I wrote the below article after the Patriots won their second Super Bowl in Houston. In light of what has happened recently with Mr. Harrison, I felt it was only appropriate to re-run this article. Rodney will be missed. Although I wish him a speedy recovery, my gut tells me this just may mean the end of his career. I feel like Rodney has been with us for his entire career and that says a lot. His determination and pure love for football is something unrivaled in professional sports. Rodney loved what he did and gave it 110% every single down. For that, he will be missed. He is truly a hero we can all look up to. We'll miss you #37!
*Just a side note, I find the ending of this column a bit ironic. See for yourself. I never thought it'd be this soon.
I remember where I was when I first heard the news. I was driving on the Mass turnpike towards Springfield listening to WEEI for some commentary on newly acquired linebacker Roosevelt Colvin. Clearly, this move was huge. It was probably the biggest move in Patriots free agency history since we signed QB John Friez (just kidding). But I think you get the idea on how big this was. If that wasn't big enough, a few minutes later on the WEEI Sports Flash, it was reported we just inked San Diego S Rodney Harrison to a multi-year deal. Alright, Roosevelt was huge, but now TWO quality free-agents? You had to be kidding me. Was Mark Cuban running things down there in Foxboro? The thing I wondered was is Rodney still a quality player or another Marion Butts? Butts, for those of you who don't know, was a HB signed by the Pats in 1994 from San Diego. He was in the 1,000 Yard "Rushers Club" and was supposed to be a legitimate back. He proved to be a bust and was released at the end of the season. Would this be the case with Rodney? Critics from around the NFL and WEEI said he was past his prime and he would be used more as a situational guy here in New England, sort of like a Willie Clay. Did we really need him when we had the likes of Lawyer Milloy and promising youngster's Chris Akins and Antwan Harris ready to go?
I will admit, I was excited, but the critics got me nervous. I knew he was "Head-Hunter Harrison", the guy who accumulated more fines than any other player in the league for hitting....really really hard. He was like a Bryan Cox to me. Every team has one, the loud-mouthed cocky guy who plays for the opposing team who you would swear to hate until you died. Of course that view changes when that guy is playing in your teams colors. I decided I wouldn't let the critics get me down. I mean, come on, who would ever go over the middle with two pro-bowl safeties hunting you down. Scary thought. That thought didn't last all too long however...
"Lawyer Milloy Released!" I can remember that headline as if it were yesterday. Surely, it couldn't be true, maybe a misprint or maybe some sick gag. I opened quickly to the sports page and realized it was true. An all-pro, a leader, a personal favorite of mine, Lawyer Milloy was released! So many things went on in my mind. I was mad, sad, frustrated, confused, and at loss for words. It just didn?t make any logical sense to me. Like everyone, I was quick to point the finger at the Pats front office. I always applauded and never questioned moves by Belichick, but this was just going way too far. We're we beginning to see ole' Cleveland Bill again? He was downright cold, I thought to myself. Who would be our defensive leader? What would happen to the "Lawyer and Law" tandem we we're so used to? More importantly, how would we deal with seeing this guy twice a year in a Bills uniform? The answer to these questions soon would arrive.
Patriots Safety Rodney Harrison. CLICK HERE To Purchase This Photo!
We all remember game one versus the Buffalo Bills. Our Pats looked like they never even stepped on the field before. To top it off, it seemed like our old friend Milloy seemed to fit in perfectly. The punishing blow was when Milloy put the heat on Tom Brady and sacked him. To be honest, it was sort of like watching your ex-girlfriend kissing your best friend. It hurt. At the end of the game, I shut off my TV and sat on the couch with my head in between my knees. ?How could we ever overcome this?? I thought to myself? In steps Rodney Harrison.
Drafted by San Diego in the 5th round of the 1994 draft, Rodney Harrison wasn?t expected to be a marquee name in the NFL. Out of Western Illinois, he entered the NFL Draft before his senior year. He was All-America first-team (1993), All-America second-team (1992), first-team All-Gateway Conference (1993), second-team All-Gateway Conference (1991), had a school record of 28 tackles in one game, and holds the school record for tackles by a defensive back with 345. Yet, draft-heads everywhere were writing him down as too slow, not enough potential. He showed them. In his first three years with San Diego, he made a name for himself by hitting hard and hitting a lot, compiling over 281 tackles, 5 sacks, and 12 interceptions. He is a two-time Pro Bowler (98, 01) and was named to this years All-Pro team. Not bad for a guy who is on the decline, huh?
And so it was Rodney. Programming #36 out of my head in favor for #37 was tough, but after Rodney made an impressive INT against the Giants in week 6, I was beginning to accept his role as a leader. For the rest of the season, he gave some of the most bone-jarring hits I have ever seen from a Patriots player. Rodney was all over the field, play in and play out. After the win versus Cleveland, it was evident this Patriots team was special and the defense was breathing off of the fumes of new defensive leader Rodney Harrison. He was proving the critics wrong and he was playing at the same intensity of Lawyer, if not higher. From that point on, I was convinced that Belichick did have a reason behind his move. As the final seconds ticked off the clock against the Bills in the season closer, I was over #36. Rodney showed me why a heart full of love for football will always beat a heart full of the love for money.
On to the playoffs we go with high hopes. With two big picks in two big games against two big name QB?s (McNair and Manning), Rodney won me over once again, solidifying his presence in the NFL as one of the best safeties in the league. Perhaps the most inspiring moment came minutes after the Colts came ended. In tears, Rodney approached Belichick and gave him a hug. Belichick says "Boy am I glad we got you!" Rodney replies "Thanks for believing in me, you're the only guys who gave me a shot!" To which Belichick says "We've got one more to go." "Yes, sir!" Rodney says sternly. Just seeing this animal on the field breakdown and cry and show how important this season was to him and his career was truly touching. If that wasn?t enough to convince you that this guy is a leader then let's take a look at SB XXXVIII. Harrison BREAKS his arm while making a tackle and cannot get off the field in time so he remains on the field. On the next play he covers Muhsin Muhammad and PUSHES him out of bounds with his broken arm then collapses on the sidelines writhing in pain. I don?t think I need to say anymore.
Patriots Safety Rodney Harrison Makes An Interception Against Tennessee during the playoffs. CLICK HERE To Purchase This Photo!
Would we have gone to and won the super bowl or even won those playoffs games with Milloy still on the team? No one will ever know. In fact, the Oakland Raiders were about 10 minutes to signing Rodney Harrison when Scott Pioli contacted his agent and told him not to sign until he came to see New England. "It was about 30 degrees," Harrison recalled. "I said, What am I doing here?" Well, one super bowl ring later and all the respect in the world, Rodney now knows why he is here. "Individual accolades are great. But it's nothing like winning a championship. I never thought I'd have the opportunity to be here." We're more than glad you took the opportunity Rodney.
With a newly arrived child, a metal plate in his arm as a reminder of his toughness, and now his first super bowl ring, I think it is safe to say Rodney is pretty content being here in New England. Let's just say so am I. After the Super Bowl, I opened up my bottom drawer and looked at the jerseys of Bledsoe, Martin, Glenn, and Coates that I retired forever. I placed my Milloy jersey on top of them and closed the drawer. I now sport my new #37 jersey and hopefully, this one won?t have to be put away anytime soon.
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