Why I Won't Forget Rodney Harrison

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Why I Won't Forget Rodney Harrison
(Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
In 2000, I played in a fantasy football league that required each owner to start one defensive lineman, one linebacker and one defensive back in addition to your standard offensive players—I won the league that year. And while the other owners credited Marshall Faulk and his 18 touchdowns (in 14 games) with my eventual championship, I know better.

I owe that victory to Rodney Scott Harrison, who tallied six INTs and six sacks as a Charger safety. There weren’t any defensive players who came close to duplicating that output, and he seemed to play his best games when I needed him the most.

Harrison retired recently, and because of that contribution to my fantasy career, I am sadder than most to see him go. Harrison retires as the only player in NFL history with at least 25 sacks and 25 interceptions (he finished with 30.5 and 34 respectively), a tribute to his all-around game.

But numbers don’t tell the whole story with Harrison, who was an emotional, vicious, leader who ended his career with two Super Bowl rings won as a member of the New England Patriots.

Harrison had always been a favorite of mine for his hard-hitting, all-out style of play, and when the news arrived in 2003 that he would be joining the Patriots, I was thrilled. My favorite player going to my favorite team.

I immediately ran out and purchased a “Harrison 37” jersey, still the only football jersey I’ve ever owner. I wore it with pride for six years every game day, and watched as the rest of New England found out what I knew all along: the man could flat play.

Harrison is famous for playing the final plays of Super Bowl XXXVIII against the Carolina Panthers with a broken arm, and while that is symbolic of his burning competitiveness, it’s a lesser known anecdote that will always stay with me.

Just two weeks before he would break his arm against the Panthers, the Patriots beat the archrival Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship game in a contest that was much closer than the 24-14 final would suggest.

After the game, an emotional Harrison was embraced by head coach Bill Belichick and Belichick says something like, “Man, am I glad we got you.”

Harrison, who only two years earlier had been a member of a San Diego squad that went 1-15 and had seen Chargers go 40-72 over in his eight years as a starter there, was clearly overwhelmed to be playing for a team going to the Super Bowl.

But that’s not what strikes me about the scene. After Harrison and Belichick embraced, Belichick said something like, “Remember, we’ve got one more after this one.” And Harrison snaps to attention like a soldier being reprimanded while on duty. “Yes, sir,” he said, with authority.

It was clear he had waited all his life to play for a winner, and wasn’t going to waste this chance. He was not a happy-to-be-there player; he wanted to win.

I like to think that it was that tiny exchange with Belichick that convinced Harrison to play with a broken arm. He played with reckless abandon, but he was also a cerebral player who knew his assignments and led the Patriots secondary like a field general.

The last few years of his career were riddled with injury and controversy, but I'll never forget how he looked at Belichick that day; he looked like a man who would run through walls to get a victory for his coach.

I am going to miss him.

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