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  • Writer's pictureJoe Pace

New England Sports 366, #91: Rodney Harrison

Rodney Harrison was one of those players you hated if he played for the other guys, but loved if he was on your side. He had a reputation as a tough-maybe-dirty safety, a guy who would play to the whistle and maybe just beyond, a guy who hit hard and maybe high. You know, a football player.

Harrison played his college ball at Western Illinois, where he set records for tackles in a career and in a game (28!). He was drafted in the fifth round of the 1994 draft by the San Diego Chargers, helping them to their only Super Bowl appearance where they were drubbed by the 49ers. He became an All-Pro safety for the Chargers (1998 and 2001) before signing as a free agent with the Patriots in 2002.

His arrival spelled the end of Lawyer Milloy's tenure with team (which was not without controversy at the time). Harrison was named defensive captain, which he backed up on the field. He made the Pro Bowl again, picked off Steve McNair in the divisional round against Tennessee, picked off Peyton Manning in the AFC Championship against the Colts, and then helped win the Super Bowl against the Panthers despite breaking his arm late. That's my enduring image of Harrison, his arm in a sling as the confetti fell on him for the first time in his ten year career.

The next year the Pats and Harrison repeated as champs, defeating the Eagles as Harrison made the game-sealing INT. He had two picks and a sack in that game, following a season in which he was named second-team All-Pro and had picks in all the games of the playoff run, getting Manning again and taking a Roethlisberger offering 87 yards for a pick-six against the Steelers. There's a reason we remember him so fondly.

Harrison battled injuries the next few years, and then was part of the worst moment in team history when somehow he was unable to dislodge the ball from David Tyree's helmet in the game that shall not be named. In October of the subsequent season, a torn quad ended Harrison's stellar career. How stellar? He was the first NFL player ever with 30+ sacks and 30+ interceptions (there are only two). He's on the 50th anniversary teams of two franchises. He should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and it's not even debatable.

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