In my book, Rodney is a HOF'er
Idled Harrison takes long view; will Hall of Fame voters?
His status couldn't be clearer. His future is what's murky.
After tearing three ligaments in his left knee, Patriots strong safety Rodney Harrison knows his season is over. But what about his career?
Harrison is in his 12th season. He is considered one of the game's fiercest hitters, which means his body has taken as severe a beating as the wideouts who tiptoed across the middle with one eye on him and the other on the ball.
He has a beautiful family, an impressive financial portfolio and two Super Bowl rings. So the more pertinent question might not be whether he can come back, but whether he wants to come back.
"I know I can come back from this," Harrison, 32, said this week. "It's just a matter of how hard and how bad I want to do it. You and I have talked about this before; football is not my life, it's a part of my life. It's what I do, it's not who I am."
If this sounds like a man who has things in perspective, consider his other comments. Asked how he was doing two days after the injury, which will require surgery and 10 to 12 months of rehab, Harrison said: "Physically, I'm not doing well. – But spiritually I'm doing fine. That's what keeps me going. If you can accept the interceptions and the playoff wins and the lifting of the Lombardi Trophy, you have to be able to accept the other side of it.
"Time heals all wounds," he continued. "I'll be back. I don't know if that means on the football field, but as long as I can run around after Little
Man (Harrison's young son), that's what's important."
For the sake of discussion, let's say Harrison does not return to the field, that he has played his final game. Will his career be enough for him to be considered a candidate for the Pro Football Hall of Fame?
"Consideration, certainly," said longtime Associated Press NFL writer Dave Goldberg, one of 39 voters on the Hall of Fame selection board. "But I would question whether he'll ever get in, in part because safety is a hard position for guys to get in at. I don't why."
"Consideration is a broad word when you're talking about the Hall," said USA Today's Jarrett Bell, who also has a vote. "Obviously, he deserves consideration. Would you say that he'll be strongly considered? I think that will be tough, just from the standpoint that some positions don't seem to get as much consideration as others. You almost have to be an ultrasuperstar at safety to be considered a Hall of Famer. Paul Krause, who is the NFL's all-time leading interceptor, it took him like 20 years to get in, and he was a safety."
Added another voter, Rick Gosselin of The Dallas Morning News: "There are only seven safeties in the Hall of Fame. The last safety in the Hall of Fame who actually stepped on the field was Ken Houston in 1980. We have not put a safety in the Hall in the last two decades, and we just put three quarterbacks in from the '90s. There's something going on with safeties. I don't know what it is, but they're not letting them in. Donnie Shell can't get in and he's been up a couple of times. Johnny Rodgers was an All-AFL player. He led the NFL in interceptions, led the AFL in interceptions, and he can't get in. Cliff Harris was an all-decade player for the Cowboys who went to five Super Bowls, and he can't get in."
Harrison's impact on the position went largely unrecognized during his first nine seasons, all with the Chargers. He was a great player on mostly bad teams, meaning the national spotlight rarely found its way to San Diego. At one point, fans knew him more for his fines and his reputation for being a "dirty" player than they did for his abilities.
His reputation and his stature began to change, however, after he signed with the Patriots in 2003. He became the glue of the secondary and, along with inside linebacker Tedy Bruschi, the heart and soul of the defense. Before long, everyone else knew what AFC West foes had known for years.
Harrison clearly has statistics worthy of Hall consideration. His 27.5 career sack total is a league record for defensive backs. He also is the first player to record at least 25 sacks and 30 interceptions in a career. His four picks in his first postseason with New England tied for third-most all-time, and his six career playoff interceptions are only two off the all-time record shared by Ronnie Lott and Lester Hayes.
"He should be considered one of the great safeties in NFL history," Denver Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said in 2001, before the national recognition caught up to Harrison. "He's one of the best ever to play the game. He's a great, great player."
Added Jon Gruden, while coaching the Raiders: "He's a great player, with an exclamation point, underlined and bolded. He ranks at the top (of safeties today). – He can knock you out. He can play in space. He can do it all, and he loves doing it. It's a great privilege to compete against guys like that."
Will these comments and a sterling résumé be enough to open Canton's doors for Harrison? It's a subject that definitely deserves discussion. Gosselin, for one, is pushing to open people's minds about the value of safeties and guards and kickers and punters, many of whom have gone unrecognized by the Hall.
"Unfortunately (the outcome) might not be about Rodney Harrison," Gosselin said. "It might be about the position. That's the problem that all safeties have. This is not a position that's looked upon as an impact position.
"I said to the committee that if this is such an inconsequential position, then why are they still trotting two guys out there each week to play the positions?"
It's a good question that deserves an equally good answer.