ST. AUGUSTINE, FLA. – Words definitely won't win Super Bowl XXXIX. They won't earn either team a single point on the ALLTEL Stadium scoreboard. But they certainly do make things a little more interesting in the long two weeks between the conference championship games and the biggest game in sports.
The jabs started late last week when Eagles wide receiver Freddie Mitchell, a guest on ESPN SportsCenter, couldn't name the players that make up New England's secondary. Mitchell listed numbers, some right and others incorrect, before going on to single out and say that he "has something" for Patriots strong safety Rodney Harrison.
New England players began responding to the comments on Friday and continued to fire back at Mitchell in the team's first media appearance in Florida on Sunday afternoon where Harrison, as well as linebackers Willie McGinest and Larry Izzo, quarterback Tom Brady, wide receiver/defensive back Troy Brown, and guard Joe Andruzzi, all met with a contingent of national media at the team's headquarters at the Renaissance World Golf Village Resort.
For players that usually aren't wont to enter the trash talk game, they don't seem to be holding anything back after Mitchell's early verbal barbs. And they didn't have to ask permission to do so.
"I am grown. I can say what I want to say," Harrison said. "No one has given me the green light. I am going to say what I say. I have been in the league a long time and I am a grown man. So I am going to respond in a fashion that I think is respectable to my family, to my teammates and to the other team. When I speak something, it is the truth. It's not to blow smoke up your butt or anything like that. It's the truth."
The truth is the Patriots, especially the defenders, are still boiling about what they perceive as a simple lack of respect that the entire team plans on fighting.
"I think he was probably saying it to give hype to himself more so than anything. He was probably saying it as a joke," Harrison said with a hint of understanding before taking the offensive. "But you have to understand something, when you attack me, you are not just attacking me. You are attacking 10 other guys on defense. A lot of guys take that personally because we are such a close-knit group and so tight. It's not like he just has to watch out for me, not saying that I am going to go purposely at him, but he has to watch out for everyone because everyone is going to be pumped up and ready to go because we all take offense to smart comments like that.
"You are not just calling Rodney Harrison out. You are calling out Tedy Bruschi, Willie McGinest, Roman Phifer and all the other guys back there. Remember, you have another trained assassin in Eugene Wilson back there. If he'd watch film he'd know that those guys hit just as much as I hit."
And while Harrison is rather worked up by what he will use as extra, likely unnecessary, motivation, the veteran isn't surprised by such talk coming out of opposing locker rooms at this point in his career.
"You are always going to find one jerk out of the bunch, just like Vanderjerk," Harrison said, referring to inflammatory comments made by Colts kicker Mike Vanderjagt earlier this postseason. "You are always going to find one guy like that who wants some attention and who wants to do something to kind of stir up the emotions of the game."
But if that is the case, then why doesn't there ever seem to be one of those jerks firing first from the New England locker room?
"I think it's maturity," Harrison said. "I think it's the standard that the veterans set. I think what Bill [Belichick] has done, he's brought the right type of guys here and has really done a great job of making sure that we stay humble and that we keep things in perspective. Why would you want to get someone riled up? I am not going to sit here and say, 'Donavan McNabb is overrated.' Why would I say something like that? So that he can go out there and get even more pumped up and go 30-of-40 for 300-something yards? You give people praise and respect for what they have accomplished. I don't care if they are the 53rd man on the team or if they are the No. 1 guy like McNabb because it takes so much hard work and effort just to be in the National Football League."
When an opponent does happen to open his mouth first, these mature veterans can respond, and respond they have.
"He said what he said," linebacker Willie McGinest said. "It upset us and we're not going to keep going back and forth wasting time commenting on a guy like that who's been unproductive in his career and is only doing this because another player is hurt and he gets a little limelight and starts talking and doing a lot of interviews. We just stay humble and like he said, we'll see come Sunday at the end of the game."
McGinest is right. The Eagles will see on Sunday. So will the Patriots. So will the world. But until then, at least this little war of words is keeping things interesting.