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On football

He'll tackle any subject

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By Mike Reiss
Globe Staff / June 4, 2009
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A hard hitter on the football field, Rodney Harrison wasted little time laying the lumber in his new role as an analyst for NBC, calling out quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Vince Young and even suggesting he wouldn't shy away from doing the same with former teammate Tom Brady.

Some players-turned-analysts tend to be gun-shy when it comes to critiquing their former football brothers. Harrison vowed yesterday he won't be one of them, and then backed it up.

"When I played, I didn't have many friends. I'm sure I'm not going to make many friends now," Harrison said.

NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol must have been smiling when he heard those words on a conference call as the network unveiled Harrison and former Colts coach Tony Dungy as analysts.

If a big part of television is creating a buzz, Harrison delivered an early hit.

At one point, the former safety, who officially announced his retirement yesterday, sparked a debate with Dungy, redirecting the topic being discussed into a Brady vs. Manning debate. Dungy was diplomatically answering a question about Manning's public complaints of the Colts losing longtime assistant coaches Tom Moore and Howard Mudd, when Harrison interjected himself into the conversation,

"This is something I've discussed with Coach Dungy and I think it gives Tom Brady the edge over Peyton Manning in terms of leadership," Harrison opined.

"If this went on in New England, it wouldn't come out publicly. He wouldn't make a big fuss over it. So many guys are looking up to [Peyton] that once they sense panic, they get nervous. You have to control your emotions and not allow these things to get outside the walls. I have a lot of respect for Peyton Manning, but this is a guy that needs to control his emotions."

Dungy, in his trademark calming tone, told Harrison that he wouldn't necessarily agree Manning was showing panic.

But that only strengthened Harrison's resolve.

"As a player, it's your job to play football. This is OTAs [organized team activities]. It's not even minicamp yet. There is no sense of panicking," he said. "These things can be worked out. He's been running the same offense for 11 years, it's not like it's new to him. That disappointed me, for him to publicly come out and say things. I thought it was a sense of panic."

It was a bit over the top, but entertaining nonetheless.

Harrison also declared that Young, the yet-to-pan-out Titans quarterback, was staring at a two-year window to prove he could make it as a starter in the NFL. If he didn't make it by then, he said he'd be nothing more than a career backup.

"He got caught up in somewhat of the dark side, partying, not prioritizing and making football his No. 1 thing," Harrison said. "Some kids think you can survive on talent alone. It's not that way."

Harrison even suggested that he'd take on Brady if his performance dipped.

"I'm not going to be afraid to do that," he said. "As an analyst, it's your job to be fair but honest. Sometimes you have to be brutally honest with guys you played with, guys who are your friends. You can't shy away from certain questions."

On the field, Harrison never shied away from contact during a 15-year career that included nine seasons with the Chargers (1994-2002) and six with the Patriots (2003-08). His career was filled with highs such as two Super Bowl championships, and lows such as his 2007 four-game suspension for using human growth hormone. His hard-hitting style was considered dirty by some.

In detailing his decision to retire, the 36-year-old Harrison said, "I've done everything I possibly could do on the field. I feel like I have nothing else to prove."

Harrison said four or five teams had spoken with him about possibly playing this season, but he came to a decision a few months ago that his career was over.

"I used to wake up and want to work out and I was hungry and I always wanted to prove to everyone that I could come back, but I really didn't have that fire anymore," he said, adding that he wanted to be able to walk with his children. "I am done, and am very much at peace with that."

Harrison added that there will be no Brett Favre-like story from him. A return is not an option.

"Never. Never," he said, repeating himself. "That's a very thin line and a sensitive issue. I have respect. For me, I don't want guys on my team or guys I've played with to have to answer questions about Rodney Harrison's return."

Harrison went through a long list of thank-yous, which included Patriots owner Robert Kraft and coach Bill Belichick, who he said gave him a "second lease" on his NFL life when others thought his career was over after nine years. Harrison also called linebacker Junior Seau, his teammate with the Chargers and Patriots, the "single most influential person" in his career.

In New England, Kraft lauded Harrison as one of his favorite players, saying plans are in the works for the team to bring him back so fans can honor him. Belichick called him one of the best players he's ever coached.

"In the biggest games, in any situation and on a weekly basis, his production was phenomenal," Belichick said. "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."

One day into his career as an analyst, Harrison's passion is already oozing.

It comes as little surprise.

"Just like I played the game, I'm going to be honest and I'm going to be forthright and I'm going to do it with passion," he said.

Mike Reiss can be reached at mreiss@globe.com.

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