins in the school’s football history.
Harrington concluded his senior year with 2,764 yards, 27 touchdowns, and six interceptions.
For his on-field exploits, Joey Harrington earned 2001 Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year honors.
He also finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting in 2001.
Arguably the defining moment of Joey Harrington’s college football career was second-ranked Oregon’s emphatic 38-16 victory over the third-ranked Colorado Buffaloes in the Fiesta Bowl on January 1, 2002.
The 6’4″, 220-lb. Harrington passed for 350 yards and four touchdowns.
Oregon – 2002 Fiesta Bowl Throwback
#2 Oregon was controversially left out of the BCS National Title, placing them in the Fiesta Bowl against #3 Colorado
Joey Harrington and the Ducks dominated the Buffs 38-16. Harrington threw for 350 yards & 4 TDs
— WestCoastCFB (@WestCoastCFB) December 30, 2020
While many experts thought the Buffaloes would run over the Ducks, the latter remained unfazed.
Harrington told NBC Sports Northwest’s Dylan Mickanen in December 2020 the 2002 Fiesta Bowl was a pivotal moment in Oregon football history:
“That was the moment that we took a step forward in terms of what the country saw from Oregon’s football program.”
“We put on a show against a team that everybody in the country thought simply was going to run right through us. And they didn’t.”
“That kind of set the tone for how people viewed Oregon’s football program but also put something in the minds of a lot of high school kids across the country that said, ‘You know what, this would be a pretty good place to be.'”
Joey Harrington concluded his four-year stint at Oregon with 6,911 passing yards, 59 touchdowns, and 23 interceptions.
Harrington became such an icon during his senior year Nike put up a10-story ad featuring the Ducks’ signal caller right across Madison Square Garden in New York City.
For his part, Ducks head football coach called Harrington “probably the best leader I’ve ever coached,” per OregonEncyclopedia.org’s Kerry Eggers.
Joey Harrington is also enshrined in the Oregon Ducks Hall of Fame.
Captain Comeback was about to embark on the next phase of his journey: the National Football League.
The Detroit Lions made Joey Harrington the third overall pick of the 2002 NFL Draft.
The Lions went 2-14 in the 2001 NFL season – their worst record in 22 years.
Getting a top-notch quarterback was at the top of their list.
Harrington predicted he will enjoy a long NFL career, per ESPN’s Len Pasquarelli:
“No matter where I was picked, I feel like I am going to be pretty successful (in the NFL) over a long period of time.”
“I’m sure happy I didn’t have to wait very long to get a chance to get started. But I know that if I went (third) or even 103rd, I’m a good player.”
“And that’s what I concentrated on when everyone was talking about me slipping in the (first) round.”
When his NFL career ended seven years later, Harrington’s prediction proved to be off the mark.
According to Pasquarelli, the Buffalo Bills would’ve snagged Harrington at the fourth spot had the Lions not selected him.
When Peter King was with SI.com, he reported (via PrideOfDetroit.com’s Jeremy Reisman) then-Lions president Matt Millen called Dallas Cowboys owner, president, and GM Jerry Jones.
Millen wanted an offer for the third pick. Apparently, he didn’t want Joey Harrington in Detroit.
Jones balked at the offer.
Harrington was going to the Motor City despite Millen’s objections.
Joey Harrington, QB
Harrington was picked 3rd overall in the 2002 NFL draft by the Detroit Lions. Harrington played for only six seasons in the league, throwing for a total of 14,693 yards, 79 touchdowns and 85 picks. To his credit he did have to deal with a very mismanaged FO. pic.twitter.com/Z9KtGyFSlP
— TheBustCollector (@TheSportsBusts) April 4, 2021
Harrington took over starting quarterbacking duties from Mike McMahon in the Lions’ 49-21 loss to the Miami Dolphins in Week 1.
He showed some flashes of brilliance during his rookie season in the pro ranks.
His best game in 2002 was a 309-yard, two-touchdown performance against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 6.
For the most part, he underachieved.
Harrington finished his rookie year with 2,294 yards, 12 touchdowns, and 16 interceptions in 14 games.
The Lions weren’t any better, winning just three games in the 2002 NFL season.
Harrington’s sub-par performance continued the following season.
He passed for 2,880 yards, 17 touchdowns, and 22 interceptions in 16 games.
Under new head coach Steve Mariucci, the 5-11 Lions were just a tad better in 2003.
Detroit’s mediocrity would continue in the next two seasons.
They never won more than six games when Joey Harrington was their quarterback.
Harrington’s best season came in 2004 when he threw for 3,047 yards, 19 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions.
Regrettably, he never reached the potential the Lions thought he had when they drafted him in 2002.
Dolphins QB Joey Harrington (2006). Went 5-6 as a starter after Culpepper injury. 12 TD & 68.2 rating. Had 3 TD in Thxgiving win at Lions. pic.twitter.com/GuzI7oVMUj
— Dolphins History (@DolphinsHistory) August 21, 2017
Detroit ultimately traded Harrington to the Miami Dolphins for a sixth-round draft choice on May 12, 2006.
He passed for a total of 10,242 yards, 60 touchdowns, and 62 interceptions in four years with the Lions.
Nine years after Harrington left the Motor City, he wrote in a first-person essay on SI.com (via the Detroit Free Press‘ James Jahnke) his four years in Detroit “absolutely crushed me.”
“By the time I left, I was a shell of the player I once was,” he added.
Harrington also revealed on SI.com he worked with a sports psychologist so he could regain his confidence.
Ironically, Harrington revealed in the same essay Lions president Matt Millen – the same executive who didn’t want him in the 2002 NFL Draft – gave him plenty of moral support:
“Toward the end of my tenure in Detroit, Millen and I sat down and talked. He asked me flat out if I wanted to be there anymore. I told him I didn’t know.”
“I still talk to Matt Millen to this day. He’s a fantastic, wonderful guy. But it was time for both sides to part ways.”
Apparently, the change of scenery had no positive effect on Harrington’s game.
He wasn’t much better as a Dolphin, throwing for 2,236 yards, 12 touchdowns, and 15 interceptions in 11 games in 2006.
His best game of the year came against his former team, the Detroit Lions, on Thanksgiving Day.
Ironically, he was the only Miami offensive player the announcer introduced before kickoff.
“It was for all those people that wanted to boo me,” Harrington told The Associated Press (via ESPN).
Despite boos from the hometown fans, Harrington kept his composure.
He passed for 213 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception in the 27-10 road win.
It was the Dolphins’ fourth straight victory after winning just one of their first seven games.
Unfortunately, Miami lost four of its next five games and bowed out of postseason contention for the fifth consecutive year.
Dolphins head coach Nick Saban benched Harrington for the Dolphins’ final game – a 27-22 road loss to the Indianapolis Colts.
— Tornado's Trading Cards (@guns5831) September 27, 2017
After the Dolphins released Harrington at the end of the 2006 NFL season, he signed a two-year deal with the Atlanta Falcons on April 10, 2007.
Harrington’s relationship with then-Falcons quarterbacks coach Bill Musgrave (who is also a former Oregon Duck) was a factor in the former’s decision to sign with Atlanta, per The Associated Press (via ESPN).
Harrington replaced Matt Schaub, who was traded to the Houston Texans.
Harrington started in Atlanta’s first 12 games, passing for 2,215 yards, seven touchdowns, and eight interceptions.
The Falcons went 4-12 in 2007 and missed the postseason for the third straight year.
As for Joey Harrington, he had played his final down in the National Football League.
The Falcons signed, re-signed, and eventually released Harrington within a five-month span two months after the 2007 NFL season concluded.
Harrington went through a similar cycle with the New Orleans Saints a month later.
New Orleans signed him as an inactive third-string quarterback in October 2008.
Five months later, the Saints signed him to a one-year deal.
Unfortunately, they released him before Week 1 of the 2009 NFL season.
He has never played another down in the pro ranks since then.
Joey Harrington concluded his seven-year NFL career with 14,693 passing yards, 79 touchdowns, and 85 interceptions.
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) December 21, 2015
Harrington told StreetRoots.org in February 2010 success in the National Football League is never guaranteed:
“I went from a 10-story billboard in New York City to getting booed out of my own stadium. I went from the top of the football world to the bottom in a very short amount of time.”
“So there were a lot of things that those experiences taught me. The first of which is not to let football define who I am. I’m a person who plays football, I am not a football player. There’s a big distinction.”
“Something else I learned is that everybody needs a little help. Everybody needs a break. Everybody needs somebody in their corner. Everybody needs somebody to back them up sometimes.”
“And you can have what seems to be everything in order, and without a little help, without someone opening a door, or helping you along, things may not work. I think I learned a lot of life lessons.”
Despite Joey Harrington’s underwhelming NFL career, football opened many doors for him in the next phase of his life.
Joey Harrington married his wife Emily in March 2007.
They moved to Atlanta, GA a month later.
Harrington brought his young family to Portland in 2009, per StreetRoots.org.
Today, the couple has two children: Jack and Emmet.
Joey Harrington established the Harrington Family Foundation in 2002, his rookie year with the Detroit Lions.
He used part of his rookie signing bonus to set up the foundation.
— KGW News (@KGWNews) July 10, 2018
Harrington’s non-profit organization awards four-year college scholarships to four Oregon high school seniors every year.
The Harrington Family Foundation has raised more than $2 million for students in the state of Oregon.
Harrington told UOAlumni.com the idea is to build leaders within The Beaver State:
“The idea is to identify young leaders in-state and keep them in-state, and connect them to Oregon’s business leaders.”
“If we can keep the best and brightest, then we’ll get a leg up.”
Harrington also told StreetRoots.org his football career paved the way for his charity work in his post-football life:
“And while my NFL career didn’t necessarily turn out as storybook as my college career, I’m still able to help certain organizations in the city and the state, that other people may not be able to.”
“It’s funny to me how people respond to professional athletes in general, but the reality is it opens doors. Football has never been a destination to me. Football has been a way to open a door to something else I wanted to do.”
“By using the contacts that I’ve made through playing football, I’m able to help out the people who have helped me get to this position.”
Harrington sustained non-threatening injuries after an automobile struck him while he was riding his bike in 2011, per The Oregonian’s Aaron Fentress.
The Harrison Family Foundation eventually struck a partnership with Nutcase Helmets to raise money and give out bike helmets to kids in 2012.
Four years later, KGV-TV, an NBC affiliate in Portland, hired Harrington as a part-time reporter.
Wait a minute. Fmr Detroit QB Joey Harrington is a Fox Sports commentator! pic.twitter.com/4VLi4JkZ
— Marshall Cohen (@MarshallCohen) December 2, 2012
In November 2016, Harrington opened the Pearl Tavern, a restaurant in Portland’s Pearl District which caters to sports fans who love fine dining.
Three percent of the restaurant’s profits go to the Harrington Family Foundation, per The Associated Press (via the Statesman Journal).
Joey Harrington is also currently a FOX Sports college football analyst.