Sirius NFL Opening Drive host Bob Papa and I had the newest NFL retiree on the air Friday, and if you know Rodney Harrison, you know holds were not barred. Snippets I liked from NBC Football Night in America analyst Harrison, who will join Tony Dungy in the Sunday night studio:
On how some critics see him being imported to be Mr. Rip Job:
"I'm not about that. I played for a long time. I know the other side, the players' families, their moms, their kids, their wives. I'm not there to be critical of players as my sole purpose. My job is to be honest and not necessarily to butcher anyone. But if the truth needs to be told, I'm going to tell it. A lot of guys may not like it. I may have to criticize Tedy Bruschi or Richard Seymour or Tom Brady -- very good friends of mine. But if you don't want to be criticized, go out and play well. I had to deal with the same thing."
On deciding to retire:
"The one thing I noticed creeping in was, 'Do you really want it?' I didn't have that same hunger, that thirst, that I used to have for 15 years. When I woke up, I wanted to be on the golf course. I didn't think about working out to get better football-wise. I thought about getting better for golf. That was the thing that really told me, 'You don't want to play this game.'''
On whether he might pull a Favre and return:
"I'm very comfortable in my skin. I'm not a guy who kisses people's butts and goes with the popular trend. I'm not worried about playing football. I'm done. I have no inkling to go back out and suffer any injuries or bang any heads. I'm done.''
On whether he belongs in the Hall of Fame:
"Yes, I think I belong in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I don't have the Pro Bowls, but that's not because I didn't put up the numbers. [Tennessee safety] Blaine Bishop had 70 tackles and one interception one year and he went to the Pro Bowl instead of me. It's an all-star game based on popularity. I was never about self-promoting. I was unselfish. I would never trade in the Super Bowls for Pro Bowls, believe me.''
On his reputation as a dirty player:
"This is football in the National Football League. I hit a guy with my forearm in his throat or his chest area, and they're trying to fine me. It's football! It's not my fault if the guy curls up like a little girl because he doesn't want to get hit. Are you kidding me? And then I get hit with a $120,000 fine because I hit Jerry Rice. Do you think I'm going to let Jerry Rice catch a slant route in the end zone? I don't care what it costs me, I'm going to try to knock his head off.
"Football now is turning into a soft, pansy sport. This is not volleyball! This is not tennis! This is some of the biggest, fastest, strongest men in the world. I think it's absolutely ridiculous. I went out on my own terms. It won't bother me anymore ... They need to put some more defensive players in that NFL front office. [NFL director of football operations and finemeister] Gene Washington is an offensive guy. Do you think he wants to turn on the TV and see his fellow receivers get their head knocked off? He never liked me in the first place. But that's fine. They need to put defensive players in the office so we won't have such a biased opinion from one guy."
On being fined more than $200,000 in his career (my guess is it was more like $400,000):
"Like I told my mom, You can't miss what you never had. Hopefully, it goes to a good cause. I never stopped the way I played. I never played this game for a paycheck. I could never play this game for money. I played because I loved it. I had a chance to make a lot of money this year -- two or three times what NBC is paying me. Trust me. I decided to walk away because I was not a money player. You can't buy passion. You can't buy discipline and dedication and commitment to something. If my heart's not in it, I'm not gonna do it."
On Bill Belichick speaking glowingly of Harrison upon his retirement:
"Wow. Bill is the best coach and the best football mind I've ever been around. I absolutely love and have all the respect in the world for him. But he's also a guy I won't be afraid to criticize, either.''
The test, obviously, for every player who walks off the field and into the television industry is whether he can leave the sanctity of the locker room and speak honestly. The early returns on Harrison are good (a receiver "curls up like a little girl'' and football is turning into a "soft, pansy sport'' are good enough for me), but we won't really know until there's a legit reason to nail a Patriot this fall and Harrison takes the shot.
Consider this the Stat of the Week: In 2003, Rodney Harrison was voted first-team all-pro by a panel of sports media. Two safeties in the 32-team NFL make the All-Pro team. Six safeties make the Pro Bowl, three in each conference. Harrison did not make the Pro Bowl that year. John Lynch, Troy Polamalu and Ed Reed did for the AFC.
More and more the Pro Bowl is almost an insignificant measure of greatness for a player. Harrison was hated by many players, and they wouldn't honor him by voting him into a Pro Bowl. Harrison made two Pro Bowls in his career, a laughable total for someone with his pedigree.
In his career, with the two Pro Bowls, Harrison averaged 6.5 tackles a game and had 34 interceptions, 15 forced fumbles and 30.5 sacks.
In Lynch's career, with nine Pro Bowls, he averaged 4.7 tackles a game, and had 26 interceptions, 6 forced fumbles and 13 sacks.
Let's go back to the 2003 season, when Harrison led the Super Bowl champion Patriots in tackles in the regular season and postseason. He had 140 regular-season tackles and three interceptions; I voted him my defensive player of the year in the NFL. Lynch had 58 tackles and one pick, Polamalu 88 tackles and five picks, Reed 66 tackles and eight picks.
If you were Harrison, wouldn't you be a little bitter about a system that kept you out of Pro Bowls when you clearly deserved to be in them?
We've all been operating on the assumption the NFL and its players need to get a deal done by spring 2011 so the league can go on without any games being lost to a job action. Not the new boss of the NFLPA. DeMaurice Smith told me over the weekend he wants a new deal done by next spring, so struggling retired players won't have their benefits slashed.
Last week, the NFL Players Association voted to drop its appeal to a case in which a jury ruled the union poorly handled the licensing deals for more than 2,000 retired players. The NFLPA agreed to pay $26 million to the players, about $10,000 a player after attorney's fees. But that money will be minimally effective for many retired players if the NFL ever plays with an uncapped year.
"My overwhelming motivation is to get a deal done before the uncapped year,'' Smith said. "I look at the significant impact it would have on the retired players, the handicapped players, the families of the retired players, if we didn't get a deal done, and that is what drives me.''
For a football-related disability -- one that occurred on the field and renders a player unable to work in another occupation within six months of the injury -- a player gets $224,000 in disability payments now. In an uncapped year, the payment would shrink to $48,000 annually. An active player who becomes disabled in an accident off the field get $134,000 a year now; he'd get $48,000 in the uncapped year.
Now you know why Smith is on a different timetable than so many others in the league.
Now to Austin Wood. You remember the Texas reliever who threw 12-and-a-third no-hit innings, and 13 shutout innings altogether, in a 25-inning victory over Boston College nine days ago.
The letters and Tweets to me were divided. Some praised the kid for being gallant and got goosebumps over Wood pitching so long in such intense heat that he threw up violently and refused to leave the game. Some ripped the coach, Augie Garrido, for leaving a reliever in the game for 169 pitches.
Texas moved on to the next round of the tournament against TCU last weekend. Wood, the closer, warmed up but did not pitch in a win Saturday night. He threw four pitches and retired the only batter he faced Sunday in a TCU win. The two teams meet Monday for the right to go to the College World Series, and Wood hopes he'll have a chance to throw his 92-mph fastball and assortment of breaking pitches in a save situation.
On Sunday night, I asked Wood if he knew about the roiling controversy ... and about how he felt. ""Arm's fine,'' said the senior from Houston. "I threw 91, 92 today, and I felt as good as ever. It's responded to treatment the way it always does. I'm pretty frustrated by the way people have reacted to this. I understand pitch counts are important, especially early in the season when it's cold and you're just getting your arm going. But I know my body. I wouldn't do anything any different with what happened last week. I know my arm, I know my body, and if there was anything wrong, I'd have said I needed to come out.''
But what about the long-term damage he could have done to the arm? "I don't buy it,'' Wood said. "They said coach Garrido abused me. It's crazy. He never abused me. I'm not going to stay in a game and pitch hurt.''
With the draft coming up this week, Wood said he hopes he showed major-league scouts -- who did not draft him out of high school or after his third year at Texas last year -- "how passionate I am about the game. I hope they've seen my heart. I love this game.''
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