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September 27, 2005
Harrison Shut Down Now, And Maybe Forever
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net

Maybe you recall that horrid Monday night in 1985, the night Joe Theismann’s career suddenly ended.

A November 18th clash saw the Redskins battling their division rivals from New York. In the second quarter, Theismann dropped back on a flea-flicker. The great Lawrence Taylor came barreling in on Theismann, sacked him, and then suddenly jumped up and frantically waved for the Redskin trainers to come quick. Reverse angle cameras provided the sickening sight of Theismann’s shin snapping in two under the weight of Taylor’s foot placed in just the exact wrong spot

Theismann never played another down in the NFL. The former Notre Dame quarterback who piloted the Redskins to consecutive Super Bowl appearances in 1982 and 1983, winning the first and losing the second, saw his career come to an end thanks to that Taylor sack. He went right from physical therapy to the broadcast booth.

The injury that Rodney Harrison sustained on Sunday at Pittsburgh wasn’t nearly as grisly, but it may have been just as consequential. And very costly for the Patriots.

The Patriots won’t confirm anything until Wednesday, as is their style. But a local media outlet reported that Harrison sustained a torn ACL, which will shut him down for 2005. Of greater concern is his ability to ever play again in the NFL, as the severity of the injury he sustained, combined with his age, may not allow a return at all.

On the third offensive possession for the Steelers, they had the ball on the Patriot 24, first and ten coming off a pass interference call on former Steeler Chad Scott. Willie Parker ran the ball up the middle for a nondescript two-yard gain. Harrison, playing up in the box to stop the run, moved laterally towards Parker but caught his left leg under wideout Cedrick Wilson, who was pushed to the ground right where Harrison was moving to. Harrison’s momentum caused his leg to hyperextend to the left at the knee, and he went down in a crumpled heap.

He had to be driven off the field on a cart, just as Matt Light had to be a bit later. Guss Scott came in at strong safety and held down the fort for the rest of the game, which the Patriots won 23-20.

Many observers thought that this might be it for Harrison this year. Sure enough, WBZ TV-4 quoted their Patriot sources as saying that Harrison will indeed be put on injured reserve, thereby ending his season. But reports also persist that Harrison may not only be done for the season, but maybe his career.

Reports vary on recovery time for ACL tears. Some say rehab takes as little as nine months, some say as much as twelve. But given Harrison’s age (he will turn 33 in December), a full recovery will be much harder to achieve. Theismann was 36 when he sustained his infamous broken leg. He was considered too old to recover from such an injury.

So, is this it for Harrison? First, Tedy Bruschi suffers a stroke which takes him out of the 2005 season and maybe beyond (though Bruschi vows to play in 2006). Now this. The two most emotional leaders of the defense are now scratches for this historic run at three straight Super Bowl wins. But Bruschi may still be back. Harrison might not be.

Harrison represents a certain kind of NFL player whom you love when he is on your side and probably detest if he is against you. Bryan Cox, who spent time in New England and helped the team win Super Bowl XXXVI, fits that bill perfectly. Harrison has a reputation for being a tough, hard hitter over the years and has incurred more than his share of fines. He forged that reputation during his nine-year stint in San Diego, and carried that reputation with him to New England when he came over as a free agent in 2003.

Many eyebrows were raised when Harrison was let go by the Chargers in 2003, except that they justified it as a salary cap move. The Patriots moved quickly to bring Harrison in the fold, and has two Super Bowl rings to show for his decision to come to Foxborough.

What stands out more is New England’s decision to go for him. They already had a stalwart strong safety at the time in Lawyer Milloy. But Milloy’s skills were in a slight decline, and he was demanding top dollar for his position. The signing of Harrison was still a bit puzzling when it went down, fans left wondering what the Patriots were going to do with two prime strong safeties on the roster.

Fans soon found out. The Patriots signed Harrison because they knew they were going to get rid of Milloy. He wound up getting cut just before the start of the regular season, then signed with Buffalo, wound up starting against the Patriots in the season opener, and helped beat them 31-0. But it has been all Harrison since.

Harrison became a veteran leader and an inspiration to all his teammates. He would work with young players, and would set examples for everyone on the team. He also carried his tough reputation with him to New England; in Super Bowl XXXVIII, he wound up suffering a broken arm, but had to stay in for one play. He wound up making a shoulder tackle with a broken arm before finally managing to get off to the sidelines.

Harrison’s demeanor following Super Bowl XXXVIII told you all you needed to know about the man. At the moment of victory over Carolina, Harrison, his bad arm in a sling, raised his good arm in the air, tears streaming down his face. He sobbed all during the postgame celebration, proclaiming that he had waited ten long years for this moment, and he was totally overcome. Anyone who thought Harrison was a punk had to look on in amazement at the tears Harrison was shedding.

The Patriots, who always seem to play well no matter who goes down with an injury, will be severely tested with the loss of Harrison. Scott will be the strong safety for now, and the promise he showed in training camp 2004 will be badly needed. But replacing Harrison’s leadership skills out on the field will not be easy.

This is a case of a great career being cut short prematurely, if indeed Harrison is done permanently. Whatever Harrison had yet to give for the rest of his career, it seems now that Patriot Nation will never know.

What Patriot Nation will know is that one of their very best may be done, a player who did more for his team in just two years than he may ever know or fully understand.


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