|Harrison calls it a career||06.03.09 at 9:04 am ET|
After 15 seasons, two Super Bowls and a pair of Pro Bowl berths, safety Rodney Harrison retired from professional football Wednesday morning. The 36-year-old Harrison, who played the last six seasons with the Patriots, is expected to take a job as an analyst with NBC Sports.
Saying he was at a “peaceful place” in his life, Harrison talked about being able to walk away from the game while he was able to do so.
“I want to be able to walk with my kids,” said Harrison, who has suffered some serious injuries over the last four seasons. “I didn’t want to see my buddies playing golf, and I would be over there in a wheelchair or a cane.”
Harrison initially threw reporters for a loop with his opening statement.
“Today is a very exciting day for me. Contrary to what you guys have reported, I just got off the phone with Coach Belichick and I’m very excited about getting acclimated with my teammates and getting back out on the field. Knee feels great. He told me that I don’t really have to report until September 1. So I’m very excited about that.”
He waited a beat before saying, “I’m just pulling your leg.”
A 15-year veteran of the National Football League, Harrison said starting rehabbing an injured quad and received some overtures from “four or five teams” over the course of the offseason. But when he started spending more time around his family, the decision started to become clear.
“Football was no longer the priority,” he said. “Golf and family was the priority.”
Harrison was noncommittal when asked about a possible broadcasting gig — NBC Sports has a conference call set up for Wednesday afternoon, where it’s expected he’ll be announced as part of their broadcast team — saying only he wants the chance to spend more time with his family, as well as more time on the golf course.
“Right now, I’m just going to take a break and spend some time with Rodney, and just relax,” he said.
One thing you can be sure of is the fact that Harrison isn’t going to pull any Favrian tricks on the Patriots.
“It would be disrespectful for me to come back and forth and not make a decision,” he said. “I never want to be a distraction … I’m done, and I’m very much at peace with that.”
Harrison will be eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in five years, and will likely be part of a great debate. On one hand, Harrison was not well liked by many of his peers — he was voted the NFL’s Dirtiest Player on several occasions. But at the same time, his number certainly make a good case for enshrinement. A two-time Pro Bowler who was a key figure on two Super Bowl champions, he is the NFL’s all-time leader in sacks by a defensive back, having recorded 30.5 sacks in 15 seasons. In addition, he’s the only player in NFL history to record at least 30 sacks and at least 30 interceptions in his career (he has 30.5 sacks and 34 interceptions in his regular-season career).
Harrison said Wednesday morning that he’s “fine” with it either way, but says his two Super Bowl titles mean more to him than a berth in the Hall of Fame.
“The one thing no one can take away from me is my Super Bowl rings, and that means more to me than any Hall of Fame,” he said. “[The Hall of Fame] really isn’t up to me – I can’t make that decision.
“All I know is I laid every ounce of my body on that football field,” he added. “I’m fine with it either way.”
It’s been a long journey to this point for the man teammates call “Hot Rod.” Harrison started his career with the Chargers and spent the bulk of his career in San Diego, but carved out a niche for himself in his six seasons in New England as a ferocious hitter who was always going full speed. The Western Illinois product came to the Patriots after a nine-year career in San Diego, signing as a free agent with New England on March 13, 2003 after he was let go in a salary dump by the Chargers.
“It didn’t matter if it was a Friday practice or a walk-through, the guy was always full-speed and he brought that intensity and leadership to the field,” said defensive lineman Richard Seymour, who played six seasons with Harrison.
He was quickly voted a defensive captain, and in the days following the surprising September release of Lawyer Milloy, his leadership paid tremendous dividends as he worked as a mentor to a generation of young defensive backs. He eventually became an integral part of the New England defense and helped lead the Patriots to a pair of Super Bowl wins.
“He’s a great guy to have in the locker room, he always kept the mood light and a great guy to be around, and you can learn a lot from him as well,” said Seymour. “He’s a veteran that has been there, played a lot of years out in San Diego with a lot of other great players and he brought that winning attitude here.”
“He’s more than just a teammate — he’s a close friend. More like a brother than a teammate,” said safety James Sanders. “He’s a great guy, great [at the] behind-the-scenes things you guys don’t see. He helps you with life in general, not just football.”
He has been a huge part of New England’s recent success, but Harrison struggled to stay on the field the last few seasons. In 2005, he suffered a torn ACL, MCL and PCL in his left knee in a September game against Pittsburgh that sidelined him for the rest of the season. In 2006, he suffered a right shoulder injury in November that cost him six weeks, and a knee injury in the regular-season finale against the Titans that knocked him out of the playoffs.
In addition, his 2007 season was marred by a suspension for using human growth hormone, which led to a four-game ban. Last season was interrupted when he tore his right quad in Week 7 against the Broncos. He was placed on injured reserve shortly after, and did not return for the rest of the season.
However, while he was sidelined this past year Harrison engaged in more and more television work, and drew raves for his no-holds barred approach during Super Bowl week, leading many to believe he could possibly land with NBC or the NFL Network as an analyst. To that end, he has reportedly retained an agent to solicit possible job offers.
“He’s born for the camera — he speaks well, he looks [good],” Sanders said. “Sometimes he says things that people don’t want to hear but at the same time, I know you guys love interviewing him.”
“Whatever Rodney Harrison chooses to do, he’s going to do great at,” said linebacker Pierre Woods. “I miss Rodney, I wish he was here. But wherever he’s at, he’s going to do great.”
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