Rodney Harrison, a man who made his living delivering stunning, game-changing plays, was shocked.
He couldn’t believe the fans voted him into the Patriots Hall of Fame over two longer-tenured players who both have one more championship ring than he does.
Harrison was fully expecting to hear the name of either Richard Seymour or Mike Vrabel as the 29th entrant. Only he was the championship player the fans chose, joining Leon Gray, who was elected earlier by a 10-person senior selection committee.
When the news finally sunk in, Harrison couldn’t have been any happier. The fans spoke so loudly, it sent an unmistakable message to the former safety, who had made it to the fan vote for the first time.
And this was no knock on former teammates Seymour and Vrabel, who were also worthy of entry. In Harrison’s mind, this was more a validation of what he meant to a football team during his 15 seasons, the last six playing with the Patriots.
Harrison, the only defensive back in NFL history with 30 sacks and 30 interceptions, was beginning to doubt he would ever get into any Hall of Fame, much less the Patriots.
“The fact that the fans voted me in, it means more to me, then say, the Pro Football Hall of Fame,” Harrison said on a conference call. “The fans got a chance to see me play every week. They got a chance to see the story, the injuries, the adversity and the comeback and the plays that were made . . . they’re not going by reputation or rumors or anything like that.”
That’s a powerful statement. When asked for clarification, Harrison claimed he wasn’t trying to disrespect the voters on the Pro Football Hall of Fame committee. He just believes fans who watch week to week get a better idea of a person for who they are.
“They’re not going on, ‘OK, hey man, what do you think about Rodney? He’s a dirty player,’ “ said Harrison. “They’re not going on reputation. They’re going on all the blood and everything I’ve poured my heart out on the field. And that’s what I love because I didn’t have to worry about if they would respect the way I would play or if they would listen to someone else instead of cutting on some film and watching me play. That’s why it meant so much to me, so much more to me because it’s not going on reputation. You don’t have to have a reputation, good, bad, or indifferent. The fans know that I love football, and I gave a lot for the organization, for my teammates and for the fans and for my family.”
To that end, after signing with New England in 2003, Harrison became a game-changing force for Bill Belichick, winning two Super Bowls. He was a dominant player, as the safety played a hybrid role in one of the league’s best defenses.
Harrison could eliminate tight ends, or big receivers if the need arose, or, he could set the tone with punishing hits over the middle. He added an element of toughness.
“I think Coach Belichick was the first coach to really utilize me the way I’ve always wanted to be utilized. I played some strong safety and free safety in San Diego but he gave me a chance to play linebacker, he put me at nickelback, dimeback, I played strong safety, I played free and I also played some corner,” said Harrison, now an analyst for NBC. “He got a chance and he didn’t say, ‘Hey, you run a four-five or a four-six,’ or anything like that. ‘We’re not going to put you in certain positions.’ He wanted me to do more and I wanted to do more. He challenged me and he pushed me to do more and learn more and it was great. That’s what the Patriots are about. They’re about getting guys that are passionate, that are smart, that are team-only guys, that can play multiple positions and that’s what Coach Belichick builds.”
Harrison was a leader on and off-the-field, elected a captain every year with the Patriots. He came in and, as he said, “ruffled a few feathers.”
He always had a chip on his shoulder, and never allowed the Patriots to get complacent.
He had seven interceptions in nine postseason games with the Patriots, including two in Super Bowl XXXIX against the Eagles.
“It’s been a surreal experience,” said Harrison. “I’m just grateful for all the people who have helped me throughout my journey.”