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Does someone with the stigma of being one the dirtiest players in NFL history deserve a place in the Hall of Fame? For many New Englanders, the answer would be an absolute yes.
For six seasons, Rodney Harrison was a definitive leader on the field for the Patriots. He was a two-time Superbowl Champion, two-time pro-bowl selection, three-time all-pro first team selection, and someone who Bill Belichick called one of the best players he ever coached. However, does he have what it takes to wear the golden jacket and be enshrined in Canton?
The Hall of Fame is full of legends and heroes of yesteryear. However, of the 247 members, only nine have played safety.
There have been few that have had the reputation of Harrison. In his 15 seasons as a member of the San Diego Chargers and Patriots, Harrison has racked up over $200,000 for illegal hits.
However, there is also the issue of a four game suspension in 2007 for an HGH violation. This could definitely be an issue as seen with the Baseball Hall of Fame. Character issues have been taken more and more into consideration. Players such as Mark McGwire have seemingly lost their chance at immortality due to what can only be seen as cheating.
Still, it’s hard to argue Harrison’s credentials on the field. He is the charter member of the 30-30 club having accumulated 30.5 sacks and 34 interceptions. Only nine players in NFL history even make it to the 20-20 club, those include current players: safety Brian Dawkins, cornerback Ronde Barber, and future Hall-of-Famer Ray Lewis. His 30.5 sacks are also the best for a Defensive Back in NFL history.
He was a leader on the field as well. Becoming a defensive captain for the Patriots during his initial season, Harrison made his presence felt in numerous ways. In 2003, his first year in New England, he made 126 tackles only to follow it up in 2004 with 138.
The NFL tends to remember its Superbowl Heroes and no defensive player made a stronger impact then Harrison in Superbowl XXXIX against the Eagles. For those who remember, Harrison had two interceptions, seven tackles, and a sack. It was the second interception, with ten seconds remaining, that ensured the Patriots would claim their third title in four years. Tears in his eyes, the image of him holding a newspaper reading three-peat is one of the many lasting images of the Patriots most recent championship.
There is no doubt he is one of the toughest players in league history. Harrison’s hard-hitting mentality took a toll on himself. He suffered torn knee ligaments and a broken shoulder late in his career. Harrison slowly walked off the field could be some of the final images fans have of his great career. He missed 33 games and only played in 31 in his final four seasons, but the lingering defensive intensity was always present.
There are many who will say the numbers don’t add up, that the suspensions and injuries will take their toll on voters when making their decision. However, Harrison’s leadership and value to the Patriots can never be measured. The intensity he had every game rubbed off of teammates and allowed for the Pats to win two more Superbowls.
For the NFL, when remembering the great dynasty the Pats created in the new millennium, Harrison should be one of the first to dawn the gold jacket and have a bust forever placing him among the greats in Canton.