Rodney Harrison has been elected to the New England Patriots Hall of Fame ahead of other notable candidates such as Richard Seymour and Mike Vrabel.
Harrison, who helped the Patriots win back-to-back Super Bowl championships in 2003 and 2004. He is the 7th player from those teams to get the Hall Call joining Troy Brown (2012), Tedy Bruschi (2013), Ty Law (2014), Willie McGinest (2015), Kevin Faulk (2016) and Matt Light (2018).
Harrison will join offensive tackle Leon Gray was who selected for induction by a 10-person senior selection committee.
Harrison played the final six seasons of his 15-year NFL career with the Patriots after spending his first nine seasons with the San Diego Chargers.
He spoke to the media about the honor early today.
Q: What’s your first reaction to the fact that the fans have selected you to be this year’s inductee into the Patriots Hall of Fame?
RH: It was a pretty special moment, just being there with Mike [Vrabel] and being there with Richard [Seymour]. They’re really good friends of mine, two guys that really taught me a lot. They were consummate professionals, guys I have a lot of respect for on and off the field. It was kind of shocking to me. I said, ‘OK, the fans get an opportunity to vote now, but you know what, those guys are longer tenured guys. Maybe they vote them in.’ I was thinking more so Richard and I was just saying, you know what, it doesn’t even matter at this point. We won championships together but I’m very happy that the fans, they saw through everything, and they voted me. I’m still kind of shocked because I didn’t expect it. Wow.
Q: What stood out to you about your experience with the Patriots and what it meant to your career after coming over from the Chargers after all those years?
RH: When I came over here to the Patriots, the thing that I loved about Coach [Bill] Belichick was we had purpose. Everything that we were doing, it had a purpose. It was just really good to get around a bunch of other people that really loved football. Not just on defense – a lot of times what I had in San Diego – but guys that loved football. Tom [Brady] and all my teammates and Coach Belichick and all the coaches and how much we immersed ourselves in just learning football and knowing football. That’s the beauty of it. That was one of the things that really stuck out to me that Coach Belichick wasn’t about favoritism or anything like that. He was about you coming in, doing what you have to do, being a pro and earning your keep and that’s what I loved about him. He opened up, he gave me an opportunity and he didn’t have any preconceived notions of me. He gave me an opportunity and that’s all I ever wanted. 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. 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, Mike [Reiss].
Q: Did I hear you right that it means more to have the fans vote you in? Does that come from the standpoint of looking at it as the Pro Football Hall of Fame voting committee is not comprised of fans?
RH: No, I’m not saying it like that in any disrespectful manner. But what I’m saying is when you get a chance, as a fan, to sit down in the stadium and watch, whether you’re watching on your couch or in the stadium, you get a chance to see a person for who they are. You’re not going, ‘OK, hey man, what do you think about Rodney? He’s a dirty player.” No, they’re not going on reputation. They’re going by all the blood and everything that I poured my heart out on that field, and that’s what I love because I didn’t have to worry about if they would respect the way I would play or if they would listen to someone else instead of cutting on some film and watching me play. That’s why it meant so much to me, so much more to me, because it’s not going by reputation. You don’t have to have a certain reputation – good, bad or indifferent. The fans knew that I loved football. I gave everything for the organization, for my teammates and for the fans and my family.
Q: Is it humbling for you to represent your teammates, knowing all of the success they helped bring to the team along the way, as you head into the Patriots Hall of Fame?
RH: It’s very humbling. It’s to the point where I’m still sitting here as I’m talking to you kind of shaking because I didn’t think it was going to happen this year. It kind of took me by surprise. I was just really getting ready to be excited for Mike and for Richard, for one of those guys. Yeah, it’s very humbling to have played with so many great football players, to be blessed to play with those guys, great people, great men, husbands, guys that I still communicate with, guys that have spoken into my life and helped really shape who I am as a person. It’s very humbling, but I’m also very grateful. I’m very grateful for Mr. [Robert] Kraft, for everything that he’s done, the support that he’s shown me, Coach Belichick, just the whole Patriot family. It’s been an experience. It’s almost like I just can’t explain it. It’s been so surreal and I’m just very grateful for all of the people that have helped me throughout my journey.
Q: Can you pinpoint one moment for you that was your proudest as a Patriot?
RH: I think just going through the first season when we got our butts kicked by Buffalo and Lawyer [Milloy] and that whole transition. I came in and ruffled a few feathers and that was always a great moment for me because I went into unfamiliar territory. Denver wanted me and they were offering a lot more money and I just decided once I met with Scott Pioli and Coach Belichick, I knew the Patriots were the answer. I knew I did the right thing when I decided to come to New England. I’m just really excited man, you just have no idea, coming from being a little kid in Markham, Illinois when people your whole life have told you, ‘You can’t, you’re too small, you’re too skinny, you’re not fast enough, you’re not tall enough, you don’t go to Ohio State, you don’t go to Michigan, you go to Western Illinois.’ I’ve heard that my entire career and to continue to fight and claw, I just want to be able to use my example to young kids and people that struggle with their confidence, to encourage them. You’ve just got to keep working, you’ve got to continue to believe in yourself, continue to fight and claw for everything that you get and you never can become complacent. And that’s the example that I try to set for my kids and kids in the community and that’s important to me, that’s what I stand for.
Q: How would you define the role you had in the defensive backfield and how important that role has become in today’s game?
RH: I think Coach Belichick was the first coach to really utilize me the way I’ve always wanted to be utilized. I played some strong safety and free safety in San Diego but he gave me a chance to play linebacker, he put me at nickelback, dimeback, I played strong safety, I played free and I also played some corner. He got a chance and he didn’t say, ‘Hey, you run a four-five or a four-six,’ or anything like that. ‘We’re not going to put you in certain positions.’ He wanted me to do more and I wanted to do more. He challenged me and he pushed me to do more and learn more and it was great. That’s what the Patriots are about. They’re about getting guys that are passionate, that are smart, that are team-only guys, that can play multiple positions and that’s what Coach Belichick builds and that’s why when one guy goes down, we can get another guy to step up. Whether it’s Tom Brady, Rodney Harrison, Richard Seymour, we always have some other guy waiting in the wings that’s prepared and that’s the thing Coach Belichick brought and it was pretty special.
Q: How were you notified today of your induction and what was your reaction?
RH: My man Stacey James hit me up and I was kind of like frozen. I couldn’t believe it, because I’m telling you, I had in my mind that I wasn’t going to be the guy. You just kind of get used to that, whether it’s Pro Bowls or things like that, being passed up. But once he told me, I thanked God and give Him all the praise and I started receiving all these text messages from [Tedy] Bruschi and a whole bunch of other people congratulating me, so it was a really, really special and proud moment for me and my family.
Q: What was the call like with Robert Kraft?
RH: Oh, Mr. Kraft called me too and he’s so funny, Mr. Kraft is the best. He takes time out of his busy day to call me and to congratulate me. It’s really an awesome feeling and he told me how much I meant to him and the organization. He’s always treated me great. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for his support, whether it’s football, whether it’s broadcasting, whether it’s the advice he gave me when I was a knucklehead with the Patriots. He was always there supporting me and I appreciate him for it.
Q: Ty Law told us that Bill Belichick would always show the defensive backs tape of you before you joined the Patriots to illustrate how to play the position. What was it like when you joined that defensive backs group?
RH: Well, they used to bust my chops a lot, especially Ty and Lawyer when I first walked in and Willie McGinest, telling me that I didn’t have a Super Bowl ring. So instead of me focusing on getting myself acclimated and learning the system, I was thinking about Super Bowls before any of that stuff. It was good. Ty and all the guys welcomed me in. One thing about Ty, Ty was one of my main motivators. Everybody looked at Ty and thought he was lazy but Ty was one of the hardest working guys I’ve ever been around. You used to drive in 5:30, 6:00 in the morning and see him running down Highway One with some sweats and everything on. It’s completely dark and he’s the one guy out there running and he would do that three or four times a week and it was just amazing the level of drive that he had. I said, ‘This is the best cornerback I’ve played with, one of the best in the National Football League or in the history of the National Football League.’ I said, ‘I need to up my game.’ So when you have guys like him and Willie McGinest and [Tom] Brady and those guys, it pushes you. It holds you accountable and it pushes you and that’s what we did, we pushed one another. We had great communication, Ty knew that my interest in him was, ‘Hey, I want to help make you the best corner in the league, I want to make the secondary one of the best in the league.’ So he knew that I didn’t have any hidden agendas, anything like that. I just wanted all my guys to play hard and to communicate and that’s something they did well. They communicated and they played extremely hard.
Q: When you first arrived in New England, did you ever imagine that you’d make a big enough impact on the team to win two Super Bowls and be inducted into the team’s Hall of Fame?
RH: Well, of course not. I didn’t think all of that would happen. My thing was, I just wanted to come in and be able to show what kind of football player I was without any reputation. Coach Belichick gave me a clean slate and that’s what I wanted. I wanted just to show the East Coast what Rodney Harrison was about and what I could bring and that’s why I came in with such a level of intensity, because that’s what football is, that’s the way I played, that was my approach. That was just me. But at the end of the day, it’s just a great honor to be inducted into the Patriots Hall of Fame. You talk about the greatest dynasty of all-time, and to be the 29th player is something I could have never even thought of being a young kid growing up. Definitely I didn’t think that I was going to come in and win Super Bowls right away, back-to-back championships, but I knew I could make an impact and I knew that if my teammates were open-minded, they would accept me and they would appreciate and respect the way I played. And I think they did.