New England Patriots safety Rodney Harrison announces his retirement from pro football during his conference call on Wednesday, June 3, 2009.
RH:Today is a very exciting day for me. Contrary to what you guys may have heard, I just got off the phone with Coach Belichick and I decided to return with the Patriots. I am very excited about getting back with my teammates, getting back out on the field, knee feels great and he told me I really don't have to report until September 1st, so I'm very excited about that. I am pulling your leg, Karen [Guregian]. It was a joke. I wanted you to smile, Karen. Basically for me, fifteen years ago I was drafted by the San Diego Chargers. [I] had the opportunity and privilege to play in this league for a long time, but today I am very proud and very excited to announce my retirement from the NFL. It's been a long time. I had to contemplate a lot of different feelings, a lot of different emotions, but all-in-all I've done everything I possibly could do on the field. I feel like I have nothing else to prove. It was always my goal to play the game the right way and when I say the right way, it was to play every play like it was my last play. I definitely have no [regrets]. I've had a tremendous amount of ups - more ups than downs - but really the downs have shaped me into the character and the person that I am today. My major goal was to, despite the last couple of injuries, was to be able to literally walk away from the game healthy. I'm very, very excited about being able to walk off the field. I am very much at a peaceful place in my life and I really look forward to spending time with my family and future business endeavors. This has been a great opportunity for me. First and foremost, I thank God for the opportunity that he provided me with. [I] thank my family, my wife, my mom, in particular, for being patient [and] for supporting me. I'd like to thank the Chargers organization for giving me the opportunity when they drafted me 15 years ago, to give the opportunity to play and to live my dreams. I would also like to personally thank Robert Kraft and Bill Belichick for really giving me a second lease on my football life and being so supportive. I'd also like to thank all my teammates that have supported me, that have gone through the good, the bad and different - guys that have got hit, pushed in the back, guys that I've got into fights with over the years - I would just like to thank them for supporting me. Last but not least, the fans. The fans support has been tremendous over in San Diego [and] throughout the league as well as in New England - great fan base. And I will have to personally thank Junior Seau for probably being the single most influential person in my football career. A guy that taught me how to be a professional. A guy that taught me how to appreciate working hard, respecting the game and really being consistent and understanding that the game of football is definitely a privilege and a great opportunity to have and not taking it for granted. There are messages I would like to relay to some of the young guys that have an opportunity to come in and play in the National Football League. Respect the game. Remember all the players that have sacrificed so much for you, all the guys that really laid the foundation to give the younger guys and the guys like myself an opportunity to come in and have free agency, to be able to make a good living playing a game that, once again, that we love. Understanding that as a young guy or as a person in the National Football League, not only do you represent the team that you play for, but you represent your family, your name and you have to present yourself with a level of respect, a level of class that doesn't make a mockery out of the National Football League. You always have to be conscience of the decisions that you make and really just respecting the game of the National Football League. And last but not least, just understand that as a player in the National Football League it's not about you. This is a game where you can get caught up in self analysis, self promotion, but when you realize it's not about you, it's about giving back along the way and really helping someone along the way and impacting and influencing someone's life, that's really what it's about. It's not about how many touchdowns you score or how many tackles you have or interceptions. It's about helping people along the way, and I've been so fortunate to be a part of it - guys helping me as well as being able to touch the players and really touching, impacting and influencing their lives. And that's the greatest satisfaction that I got from playing in the National Football League. With that said, I will give you guys an opportunity to ask me questions. I would also like to thank you guys [media] for being there for me and being critical of me at times. It really motivated me and really drove me, but also being fair to me. I've always tried to respect you guys and give you an opportunity and always talk and be open with you guys. I appreciate that, so you guys can ask any questions you want.
Q:How close did you come to playing again and which teams, if any, were interested in you?
RH:Well, maybe a few months ago I really started feeling pretty good and the rehab was going well and about four or five teams had interest in signing me and bringing me in. But after awhile I got home and I started spending time with my kids. I started realizing that there's a point in time where you need to walk away and football was no longer the priority. Golf was the priority and my family was the priority. So with that being said, I used to wake up and want to work out and I was hungry and always wanted to prove to everyone that I could come back, but I really didn't have that fire anymore. It was definitely time for me to pursue other interests and it was time for me to move forward. Like I said in my statement, I wanted to be able to walk with my kids. One more shot in my knees or my legs - I didn't want to see my buddies playing golf and I'm over there either in a wheelchair or with a cane, and that was so important for me after 15 years of me playing the way I played, it's being able to lead a healthy lifestyle. [With] that being said, I was done.
Q:To follow up on that, do you feel 100 percent on this? I know we've talked about Brett Favre and some of his back and forth… Could you envision you making a Brett Favre type return at some point?
RH:Never, never. For me Mike, 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. When I made my decision to retire, I made my decision to retire. I want to walk away from the game. There is a point in time where we all have to walk away from the game and I just thought it would be very disrespectful for me to come back and forth and not make my decision. That's why I said a few months back June 1st was my date, so now being fair to my teammates, being fair to the organizations that I've played for and the coaches I've played for, I wanted to make that concrete decision [and] I was able to make it [June 3nd] and not have my teammates have to deal with this. They come out, they make their statement and move on. I never want to be a distraction and I just think that is so fair for the peers throughout the league as well as my teammates for not being distracted by Rodney Harrison. When I made my decision, I am complete with that. Just like I said in my statement, I am done and I am very much so at peace with that. Football has been good to me. I've worked hard. I've played hard. I've done some things that I never dreamt I could do and now it's time to move forward to the next phase of my life. I respect people in National Football League enough not to put them on this joy ride - the back and forth, the ups and downs of am I coming back and will I not come back? I am done and I am always going to be a fan of football.
Q:Could you go back and tell the story of how you ended up in New England?
RH:Well, you bring me back to a unique situation. I was in the office about to sit down and talk to Al Davis and I was on the phone with Mike Shanahan at the time and then right after that Bill Belichick called and he said, 'hey we want to fly you out'. I look and I say, 'ok, do I stay in Oakland or do I fly to New England?' Something told me you better get on that plane, so I am in shorts - it's about 85 degrees out in Oakland and I hop on the plane. I sneak out of Al Davis' office and tell them that I need to go get a lunch break. From there I go straight to the airport, hop on a flight and I end up in New England at 6 a.m. I'm in Belichick's office around 8:30 or 9 and trying to work out a contract an hour or two later. Once I sat down and met with Bill and Scott Pioli it was a wrap. This is the place that I knew God had destined for me to be and I'm so glad. I always wanted to play for Mike Shanahan, but I had a great feeling knowing that Belichick wanted me. He's a football guy and that's what I like. He told me some things that I never thought he paid attention to, which really impressed me and it really sold me [on] becoming a Patriot.
Q:What was your proudest moment in New England? One that stands out to me that they caught on camera was you embracing Belichick after one of the Super Bowls and I think you said something like, 'Thank you for believing in me.' Would that be at the top of your list?
RH:That was definitely one of the best feelings I've had. For a guy that everyone said was washed up, couldn't play the game, why are they picking him? And to be able to have a guy, like I said Belichick is a football guy, to believe in me, to come and give me a six year deal when everyone thought it was the most foolish thing you could do and to be able to win that game against the Colts and to get to the Super Bowl, that was one of my proudest moments. But the proudest moment had to be once Adam Vinatieri kicked that field goal and that confetti came down at our first Super Bowl. That was probably the most proudest moment because it wasn't an individual thing - two interceptions, 10 tackles - it was a team effort and it was a team related situation that really made me feel good. Fifty three guys, a bunch of coaches, the organization against the world achieving a goal and that's what's important to me. Not any individual accolade that I've ever received, but being able to do it from a team standpoint. That's the greatest satisfaction that you can ever get - coming together with 52 other personalities, not including coaches and accomplishing a goal that you set out to accomplish.
Q:At the beginning you said the lows of your career helped shape your character, what kind of things were you talking about?
RH:The injuries, even when I went through the suspension knowing that…having so much pride about trying to do things right and really making a huge mistake. When you make a huge mistake like that it either makes you realize what you need to improve on or you can get worse from it. And me realizing that I made such a huge mistake in that situation and disappointed so many people, more importantly, myself. It makes you realize that you're human. We fall so short of being the right type of people, but just trying to do the right thing and really understanding that I have a lot of people and a lot of young kids that look up to me. When I come out and say, 'hey, I made a mistake' and having other players learn from my situation so [they] don't have to go through something in particular to learn from it. And I've always been that type of guy, to try to learn from other people's mistakes. In this case, when I made that huge mistake, I wanted other guys and other kids to learn from that and not make the same mistake that I made.
Q:Already I have started to read the pundits debating you either getting into the Hall of Fame in five years or not. Do you have any thoughts on the Hall of Fame, getting in and would it mean a lot to you?
RH:Well to be honest with you, the Hall of Fame, a lot of times, is based on individual accomplishments, your talent and sometimes different opinions. But one thing no one can take away from me is my Super Bowl rings. I tell you, that means more to me than any Hall of Fame could mean to me because it's me, the number one guy on my team, Tom Brady, it's the 53rd guy on my team, the special teams guy that made a tackle inside the 20. That's what's important to me. It's the 53 collective guys working together over the course of six, seven, eight months to achieve a goal and that was to win a Super Bowl. That really isn't up to me. I can't make that decision as far as if I am worthy to be a Hall of Famer or not. All I know is that I laid every ounce of my body, soul and spirit on that football field. Whoever makes that decision, I'm fine with it either way. People have called me a dirty player and I'm very passionate player. I wouldn't call it dirty at all because I care for the players, I respect the players, I love the players in this league and the coaches because they work so hard and they are deserving of all the things they get. But I also understand this is not volleyball; This is a very violent and physical game and if you hit someone in the mouth, you're not going to be their friend. It's hard to make friends when you try to-not hurt anyone-but punish other people and that's what the game of football is. It's about making plays and going out there and intimidating. If people deem that I am worthy to go into the Hall of Fame then that is fine, but I wouldn't trade my two Super Bowl rings and four Super Bowl appearances for any Hall of Fame any day of the week.
Q:Do you regret that you weren't able to walk off the field for the last time on your own will?
RH:Not at all, because when you lay everything down on the line, a lot of times it's not the fairy tale ending that you'd like. But I'll tell you, I couldn't ask for more. I think I would be a very selfish person if I asked for something else. The way I came in was basically the way I was going to go out. My very first play of training camp I hit Natrone Means full speed back in 1994 and the very first play he ran me over and I was on the training table knocked out for about two hours, so that is the way I went out. That's the only way I probably would have stopped playing football was having to be carried out. God had a plan for me. For me to be able to walk away from the game and knowing that I could still come back and play and knowing that teams still had interest, teams still wanted to pay me to come out and play football. I could still play at this point, but I've decided that enough is enough. You want to walk away from the game and I am able to play a certain level of basketball, tennis with my daughter, I'm able to swim, play golf and do the things that I want to do. I am still a fairly young person contrary to what you may believe, but in real life I am still a young man and I have a lot of things I want to accomplish. I'm very satisfied with everything I have done. I appreciated the fans as I was getting carried off for giving me everything they gave me [in my] six years of being out there in New England.
Q:What's next for you?
RH:What's next for me is time with my family, some more golf and just really open to future opportunities that may come my way. Right now, I am just going to take a break and just spend some time with Rodney and my family and just relax.
Q:When that injury occurred and you waved to the crowd, did you expect that this was probably it?
RH:At that point, I was so frustrated and I was in so much pain, I felt that that was probably the last time I would walk off Gillette field. I just wanted to thank the fans for all of their support and to look at that stadium and see 70,000 people, see them clap for me. I knew I did something right. I knew I treated people right. I knew I played the game the right way. If you get hurt and people sit down then that's when you can be concerned with yourself, but people actually stood up. They appreciated the way I played because when I played I didn't play for any glory. I didn't play for self promotion. I didn't play for commercials or endorsements. I played for the guy that busted his tail for 12 hours a day for his family making $40-50,000 a year. That's who I played for. Those are the people, all working people that never took anything for granted. That's who I worked for.
Q:Did the plight of some retired players and what's happened to them later in life plan your decision at all?
RH:Yes, that was something. You look at guys now and the guys at golf tournaments that can barely walk, workout, don't workout and I just said, 'I am rehabbing, my rehab is going well, I work out four days a week, I am in great shape, I still love the game, [love] watching the game and looking at the game, but I have no interest in going back out on the field and hitting anyone.' The only thing I would like to hit is probably Tom Curran across the middle one time. With that, I am very satisfied with where I am at and I am happy with my health. Am I 100 percent? No, I'm not 100 percent. The injury that I sustained - I still have a few months to go, but I am able to do a lot of things that I wanted to do when I was done with football.
Q:Is NBC in your future?
RH:You can talk to Stacey James. He will give you directions and I guess you will have the opportunity to hear from everyone else.