On the football field, he played with more agrression and intensity than maybe any player to step foot on the gridiron. During 15 seasons in the NFL, Harrison played 186 games piling up 919 tackles and becoming the first safety to ever record at least 30 interceptions (34) and 30 sacks (30.5) in his career. He was selected to two Pro Bowls and named to four All-Pro teams as a member of both the San Diego Chargers and New England Patriots, where he won two Super Bowls (2003 and 2004).
Now, nearly four years since playing his last professional snap, the two-time Pro Bowler is finding new ways to display that passion in his post-football life.
During the NFL season, Harrison serves as an analyst for NBC Sports Football Night in America, working alongside Hall of Fame coach Tony Dungy and legendary broadcaster Dan Patrick. In his free time, Harrison has become an impassioned youth sports coach, a scratch golfer and of course a dedicated father.
Harrison will be honored by the Boston Sports Museum at the 11th annual "The Tradition" on Wednesday at the TD Garden. But before receiving his award alongside fellow sports legends Pedro Martinez, Robert Parish, among others, Harrison took some time out to speak with NESN's Luke Hughes.
The two chatted about Harrison's time with the Patriots, the growing concern about concussions in the NFL, the Saints' bounty scandal and what he really thinks about Peyton Manning's move to Denver.
NESN: You've been at the broadcasting gig for a few years now. It seems like you've really adjusted to the new career. How do you feel you are settling in with the rest of the crew?
Harrison: It's been a pretty good adjustment; I'm going into my fourth year. And I think one thing I like about it is I like working with Dungy. I like that he's a very smart man and he's taught me a lot. We really have a good time discussing football going back and forth. Sometimes we see eye to eye, sometimes we don't, which makes it really interesting and makes it for a real fun show.
Then obviously, Patrick has taught us a lot because he's been in the business for 25, 30 years. But I think we have a pretty good show going, and as long as they want me I’ll do it and if they don't want then I'll do something else.
NESN: You were on the field for so long and had guys analyzing and criticizing you and your game. How does it feel to be on the other side of things now?
Harrison: Well the one thing I can look at myself and feel that I'm very fair and objective. A lot of times when you criticize current players they don't like it because obviously no one wants to be critiqued, no one wants to be criticized and looked at.
These guys work very hard for their craft. They sacrifice. They put a lot into it. So no one wants to get criticized. But at the same time I try to be fair and I try to do it in a way where I'm just not putting someone on blast and I played a long time and I got criticized and that’s fine. But as long as I know that I'm doing my job and I'm working as hard as I can to be fair and to get my job done that’s the only thing that matters to me.
I've played and I know what it's like to go through locker rooms and give up a big touchdown or get beat, or even make a big play that changes a game. So I've experienced everything that these other players have experienced. So it's fun, I'm having a pretty good time doing it.
NESN: What's it like being away from the locker room, like you said. It's got to be somewhat of a transition, going away from that atmosphere and all the camaraderie…
Harrison: Obviously it's a tough adjustment for a lot of players to go away from a locker room, where you can have 50 guys to joke and clown around with and that you've grown very close to.
But at the same time it's something that I did my whole life. So it was very fun to move on from that and to really enter into a new chapter in my life. I have kids and I still contact the guys that I want to stay in contact with and I don't think it's been that big of an adjustment for me.
NESN: Obviously there's a lot of concerns with the concussions and the trauma that may come with playing the game. Of course a good friend of yours, Junior Seau unfortunately passed away and other such guys have gone through similar traumatic stress. Do you have any concerns yourself? Is that something that you're worried about?
Harrison: Well obviously when you have family and kids and a wife, it's something that you concern yourself with long term. But at the same time there are certain risks that we take when we step on the field in the National Football League and you're hitting 300-pounders, and you're hitting 250-pound running backs there's a chance. That's the chance that you take.
But you sit there and you look at all the great rewards: the friendships, the experiences. You look at all the financial rewards. But then there's the downside of concussions, head trauma, depression you know things like that.
I'm doing my best to adjust to life after football. I'm doing a good job of taking care of myself. [I am] working hard, in the weight room. You know staying in shape, trying to eat right. And that's all I can control. I can't control what happened to me in the past, and hopefully with God's blessing I'll be OK.
NESN: In terms of the NFL, do you think that they are doing enough to really protect the players? Obviously there are a number of new initiatives in terms of player safety. But do you think there are more measures that need to be taken?
Harrison: I haven't really thought about everything specifically but they are on the right page. They've cut down on a lot of these hits in minicamps, training camps and padded practices and all the physical contact during the season. If I were playing right now in this era, I could probably play 20 years because we wouldn't have all of those physical contact practices.
I think there comes a point in time where you have to understand. We're different than basketball, we're different than baseball. We hit every single day and your body needs a break, your head needs a break. So I think they're making steps in the right direction.
NESN: With everything that's transpired with the whole Bounty system. Is that something that you’ve seen in the past or do you believe the accusations against the team and those players?
Harrison: To be honest with you I don't know the particulars, so I can't say who's guilty and who's not guilty. All I can say is I've never been on a team where anyone has come out and blatantly said let's go out and knock him out of the game, or let's go tear his knee up or anything like that.
I've been on teams where we've said let's go out and hit them in the mouth. That's just a form of expression, of aggression. Trying to get the ball, make a tackle, gang tackling. But I've never been around a coach or a player that's told me purposely to go out there and injure someone and I've never been a part of that. If that takes place then I think that the player or the coach definitely needs to be suspended.
NESN: Do you think there's situations out there where teams are offering big hit bonuses, or similar such rewards? You hear a lot of former players talking about that. Is that something that you've heard takes place or even something you've witnessed?
Harrison: Well, I mean I'm sure this is not the first time that has ever happened.
Photo via Facebook/Rodney Harrison37
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