by Scott Benson, Patriots Daily Staff
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.