A new field for Patriot

Harrison will retire, pursue broadcasting

By Christopher L. Gasper and Mike Reiss
Globe Staff / June 3, 2009
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FOXBOROUGH - You wouldn't blame Tedy Bruschi and Richard Seymour if they looked around during yesterday's organized team activity and wondered if they were still playing for the New England Patriots. Times have changed, and so have the players.

The latest loss is Rodney Harrison. According to a source with knowledge of Harrison's plans, the 36-year-old safety will announce today that he is retiring after 15 seasons - the last six with the Patriots - to pursue a broadcast career as part of NBC Sports' NFL coverage.

The team will hold a 9 a.m. conference call with Harrison, who joined the Patriots in 2003 and won a pair of Super Bowl rings. NBC Sports, which used Harrison during its Super Bowl coverage this past season, has scheduled a conference call for noon.

Harrison has retained a broadcast agent, Mark Lepselter of Maxx Sports & Entertainment. When reached yesterday, Lepselter declined comment.

The hard-hitting and outspoken safety, who ends his career as the only player in NFL history with more than 30 sacks (30.5) and 30 interceptions (34), will go from delivering vicious hits to opposing players to delivering sharp points to television viewers.

Although anticipated, the loss of Harrison, who was both an elder statesmen and an emotional sparkplug, is another crack in the team's leadership and culture of winning. Suddenly, Patriots with Super Bowl rings are an endangered species.

Just six players remain that were with the team for all three of its championship seasons (2001, 2003, 2004): Bruschi, Seymour, Tom Brady, Matt Light, Kevin Faulk, and Stephen Neal, who didn't play in Super Bowl XXXVI and was on injured reserve for Super Bowl XXXVIII. Including that Super Bowl-winning sextet, there are 14 players on the current roster that have won a Super Bowl with the Patriots.

Factoring in the offseason trade of linebacker Mike Vrabel to the Kansas City Chiefs, Bruschi, Seymour, Ty Warren, reserve defensive end Jarvis Green, and backup linebacker Tully Banta-Cain are the only remaining defensive players with multiple Super Bowl baubles earned in New England. The Patriots aren't rebuilding, but they are reshaping the face of their team.

"Do I look around at times at these strange faces and say, 'What am I doing here?' No, no," said Bruschi, with a laugh. "You know, it makes you think about things, that you're not going to play forever. And definitely most players don't play for the same team forever, and I've been fortunate to be here all my years, 14 years, and I look forward to staying here and finishing here."

Bruschi, who turns 36 next Tuesday, may be lucky enough to leave the Patriots on his own terms, unlike Vrabel and Harrison, who saw his career effectively end on Oct. 20, when he tore his right quadriceps against the Denver Broncos, the third time since 2005 his season ended in injury and the fourth straight season he missed time.

In 2005, Harrison blew out his left knee. He missed the 2006 playoffs with a sprained MCL in his right knee. He sat out the first four games of the 2007 season with a suspension for violating the league's performance-enhancing drug policy, when his name came up in an investigation of online purchases of human growth hormone.

Seymour, who is entering the final year of his contract, said turnover on defense is not a new concept for the Patriots.

"Every year, there's always a lot of change," Seymour said. "This league, there's a lot of turnover from year to year. Ever since I came into the league, whether we had Lawyer Milloy, Anthony Pleasant and Willie McGinest and Ty Law, there's always a lot of turnover, and this year is no different."

But there is a noticeable difference without Harrison and Vrabel.

"It's different for me, especially when you have a couple of good friends that are missing," said Bruschi, who is in the final year of a two-year deal. "The stretch line is a lot less different. There is a lot less laughter with the guys that aren't here now. It's change. You get used to it and you move on."

The sage of the secondary now is Harrison's understudy, James Sanders, who joined the Patriots as a fourth-round pick in 2005. Cornerbacks Shawn Springs (13th season) and Leigh Bodden (seventh) are NFL veterans, but they're new to New England.

"It's kind of weird," said Sanders. "[Defensive coordinator] Dean [Pees] and some of the guys joke some of the time, saying, 'You're the old guy now. I'm like, 'The old guy? I'm 25.' "

Perhaps nobody learned more from Harrison than Sanders. He represents the legacy that Harrison tried to pass on and the legacy that Bruschi and Seymour are left to promote.

Another piece of the Patriots' championship past is gone, but for there to be a championship future, he can't be forgotten.

"I think he should forever be known as a winner, because he helped us win, and he was a big reason why we won," said Bruschi. "When we watch film, I think guys can watch him and remember his example and remember, 'That's the way we got it done with him.' I think that's the right example to follow, that was the right formula - the Harrison formula.

"I think if the younger safeties follow that same way of preparation and the way he played on the field - I think we all remember that - I think we will win some more ballgames."

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