Some players leave on top of their game, some players leave after their game has deteriorated. Some leave unwillingly, their passion taken from them before they were ready.
When Rodney Harrison injured his knee Monday Night*, I couldn't help but wonder if this was it for the veteran and team leader. The Patriots' training staff lifted him onto a cart after a few minutes on the ground, careful not to bend his injured knee. Realizing it didn't look good, Tedy Bruschi came over to Harrison and had words for him. Asked to elaborate, Bruschi chose not to, desiring to keep it between the two players.
When Rodney was carted off the field to a standing ovation, he had that contemplative look in his eye, the look that symbolizes the end of an era, an opportunity lost, an incomplete ending to an otherwise stellar career.
Harrison has had his share of injuries, as his 2005 and 2006 campaigns were cut short by knee problems, which makes this one that much scarier. However, there is no player on the Patriots' defense that is a better leader and role model for the other players, a trait that will be surely missed by New England.
Losing Harrison means another question mark in the Patriots' defensive backfield, as second year player Brendon Merriweather will figure to get the start in Harrison's absence. While he lacks Harrison's strength and hitting ability, he is a step quicker and has demonstrated a similar nose for the football.
There has been talk of possibly bringing in John Lynch for a look, who was cut by New England before the season started. Bringing him in to fill Rodney's spot seems like a logical move for the Patriots to make, provided he is ready to fit into Bill Belichick's defensive system.
Still, losing a player like Harrison hurts because of all the intangibles, the extra things that he can add to the chemistry of the team. Rodney is often viewed as an agitator, but I think that is just his passion for the game manifesting itself as occasional late hits and taunts.
The young defensive backs need Harrison's leadership, and hopefully he can be around the team in some way after he deals with this injury. If Harrison can't make it back for this season, I don't think that he will stick around for 2009. I would like to see him coach or contribute to the team however, similar to how Cam Neely operates in Boston for the Bruins.
If this is the last time we have seen Rodney Harrison in a Patriots jersey, lets try to remember all the great moments that he has given us, as well as the great memories that will not fade from any fan's mind.
One of the greatest images in Patriots' history is a tearful and injured Rodney Harrison celebrating his first Super Bowl. His passion for the game is unequaled, and it will be hard to find another player of Rodney's caliber. On behalf of all Patriot Nation, lets hope for a speedy recovery for our favorite safety.
Every NFL player has their ride into the sunset. Some players leave on their own terms, some are forced to call it quits, and its a damn shame that Rodney Harrison had to leave like this.
*Author's Note: It was revealed this afternoon that Rodney tore his quad, and did not damage his knee. My bad.