OAKLAND -- Anyone who knows Erik Harris' story, knows he fits perfectly with this resilient Raiders team.
Undrafted out of Division II California University of Pennsylvania, Harris worked at a potato chip factory and for UPS while figuring out his football career. He eventually caught on in the CFL, playing three years with the Hamilton Tiger Cats before getting a shot in the NFL with the Saints in 2016.
After playing mostly special teams for the Raiders in 2017, Harris was supposed to be a depth piece for head coach Jon Gruden's young secondary. But after rookie safety Johnathan Abram tore his rotator cuff in Week 1, Harris was thrust into duty.
Like most of the Raiders defense, Harris has mixed good performances with bad ones so far this season. But Thursday night was one the safety will remember for the rest of his life.
On Thursday night, the Raiders welcomed the rival Chargers to the Coliseum for the final time. At 4-5, the Chargers were looking to ride the momentum of their Week 9 win over the Packers to finally get back to .500 and resurrect their season after a 2-5 start.
On the first possession of the game, the Chargers marched down the field but quarterback Philip Rivers sailed a ball over the head of Keenan Allen and right into the arm of Harris, who took it back 59 yards to the Chargers' 31-yard line.
The Raiders offense settled for a field goal and the Chargers were right back on the move, getting to midfield on three plays. But on first-and-10 from their own 46, Rivers threw a pass intended for tight end Hunter Henry. The star tight end fell down and the ball fluttered right to Harris, who picked it off and took it back 56 yards for a touchdown, sending the Coliseum into a frenzy.
"I was really just doing my job," Harris said of the pick-six after the Raiders' thrilling 26-24 win. "I was messing around with Phil a little bit, showing him one thing and then came back down. Just kind of read off him and was where I'm supposed to be. The first pick he put a little too much air into it and kind of gifted it into my lap. I like gifts."
In a primetime game against a division rival, the 10 points the Raiders got off Harris' interception injected some swagger into a defense down to just seven healthy defensive linemen.
"It gave us a lot of momentum, a lot of energy," linebacker Tahir Whitehead said of Harris' picks. "But going against a quarterback like Philip you see, even down to the wire, they were still in it. So you know, at the end of the day, that can give you energy but you got to keep playing because you know he's going to keep going out there, keep slinging it the exact way he did."
Sure enough, there was no quit in the Chargers who took a 24-20 lead with 4:02 to play. The Raiders' offense answered with a long drive that was capped by a Josh Jacobs 18-yard touchdown run to put them up 26-24 with a minute to go.
The Raiders defense, which came up with a game-winning stop in Week 9 against the Lions, had to play the role of hero again. They did just that as safety Karl Joseph picked off Rivers with 20 seconds to go to seal the win.
"It feels great to be in that moment," Harris said of the defense getting the game-winning stop. "People will say it's pressure, but it's really not pressure when you are prepared. Just to get off the field and hear the crowd go crazy when that ball hits the field, it's pretty surreal."
Despite the injuries, five-game road trip and early-season drama, the Raiders find themselves at 5-4 and firmly in the AFC playoff hunt, with a new hero emerging every week.
In the final night game at the Coliseum, Harris picked off Rivers twice and had a third interception in the end zone nullified when defensive end Maxx Crosby was flagged for lining up in the neutral zone. He had 115 return yards and a touchdown that gave the Raiders some early-game juice to steady to the ship in the biggest game of their season.
"It was pretty exciting and a special moment for this team, special moment for my teammates," Harris said. "It's a credit to them for just putting me in a position and trusting those guys."
A team win it was, but Harris was the man of the hour.