September 28, 2016

On Rodney Harrison, and the Big Picture

by Scott Benson, Patriots Daily Staff

Word has it that today Rodney Harrison will announce his retirement from the NFL after a stellar 15 year career in professional football.

The good news is that we’ll be able to keep in touch, as Harrison is expected to immediately catch on as a television analyst with NBC’s Sunday Night Football.

So comes to a close a grand career – the only man to ever record both 30 career sacks and 30 career interceptions – that saw three Pro Bowl nods and two unforgettable world titles as a New England Patriot.

It’s one of the oddities of life that our last discernible memory of Rodney Harrison as a Pat may be his ill-fated defense of the Eli Manning pass that somehow stuck to the side of David Tyree’s helmet in Super Bowl XLII.

I’ve thought about that play. I wouldn’t have wanted another Patriot defending that pass. If Rodney Harrison of all people couldn’t stop that completion, it wasn’t going to be stopped.

But that single play falls well short of telling the whole story; Harrison was the consummate strong safety as a Patriot. A true presence inside with his physical, often chippy play (if he had remained a Charger for the last six seasons, we would have hated him, yet we loved him because he was ours, despite his flaws. That’s a real tribute to his effectiveness as a very valuable asshole…a champion asshole), Harrison also possessed the speed and range to duplicate that presence even in the deepest recesses of the secondary. I’ll never forget the time he grabbed a Ben Roethlisberger pass and raced the length of Heinz Field for a particularly delicious touchdown (the vaunted Steelers flat quit the play once he caught the ball) in New England’s second AFC Championship win in Pittsburgh.

I’ll also never forget that picture of Harrison after his first world title as a professional, taken from the playing surface of Houston’s Reliant Stadium. He stands triumphant, his arm in a sling, as red, white and blue streamers fall from the domed ceiling after the game’s close. He’s emotional in victory, just as he was when the clock was running, and the outcome was in doubt. In many ways, that single picture sums up the whole Rodney Harrison experience, at least as it pertains to his time in New England; broken maybe, a raw, exposed nerve yes, but most definitely and defiantly unbowed.

Even the HGH suspension at season’s dawn in 07 can’t dim what Harrison, a fifth round pick in 1994, accomplished as a pro. Here’s another thing I’ve thought about – I’m done judging whether this drug or that is legal when it comes to ballgames. These guys know the risk, and we fat asses in the stands ought to know the score by now. We as a nation opted for better living through science a long time ago, and believing this segment of society indefinitely exempt simply because they’re chasing a ball across a lot is – at best – naïve. Just as naïve as believing that this is somehow effecting the outcome of the competition; let’s just say it’s still a level playing field, and call it good. I got too much to think about as it is.

Anyway, Harrison paid the price (a four-game suspension during a historic 16-0 regular season), just as he did as a player every time he took the field. From my end, this was a fundamentally decent man and professional who I’m convinced did everything in his power, day and night, to make sure he and the rest of the New England Patriots were as successful as they could possibly be.

Like a lot of Patriots fans, I unabashedly loved the guy, and I’m sad to see his time here come to an end.

Yet at the same time, I’m pleased to see someone moving on so gracefully, and laying the groundwork for the team to do the same. I happened to see videotape of Harrison’s 08 season-ending injury today, and I couldn’t help but think that an even-slightly younger and healthier Rodney might not have been as discombobulated by a scrambling Jay Cutler as the present day one was. But the even-slightly younger and healthier Rodney didn’t live here anymore. Confronting a reality like that is done better sooner rather later for everybody concerned.

Yet today is a day for reflection, not planning. And our reflection is that for the fans, and for the organization itself, Rodney Harrison was a real treat, from the first play to the last. It has been our collective privilege to bear witness to all of it.

Final thought – in the big picture, and on balance, I think history-altering free agent signings like Rodney Harrison (and Mike Vrabel and Roman Phifer and Mike Compton and Anthony Pleasant and Antowain Smith and…you get the picture) should count a lot more than second and third-tier misses like Monty F***ing Beisel and Dealtha O’Neal. On balance. In the big picture. I. Am. Just. Saying.

Yeah, it’s been a whole four seasons since you were fortunate enough to get immediate and ultimate gratification from the personnel machinations of New England’s executives. But a great many of you have taken this “drought” as an excuse to gleefully show the worst side of yourselves; the side that’s a spoiled, whiny, self-involved, pathetically typical know-it-all asshole, convinced they know better than the men who on their own turned our meager fan existence into one of arguable NFL significance.

By the way, that’s the bad kind of asshole, not the good kind. Not the good, loveable kind, like the inimitable Rodney Harrison.

Scott Benson can be reached at [email protected].

Comments

  1. Nice job, Scott.

    I think there’s a parallel between Harrison taking Lawyer Milloy’s place and Brady taking Drew Bledsoe’s place. In both instances, we as Patriot fans were fooling ourselves in our thinking of how good the previous player was. In both instances, when the new player came in something just clicked. The team’s winning percentage with Harrison vs. without him wasn’t a coincidence. He was a difference-maker.

    This isn’t to diss Milloy; he had some great moments as a Patriot. But as a player, he paled in comparison to Harrison.

    Among the biggest surprises with Harrison was his coverage ability. Broadcasters long labeled him as weak in coverage, but that just wasn’t the case. So good was Harrison that the team on occasion would have him matched up on the receiver at the line, with Ty Law back in the safety position for the passoff.

  2. Timbuk3 says:

    One of my favorite off the field moments is that blowhard Felger telling (not asking) Rodney that the bolts were going down hard in Indy in the playoffs and asking “what will it be like to face the colts again in the playoffs?” Rodney, in his humble way, says that the Pats are not guaranteed to play the colts, the chargers may win. This elicits scoffs and “pfffftt….” from Felger who responds “Done deal, no chance, c’mon…!”.

    Of course, the Chargers did win the game and then the Pats beat SD.

    Harrison was a respectful and hard hitting professional. A great representative of the team who leaves with dignity and grace. Best of luck to him.

  3. Terry Fields says:

    Scott

    I remember when he went down with the injury the last time. He said to Bruschi on the field, as he was lying there, “I’m finished.” Do you remember that? He knew in his mind that it was all over then. A great football player and wonderful personality. I really enjoyed him.

    tf

  4. BRadyMOssWELker says:

    The heart and soul of the team is now retired. Rodney was the kind of player I would want my kid to be. Make nice after game but right “imma make everyone pay” attitude. He’ll be missed in the huddle, I know that. He is ,the last of a dying breed. Good luck and be harsh on NBC! Hold nothing back

  5. Dryheave says:

    looking back to when the Pats signed Rodney….. My initial reaction was, decent veteran pickup. Maybe he’ll backup Milloy, help out in certain situations, ….ok, whatever…….WOW…… was I WAY OFF…..The guy ended being one of, if not my favorite Patriots player of all time (and I’ve been watching the Pats for almost 40 years)……Total commitment, total dedication, total effort…..Rodney was everything you look for in a player…….Thanks for the memories Rodney!

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