By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BLOOMINGTON, Minn. (CBS) — Rodney Harrison is never short on opinions.
The former Patriots safety-turned-NBC broadcaster spoke to the media on Tuesday, ahead of his network’s coverage of Super Bowl LII between the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles.
He was asked questions that ran the gamut, but considering all-world tight end Rob Gronkowski remains in concussion protocol, and considering Harrison made a career out of delivering the type of hit that knocked Gronkowski out of the AFC Championship Game, it made sense to ask Harrison what he thought of the hit delivered by Barry Church.
“Barry made a conscious effort to lead with his shoulder, and at the last minute, a couple inches here, a couple inches there, it’s helmet to helmet,” Harrison said.
By the letter of the law, there was no doubt that the hit was illegal, hence the 15-yard penalty and the two yellow flags that flew toward Church. Harrison didn’t argue that point, but he did note that the intent of the player delivering the hit should be factored in to officials’ decisions.
“I do believe they need to look at intent,” Harrison said. “And I believe his intention was to hit with [his shoulder]. So I didn’t really like the call.”
That being said, Harrison found it laughable when fans of other teams argued that the discrepancy in penalty calls in the AFC Championship Game reflected a bias that favors the Patriots.
“That’s dumb. Everyone hates us. I mean, everywhere I go, I’m serious, everyone hates us! Everywhere I go, people hate us,” Harrison said. “When you’re a Patriot, you’re just the enemy of everyone else. It’s the Patriots, and it’s everyone else. Because everyone is trying to be like the Patriots.”
Harrison also didn’t put much stock into the controversial ESPN story from the past month which painted a highly contentious relationship between Robert Kraft, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.
“They should’ve written a story about me and my wife, because we have strife sometimes. Are you married? Do you have strife sometimes? Yeah, and sometimes she won’t talk to me for a couple of days. It happens when you’re in a long-term relationship. It happens. That’s a relationship. That’s a partnership,” Harrison said. “The thing I see with those guys is that they respect one another. And Belichick knows how to push Tom Brady more so than anybody. So it’s a healthy respectful relationship. Do I agree with my wife, do I agree with Mike Vrabel and all the calls [on the field]? No. But it happens, and you learn to work through it.”
Harrison also made the case that former opponent and former teammate Randy Moss undoubtedly belongs in the Hall of Fame. The former safety said that he used to line up seven yards deeper than normal when Moss was on the field, because there was no other way to account for his speed on deep routes.
“When he’s building up speed, you don’t think that he’s going fast. But he’s going really fast,” Harrison explained. “And the fact that he’s 6-4, and he’s got these long arms and big hands … man. It’s tough, man.”
“Moss was a tremendous teammate, never caused any problems,” Harrison also said. “He cussed a lot, which I didn’t like, but he was a tremendous [teammate]. He was mature, he worked his butt off, and he was really, really smart. I think a lot of people because of the antics and the silliness, they never really gave him credit for how smart he is.”
Harrison also made the Hall of Fame case for Ty Law, with whom he was briefly a teammate in 2003 and 2004 before Law left New England.
“Ty Law was a bad boy, man,” Harrison said. “Ty Law was a bad boy, and I believe Ty is definitely a Hall of Famer, with the big plays that he made in the critical moments.”
Unprompted, Harrison made the case that Terrell Owens also needs to be in the Hall of Fame.
“Terrell Owens is another guy that deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. I played against Jerry Rice, I played against Randy Moss, and you talk about maybe the third-best wide receiver that I’ve ever faced, I would say it’s T.O.,” Harrison said. “He was such a threat, and Marvin Harrison’s probably the fourth one. But Terrell Owens deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, and that’s my disappointment with the Hall of Fame. Was he a jerk at times? Of course he was. But it doesn’t take away his impact on the field and what he did. He had defensive backs literally shaking in their boots because he was such a great player.”
Harrison had many more opinions to share.
IS DEZ BRYANT A PLAYER ON THE DECLINE, OR IS THE QB JUST NOT GETTING HIM THE BALL?
“I see both. And it didn’t happen this year. When you look at Dez, he’s crying and screaming for the ball. But that becomes a distraction. And then you watch tape on him, and you say, ‘You’re not open. And when you’re open, you’re dropping the ball.’ So he doesn’t have a lot of room to complain. And then secondly, if I was on that team, I would say, ‘Dez, you have a young quarterback — just get open. It’s not about you and your individual stats. It’s about the team.’ I don’t know if they have anybody in that locker room that would tell Dez that, but he needs to straighten it out because the act gets old. And as a player in that locker room, you don’t want to deal with that, because you have so many other forces you have to deal with.”
“How much? He’ll be gone. They ain’t gonna pay nobody no 12.5 million dollars, and you know what? Just because they don’t want him doesn’t mean other teams won’t go out and pay him. I don’t know what they’re going to pay because there’s some dumb owners and general managers. I don’t know what they’re going to pay. But Dez can still play. Is he a number one? No, he’s not a No. 1 receiver. But Dez can still play.
HOW LONG WILL BELICHICK COACH?
“I asked him that question at the beginning of the year. He just said, ‘You know what? I’m feeling pretty good.’ That’s what he said. But my thing was, maybe he’s staying there to firmly entrench his kids, his boys, in that organization. And once his sons get firmly entrenched in the organization, maybe he walks away in a few years.”
THOUGHTS ON PATRIOTS SAFETIES PATRICK CHUNG AND DEVIN MCCOURTY
“I love ’em. I love Chung’s versatility. McCourty, I had one mind-set about him, but when I got a chance to spend some time with him last week, he really changed my mind. He’s been a captain, what, seven straight years. The leadership, just the way he looked at me and talked to me — these guys are focused. Everybody’s talking about Philadelphia being the underdog, but these guys look at themselves as the underdog. Dion Lewis, Danny Amendola, guys who have been hurt and injured and things like that.”
“[Chung’s] competing, I think his technique is better. He got beat against Jacksonville, which, oh it just drove me crazy. Because your read is the tight end, he takes a peek inside, and Marcedes Lewis, he releases, and it’s a touchdown. But it’s those little things that you cannot do against this Philadelphia offense, because they have so many different options, whether it’s a crosser, a screen to Nelson Agholor, a run, a run-pass option, it’s so many different things. But if I’m Matt Patricia, I keep the game plan simple. I play a lot of man-to-man coverage, I make sure that those corners press them, and they play inside technique, and force [Nick] Foles to beat them down the field.”
ON THE PATRIOTS’ DEFENSE BEING KIND OF ORDINARY
“[Kyle Van Noy] is a solid player. I wouldn’t say he’s a great player. I don’t see a lot of great players on the Patriots’ defense, and that’s what makes this whole situation even more unique. I was at the AFC Championship Game, and I’m looking at halftime, and I’m like, how the heck does this team even make it to the AFC championship? Because you just don’t see the team speed, you don’t see the ability of them to create turnovers. I just don’t see it. And maybe because I compare them to my old defenses that I played on. But this is a different age, and I think [Van Noy] has been a good, solid player for them.”
“I do believe that Philadelphia can score, and score a lot of points. Once again, I look at this defense, and there’s really nothing about this defense that really scares me. There’s nothing that really scares me personally, but I know that they don’t have big names or great players, but they have guys that work well together.”
ON NEW TITANS HEAD COACH MIKE VRABEL
“We had a lot of smart guys on our team, but Mike was always considered the smartest guy on our defense. I mean, like, brilliant. And the cool part about Bill Belichick and Romeo Crennel and Dean Pees, they allow us as players to kind of coach within each other. And so there are a lot of adjustments made with Mike Vrabel, Tedy Bruschi, things like that.
“Mike is a natural leader. He’s going to tell it like it is. And he’s not going to hold back.”
ON MATT PATRICIA
“I love Matt Patricia. I’ve been around for a long time and people always ask me about his personality. Is he the right guy for a head coaching job? And I say, you’re damn right he is. Because he’s smart, he knows players, he knows how to communicate. And if that doesn’t equate to him getting a head coaching job somewhere because of what the public perception is, it’s wrong. Because the players love him.
“Look at the adjustments that he made after the first quarter of the season. The first four games of the season, they played like crap. They made some adjustments, and they end up becoming one of the best defenses in the league. That should tell you about Matt Patricia and what he’s capable of doing.”