Always a controversial figure because of the aggressive play, former NFL safety Rodney Harrison(notes) nonetheless ended his amazing 15-year career with some pretty amazing numbers. He won back-to-back Super Bowls with the New England Patriots and is one of only two NFL players with 30 sacks and 30 interceptions in his career (Ray Lewis(notes) is the other). He had four interceptions in three games in the 2004-2005 playoffs, and has the most sacks (30.5) of any safety.
We recently spoke with Rodney (thanks to the Mars chocolate company, who you'll be hearing more about later) about his own career and the state of the NFL today. We start Part 1 with his surprising take on the league's new safety rules.
Shutdown Corner: You were the most-fined player in NFL history when you retired, though James Harrison(notes) may pass you up in the next couple of weeks. What is your take on the NFL's new safety rules, and how would they have affected the way you played?
Rodney Harrison: You know what? I actually like what the NFL is doing - obviously when I was a player, I didn't care much for the enforcement of the rules. As a player, you're blinded. You go strictly by emotion and the feel of the game. You want to go out there and intimidate; to enforce punishment on another person. But having an opportunity to get away from the game, two years removed, I see the importance of having safety [rules].
Players don't realize until they're away from the game that football is a short period of your life. 12-13 years. But you have 30 or 40 more years to live, and I think what the NFL's doing is perfectly fine with me - protecting the players and their futures. Because these players have families - wives and children - and you want them to be productive individuals in the future.
SC: What are your thoughts on being called a dirty player?
RH: It disappoints me, because a lot of people don't know me as a player or as a person. So, to say that I was dirty ... I played hard, and most players who played against me would tell me, ‘Hey man, I hate you when I play against you, but I would love to have you as a teammate.' So for me, that's the ultimate compliment.
A lot of people are ignorant, and they don't know what they're talking about. I've met a lot of fans, and once they get to know me, they say, ‘You're totally different than I thought you would be.' A lot of people don't know, but they love to hate the bad guy, and if you have success, they tend to hate that, too.
SC: And if you're on defense, it doesn't hurt to be the bad guy, right?
RH: Hey, that's your job.
SC: Who were the offensive players you most respected that you played against?
RH: I always respected a guy like Peyton Manning(notes), because I respect people who prepare. And the one thing that makes him great is not the ability to make great passes or his accuracy, but the preparation that goes on behind the scenes. He's a student of the game and a historian of the game, and he knows all the players. Competing against him was always a mental challenge.
Also, competing against Tom Brady(notes) before I came to the Patriots, and seeing him rise from a sixth-round draft pick to a future Hall of Famer, I was really proud to compete against him and later call him a teammate.
SC: Bill Belichick has said that you're one of the best players he's ever coached. What is it about his approach and his system that produces such consistently excellent results, even through serious roster changes?
RH: I think the first thing you have to look at is his ability to know players. You don't hit home runs on every player, but you've seen his ability to get guys who are considered castoffs, whether they've had injury issues or problems off the field. I came in injured from San Diego, he gave me a chance, and I ended up winning back-to-back Super Bowls. Look at a guy like Corey Dillon, who everyone thought was a troublemaker. He came in, was a model citizen, and helped us win a Super Bowl. Randy Moss(notes) came in and was a great teammate of mine; never caused any problems and had a monster year in 2007.
So, these are the types of moves [Belichick] makes, and this is why he's so special. He's also not afraid to get rid of guys and make the bold changes, like he made with Randy Moss and Drew Bledsoe. You have to be able to make bold moves, and he's not afraid to do that.