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Harrison hangs up his helmet

He says he's 'at peace' with decision to retire

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By Chad Finn
Globe Staff / June 3, 2009
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Rodney Harrison's philosophy as one of the hardest-hitting safeties in NFL history was to play as if every "play every play like it's my last play."

This morning, he confirmed what had become a poorly-kept secret. The last play of his stellar and sometimes controversial 15-year NFL career has come and gone.

"I'm done," Harrison said in a conference call with reporters. "And I'm very much at peace with that. Football has been good to me. I worked hard and I played hard."

Harrison, 36, holds the NFL record for defensive backs with 30½ sacks; he also has 34 interceptions, making him the only player to have at least 30 of each. In his six seasons with the Patriots, he was an important contributor of two Super Bowl-winning teams.

"Rodney Harrison is one of the best players I have ever coached," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said in a Patriots press release. "In the biggest games, in any situation and on a weekly basis, his production was phenomenal. Rodney is the best practice player I have seen in 35 years in the NFL, which is a testament to his exceptional passion for the game and his desire to sustain and improve his level of play."

Harrison will transition in to a second career that seems a perfect fit. He was formally introduced as an NFL analyst for NBC Sports after his retirement announcement. But his articulate manner away from the field has always been in direct contrast to the perception that his extremely physical playing style sometimes crossed the line.

"People have called me a dirty player. I'm a very passionate player," Harrison said. "I also understand that this is not volleyball. This is a very violent, physical game, and if you hit someone in the mouth, they're not going to be your friend. That's what the game of football is."

Harrison, who made just two Pro Bowls in his career in part because fellow players -- many of whom had felt his wrath on Sundays -- had a say in the voting, said his passion often was misinterpreted as cheap shots. He was fined more than $200,000 in his career and served a one-game suspension in 2002 for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Jerry Rice that cost him a game check of $111,764,

"All I know is I laid every ounce of my body on that football field," he said.

Patriots linebacker Pierre Woods said Harrison always believed he was fighting against the league's increasing tendency to protect quarterbacks.

"He feels like the league is getting soft," Woods said. "If you can't hit the quarterback, what are you doing out there?"

Harrison's decision to retire also had much to do with the multiple injuries he had suffered the past few seasons. He missed 10 games last season after tearing a muscle in his right thigh in Week 7 against Denver. In September 2005, he suffered a torn ACL, MCL and PCL in his left knee that sidelined for the remainder of the season. All in all, he had been limited to just 31 games the past four seasons, though that includes a four-game suspension in 2007 for using a banned substance.

"I want to be able to walk with my kids," said Harrison, who said he received feelers from roughly a half-dozen teams this offseason. "I didn't want to see my buddies playing golf, and I would be over there in a wheelchair or a cane."

Harrison admitted the drug suspension was one of his few regrets, calling it a "huge mistake." He admitted obtaining human growth hormone, and has said it was to speed his recovery from an injury.

"I had so much pride about trying to do things right," he said. "I made such a huge mistake in that situation and disappointed so many people, including myself. When I made that mistake, I wanted other guys and kids to learn from that."

Harrison, who began the call by joking that he had signed a two-year deal with the Patriots, said he had thought at one point there was a chance he would play this season.

"I always wanted to prove to everyone that I could come back, but I really didn't have that fire anymore," he said, emphasizing that his retirement is final and there will be no ill-fated comeback attempts.

"I respect people in the National Football League too much not to put them on this joyride," he said. "I don't want guys on my team or guys I played with to have to answer questions about Rodney Harrison's return. When I made my decision to retire, I made my decision to retire ... I'm done."

Material from the Associated Press was used in the report.

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