HARRINGTON TELLS WHY HE FOLLOWED THE SUN

Joey Harrington sounded like a kid who had just gotten his acceptance letter to college.

“I’m going to Miami,” he crowed.

He was speaking on a cell phone from Washington, a city he had never visited. He was doing the tourist thing, he said, standing in front of the Jefferson Memorial. It’s a place kids go on their class trips. But for Harrington, the longest tour of his life finally had concluded. He’d found a new team. He’d settled on a new city. All that remained was the legal separation from Detroit.

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t excited,” he said Wednesday. “It’s been up in the air for so long, it’s just nice to have it settled.”

So Joey will be a Dolphin. He’ll swim with the Fish. Makes as much sense as anything else in his saga. From the Lions’ top draft pick to the scapegoat for their woeful offense, Harrington’s four-year ride in Detroit was nothing if not tumultuous. He was anticipated, celebrated, denigrated and emasculated. His last season was a rockslide of starts and stops.

But in Miami, he comes in on a soft-breaking wave. He arrives not as a savior but as a soldier, ready to start if need be, but ready to back up Daunte Culpepper if that’s the case.

“I chose Miami because, No. 1, they didn’t promise me anything, and No. 2, I believe I’ll have the chance to compete. … They need somebody to fill a spot right now – with the guy they traded for injured – so it gives me a chance to earn people’s respect right away.

“I think it’s going to be a good place for me.”

I’d say he’s right.

Ready to start or be a backup

Miami, like Detroit, is a football crazy town, but without the futility. Yes, quarterbacks will be scrutinized there, same as here. But in Miami, they are not strangers to something that remains elusive in the Motor City: optimism.

They have seen good teams. They have seen playoff teams and Super Bowl teams. They expect to win even when they do not. For someone like Harrington, that positive approach is like a blood transfusion.

“The only other trip I took was to Cincinnati … but there, once Carson Palmer comes back, the job is his, as well it should be.

“In Miami, I really liked all the coaches. … I thought Nick Saban was very straightforward, which is exactly what I was looking for … and I believe he’ll play the players he thinks will help the football team.”

Any concern about being a backup?

“I did it last year,” Harrington said.

Yes, he did. He backed up Jeff Garcia until folks realized Garcia was worse. Then the coach was canned. Then the interim coach jockeyed quarterbacks. Then a new coach was hired. Then both sides soured on each other. Then two new quarterbacks were signed. Then Joey, 27, was told to find a new place of employment.

And now he has.

So what’s the final tally? Well, the Lions and Dolphins cleared their plates for quarterbacks this year. The Dolphins now have Daunte Culpepper and Joey Harrington. The Lions have Jon Kitna and Josh McCown.

You be the judge.

Taking the high road to Florida

Harrington, meanwhile, sounds like a man with a new lease on life. Yes, it’s true, he’s technically still a Lion until Matt Millen swings a deal with Miami or just cuts Joey outright – in which case he really gets nothing in return.

“I spoke to Matt,” Harrington said. “He wasn’t shocked. He’s been very supportive.”

Someday, when he’s officially gone, Harrington will say his piece on the Lions. For now, he’s taking the highest road. He’s bringing the same boyish enthusiasm to sunny Florida as he once brought to the chilly Midwest. The difference is they’re glad about it.

You know what? Good luck to him. Hoping Harrington fails only makes you small. He did nothing wrong here but try his best. We wish him well.

Maybe, by the time the Dolphins come in for the Thanksgiving game, both teams will be happy with the way it all worked out.

One guy sounds happy already.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).

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