Two-time Pro Bowl safety Rodney Harrison announced his retirement on Wednesday, saying he is through hitting quarterbacks after a 15-year career for the New England Patriots and San Diego Chargers.
"I am done, and I am very much so at peace with that," he said in a conference call with reporters. "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."
Later Wednesday, NBC announced that Harrison will join its NFL studio show; he worked for the network during its Super Bowl coverage last year.
Expect Harrison's frank speaking to continue.
"When I played I didn't have many friends," he said on the network's conference call, "so I'm sure I'm not going to make friends now."
The 36-year-old Harrison holds the NFL record for defensive backs with 30 1/2 sacks; he also has 34 interceptions, making him the only player to have at least 30 of each. But the numbers only tell part of the story about a player who had a reputation as one of the hardest hitters in the league _ and one of the dirtiest, too.
"People have called me a dirty player. I'm a very passionate player," Harrison said. "I also understand that this is not volleyball. This is a very violent, physical game, and if you hit someone in the mouth, you're not going to be their friend. That's what the game of football is."
Although his passion was often misinterpreted as cheap shots, Harrison said it was part of his philosophy to "play every play like it's my last play."
Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi called it "the Harrison formula." New England linebacker Pierre Woods said Harrison was on a mission to keep the league from "getting soft."
"If you can't hit the quarterback," Woods recalled Harrison saying, "what are you doing out there?"
Patriots coach Bill Belichick called Harrison one of the best players he's ever coached, and cited his commitment to practicing hard as proof of his passion for the game.
"In the biggest games, in any situation and on a weekly basis, his production was phenomenal," Belichick said. "Rodney embodies all the attributes coaches seek and appreciate: toughness, competitiveness, leadership, selflessness, hard work, intensity, professionalism _ and coming from Rodney, they are contagious."
Owner Robert Kraft said Harrison was one of his favorites.
"For the past six years, Rodney was a leader in the locker room and a tenacious defender on the field," Kraft said. "He gave the Patriots, and the game of football, everything he had on every play, which earned the respect of Patriots fans everywhere."
Harrison won two Super Bowls with the Patriots, but he missed the last 10 games in 2008 after tearing a muscle in his right thigh. Injuries, along with a four-game suspension in 2007 for using a banned substance, limited him to 31 games over the last four seasons.
"I always wanted to prove to everyone that I could come back," he said, "but I really didn't have that fire anymore."
Although he was unapologetic about his multiple fines _ more than $200,000 over his career, including lost pay from a one-game suspension in 2002 for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Jerry Rice _ Harrison did call the drug suspension "a huge mistake." He has admitted obtaining human growth hormone, saying it was to speed his recovery from an injury.
"I had so much pride about trying to do things right," he said. "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."
Harrison said that a few months ago his recovery was to the point where he considered playing again. Four or five teams expressed an interest, he said, but he realized he didn't have the same desire.
"I started realizing that there's a point in time where you need to walk away and football was no longer the priority," he said. "Golf was the priority and my family was the priority. 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."
Harrison started out his call by joking that he had signed a two-year deal with the Patriots with the promise that he didn't have to report until September.
After a pause, he 'fessed up, and he later added that there was no chance of a Brett Favre-like reversal.
"I respect people in National Football League enough not to put them on this joyride the back and forth, the ups and downs of am 'I coming back' and 'Will I not come back?" he said. "I am done and I am always going to be a fan of football."