FOXBORO – The lasting image of Rodney Harrison from Super Bowl 38 is that of him standing on the field in Houston, left fist raised, right arm in a sling, confetti raining down on him. It’s hard to find a picture that defines him better.
But for me, a more indelible and accurate version of Harrison came in the Patriots locker room after the game. Despite the broken arm, Harrison was there as we scurried around gathering quotes, defiantly saying to nobody in particular, “You guys didn’t believe in us. Nobody believed in us.”
Just talking to the backs of reporters heads – plenty of whom he’d probably never seen, never mind read – until a crowd formed and he could preach and proselytize about the indignities visited on himself and his teammates.
Rodney Harrison will never run out of dragons to slay.
Monday afternoon, he will be inducted into the Patriots Hall of Fame and you can guaran-damn-tee that his speech will be heavy on calling attention to slights from the past, present and future, real or imagined. It won’t matter if they were slights he perceived to be directed at him, his teammates, Bill Belichick or people in New England.
He will tilt that chiseled chin up and – with words, tone and posture – he’ll challenge anyone to step forward and even dare to make a case that proves him wrong. Nobody will.
When Bill Belichick embraced Harrison after the 2003 AFCCG win over the Colts and said, “I sure am glad we got you,” he might have been referring to that season and that game. But the case can be made that – without Harrison’s addition – the Patriots may never have gotten the wholesale infusion of indignation that served as fuel for the entire franchise.
A lot of the key players on the team Harrison joined HAD proved something. Willie McGinest, Ty Law, Lawyer Milloy, Tedy Bruschi and Ted Johnson had been to two Super Bowls and won one. I’m not saying complacency set in after 2001 but the general tenor wasn’t nearly as urgent and 2002 was smudged with instances of it. The team went 9-7 and missed the playoffs, the only time in Tom Brady’s career he started more than one game and didn’t go to the postseason.
Harrison walked in and was the second coming of William Wallace in about a month’s time. They say nobody’s more passionate than the newly converted?
That was Harrison. If you asked me which Patriots alumni would be the first to get the logo tattooed across their back, I’d put Harrison and Bruschi at the front of the line.
Harrison was asked Friday what it means to be inducted.
“For me, it’s about pride,” he said. “Any time you get a chance to wear this Patriots jersey, it’s about pride. It’s about being unselfish, being a team and not making it about yourself.”
And what are the Patriots about, in his opinion?
“Sacrifice. Discipline. Team. Unselfishness. Coach Belichick taking a chance, giving me an opportunity,” he said. “Everyone turned their back on me (after playing injured for the Chargers in 2001) and listened to the narrative. Coach Belichick didn’t, that’s what makes him so special. He didn’t give a damn about the narrative. He said, ‘Rodney, I know you can play. We need you here to be a leader.’ ”
Armed with that message, Harrison basically became Belichick’s muscle.
Over time, Harrison aligned with his teammates when they bumped up against the boss in contract squabbles and there were times when he wasn’t delighted with his deal. But that never impacted his workmanship because he wasn’t about to give anyone ammo to say, “Rodney Harrison is slipping…”
And doesn’t that extend to now? Especially with Brady. Drinking his body weight in water every day and running around his backyard in helmet and shoulder pads like a kook, they don’t pay him for that. He does that because he never wants anyone to be right when they say he’s slipping.
“Once you lose that chip, you’ve lost,” Harrison claimed. “You’re done. That’s why Tom continues to go strong. He has a lot of pride. He doesn’t see himself as a Hall of Famer, as the GOAT. He sees himself as a sixth-rounder and that’s the edge that you need. Tom, he’s great but he continues to work and continues to sacrifice.”
The Patriots are one of the rarest things in American professional sports. They are a capital P Program. Same head coach, same quarterback, not to mention ownership, executives and assistants in place for 20 years a player can leave and come back a decade later and feel like he never left.
They’ve been at it so long, they are defending Super Bowl champions while simultaneously reaping the benefits of what they sowed beginning when Al Gore and George W. Bush were running for president. Harrison goes into the Patriots Hall on Monday. Ty Law goes into Canton this weekend.
By comparison, think how fleeting Lombardi’s Packers were or the Montana-Walsh 49ers. Not even a decade. The ballyhooed Dolphins dominance in the 70s? Three seasons.
It is because the culture has endured.
“Every year, I look at these guys, I look at Brady, I look at (Julian) Edelman, the way they prepare, the way they work, the sense of urgency, what it means to them … it’s just special,” said Harrison. “I told the fans (Thursday) night, I was doing an event, and I told them, ‘You guys need to appreciate what you’re seeing because you will never see it again in the National Football League. You’ll never see this level of greatness. You’ll never see another Coach Belichick, There’s no such thing as another Coach Belichick. He’s the greatest, point blank, period and he’s still out there, bringing the same passion.
“For guys like me that have been retired over a decade, you’re proud,” he said. “It’s truly us against the world. When you’re the best, people hate you. They respect you but they don’t like you. And the key (word) in that? It’s always gonna be ‘us.’ Always.”
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