By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
Patriots fans spoke loudly for Rodney Harrison’s right to a red jacket on Monday. The team Hall of Fame will induct the former safety in his first year as a finalist, as Harrison leapfrogged fellow finalists Richard Seymour (three-time finalist) and Mike Vrabel (four-time finalist) for selection in the 2019 class.
All three are worthy selections for the Patriots Hall of Fame. Seymour and Vrabel will certainly get in eventually. But for Harrison to punch an express ticket to Pats royalty demonstrates the shoulder he drove into the legacy of the Brady-Belichick dynasty. This guy left a mark.
Harrison didn’t arrive in New England until 2003, two years after the Patriots shocked the football world in Super Bowl XXXVI. But he embodied those early-2000s Bill Belichick defenses that are now the NFL’s version of dinosaur fossils. He did many of the same things that 2001 defense did to the Rams in New Orleans, and he did it at an extremely high level. Harrison was arguably the main reason the Patriots defense reached another level in their dominant back-to-back Super Bowl seasons in 2003-04. He was smart, tough, competitive, and oh my god did he hit hard.
You can’t discuss Harrison’s career without mentioning the big hits. Sometimes they devolved into the kind of line-crossing that has all but been weeded out of the game. But what mattered with Harrison was that imposing, fearsome presence he presented to opposing receivers and tight ends. Nobody wanted to get hit by him and it was understandable.
That was especially true in the playoffs. Safeties aren’t known for putting up numbers, but look at Harrison’s box scores and you’ll just chuckle. In nine career postseason games for the Pats, he made 73 total tackles (three for loss), seven pass breakups, two sacks, two forced fumbles, and seven interceptions. He also returned a pick-six in the 2004 AFC Championship Game, a 41-27 road romp over the Steelers. The guy was absurdly productive and disruptive, especially for a strong safety.
Clearly, the people in the stands loved it.
“I’m very grateful for the fans. The fact that the fans voted me in, it means more to me than say the Pro Football Hall of Fame because the fans got a chance to see me play every week,” Harrison told ESPN’s Mike Reiss in a press conference announcing his selection. “They got a chance to see the story and see the injuries and the adversity and the comeback and the plays that were made and the passion that was shown. They’re not going by reputation or rumors or anything like that, so it really meant a lot to me, the fact that the fans voted me in.”
That reputation Harrison alluded to may continue to follow him around outside of New England. He became known as one of the “dirtiest” players of his time because of the force he’d often apply to his open-field hits. But they were mostly born out of his overflowing energy and passion for the game of football. The way Harrison used to play is mostly how football used to be.
Patriots fans, obviously, are able to look past the times where Harrison’s hitting reached unnecessary levels of violence. They should. Harrison brought too much else to the table to erroneously label him as a mindless head-hunter. For a time, he was perhaps the most feared safety in the NFL, and it wasn’t just because of his physicality. He had the whole package, and he utilized it to the most thrilling heights in a Patriots uniform.
The fans simply couldn’t wait to show Harrison how much they appreciated that.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at email@example.com.