Lions' Eli Harold fights through emotion for sack in return to San Francisco

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is sacked by the Detroit Lions' Eli Harold during the first half.

Santa Clara – Eli Harold’s authenticity resonates.

It resonates during his interviews, with a media sick and tired of wading through cliches, and it resonates with his Detroit Lions teammates, who have quickly gained an appreciation for the fourth-year linebacker.

In a eerily quiet, somber locker room, following the Lions’ 30-27 loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, one of those teammates leaned over and said to another, "Man, it sucks we couldn’t get this one for Eli."

Harold came to Detroit last month after three years in San Francisco, traded in the middle of training camp when it was clear the 49ers were no longer invested in his development.

The Lions were intrigued with his potential -- the way his athleticism and length fit coach Matt Patricia's scheme -- and felt the price tag, a seventh-round pick, was too good to pass up.

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When Harold arrived in Detroit, he acknowledged the Week 2 matchup with his former team, the one that drafted him in the third-round out of Virginia in 2015, was a date he was circling. Instead of pretending it was just another day, just another game, Harold was ready to prove his former employer was wrong about him.

And in a sense, he did. Yeah, the Lions lost, but Harold had a sack, impressively slicing through the left guard and six-time Pro Bowl offensive tackle Joe Staley.

“I had a two-way go, so I could of went in or went out and it worked,” Harold said. “I practiced against Joe Staley for three years. He’s a big brother to me and I respect him. I firmly believe he’ll have a (Hall of Fame) gold jacket when it’s all said and done, but I told myself, ‘I think I can get him.’ You know what I’m saying? Thank God it worked. It was an emotional moment for me.”

It's kind of crazy to think about it, given Levi’s Stadium is in its third year of existence, but it was Harold’s first regular-season sack in the 49ers' home stadium. And as for the emotion, it was something the young linebacker acknowledges he was battling all game.

“Bro, that was one of the toughest things I ever had to do,” Harold said about playing his former team. “Coming back to a place that was home for so long building relationships with people – not only the guys in the locker room, but the training staff, the people in the PR department, it was tough.

“I held back tears pre-game,” he said. “After the game, they came out. That’s what it’s all about, man, building relationships, having fun, then one day, something like that can happen. You just have to move on and not let that define who you are or mess up what you’ve got going on. I’m blessed. I’m still living out my dream.”

Harold unfortunately got a taste of the his new franchise’s ability to lose in especially creative and painful ways. Attempting to rally from a 17-point, fourth-quarter deficit, he was on the field for Jamal Agnew’s 73-yard punt return that was called back by two flags and also safety Tracy Walker’s interception the closing minutes, which was also negated by a penalty.

But Harold knows what it's like to fight through frustration. You can argue he got a steady diet of it during his three-year stint in San Francisco. And he only knows only one way to deal with it.

“We work hard every single week, ever since I got here,” he said. “I like to say, I’m a grinder, too. We have to keep going because it’s not going to get any easier.”