Most Patriots fans probably had the sense that a smiling Rodney Harrison was joking when he "called out" former teammate Tom Brady on television last night.
Brady, who had received a text from Harrison before NBC's "Football Night in America" telecast telling his friend he was "going to bust his chops," also knew it wasn't serious business.
But apparently, something was lost in translation to the national audience, as well as a segment of annoyed New England fans who took Harrison's comments seriously.
The back story: In the aftermath of the Patriots' 27-21 victory, Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis expressed frustration over a pair of Baltimore penalties for hits on the Patriots quarterback. After a clip aired of the Ravens' Terrell Suggs drawing a flag after grazing Brady's surgically repaired knee -- with Brady encouraging the referee to throw the penalty flag -- on "Football Night in America" at halftime of last night's Pittsburgh-San Diego game, Harrison, a former Patriots safety who is in his first season on NBC's studio show, said the penalty was a "horrible" call, then added:
"Tom Brady, if you're listening, take off the skirt and put on some slacks. Toughen up."
Harrison, who during an interview with WEEI's "The Dale and Holley Show" this morning said he had received about 30 e-mails and 30 texts complaining about his comments, explained that no serious criticism of Brady was intended at all. He was simply taking a good-natured jab at his friend.
"My gosh, it's unbelievable, the kind of backlash with this," Harrison told hosts Dale Arnold and Michael Holley. "Tom and I we've been friends for years. There's no other person, no other football player maybe other than Junior Seau that I have more respect for.''
"I texted Tom and told him, 'Hey, Tom, I'm going to bust your chops a little bit at halftime.' It was a joke, and everyone's getting all bent out of shape," Harrison said.
"This guy's directly responsible for me having two Super Bowl rings on my fingers, and you think I'm going to call him out? It's one thing to criticize a guy out if he's not playing well. But to question a guy like Tom Brady, who I feel like is one of the toughest guys I've ever been around . . . It's totally absurd, ridiculous, that people would actually think that I would take a shot at Tom Brady."
Harrison admitted that he is stunned by the reaction.
"I've had some 30 text messages and 30 e-mails [saying], 'Some of the Patriots fans are kind of upset at you,' " he said.
"The one thing I do stand by: I felt the call was not a good call. I didn't feel like Terrell Suggs ... I thought it was a ridiculous call. That's what I felt, and that's what I stand by. But as far as when I jokingly took a shot at Tom Brady, if it's something that I truly meant, I would stand by it. But I didn't mean it that way. And Tom knows that. We're good friends. ... It's just ridiculous that people would think that."
During his weekly appearance on WEEI's "Dennis and Callahan Show" earlier this morning, Brady didn't seem at all bothered by the comments.
"Rodney's like my brother," Brady said. "I love Rodney. There's nothing Rodney could ever say that would bother me. He's one my great friends and teammates. If I was a football player, I'd want to be Rodney Harrison. There's nobody that played the game like Rodney. He played with all heart. . . . It's fun to see him on TV. He hits as hard on TV as he did when he was playing, which is hard to believe. But he finds ways to get after everybody."
Brady also managed to get in a little jab himself.
"Rodney's been fined more than any player in the history of the NFL," said Brady, "so I can understand why he's sensitive about hits on the quarterback."