For more than a decade, Rodney Harrison was regarded as one of the best safeties in football. He won two Super Bowls with the New England Patriots and played in two more during his 15-year NFL career.
Harrison started a second career after his retirement following the 2008 season and now serves as a TV studio analyst for NBC Sports. A number of Carolina Panthers fans don’t like him because they believe he is too hard on their team. Cornerback Josh Norman shares that opinion and engaged in a feisty war of words with Harrison this week, with me serving as a go-between. Harrison believes he is just being honest and hard-hitting as an analyst, much like he was as a player.
The interview I did with Harrison covered far more than just Josh Norman. Here are five more questions I asked him. The answers from Harrison have been edited only for brevity and clarity.
Q. You told The Observer’s Joseph Person earlier this year, when Carolina was 5-0, that the Panthers did not “come off” as a Super Bowl contender because “they just don’t have enough weapons” on offense. Now that the Panthers are 13-0, do you still believe that?
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A. Even if I was to go back (to playing in the NFL) at 43 years old, I still wouldn’t be scared of their wide receivers. I wouldn’t be scared of them. That’s really no shot at those guys.
Ted Ginn? He’s a journeyman. (Jerricho) Cotchery – he’s the wily vet. (Devin) Funchess? I’m just not scared of those guys. At the same time, people said the same thing about us (in New England, where Harrison won his two Super Bowl rings). We had David Givens, Deion Branch and those types of guys that people didn’t give a lot of credit or respect to. I think that’s the thing that is fueling these guys.
But Cam Newton, he’s really the key. He threw a pass to Ed Dickson (against Atlanta) – that was one of the best throws I’ve ever seen. For him to throw that side-armed, misses a guy’s helmet by an inch, fires it into Dickson for the touchdown – it was absolutely fantastic. ... It’s one of those things that if a team like Seattle slows that running game down and they have the athletes to cover those guys, I think it’s going to be a long day.
So I still worry about that wide receiving corps. Maybe they’ll prove me wrong and they’ll be like the Patriots and those no-name guys making those plays. But I just think you need a little better receiving corps in order to win the Super Bowl.
Q. So you believe the Panthers will not win the Super Bowl?
A. I’m not necessarily saying that. You asked me about the offense. That doesn’t take into consideration how great of a defense they have.
Cam has to play on the level he’s playing at. Greg Olsen, he’s a top-3 tight end in this league. They have as good a chance as anyone of winning the Super Bowl. But a lot happens, man. Once the season is over – whether you are at 15-1 or 16-0 – everything changes and it becomes a new season.
Q. Is there a difference in team personality between the Patriots team you played on that started the year 18-0 and the Carolina team that has started 13-0?
A. Yes. The biggest difference between with them and with us – we were just a little bit quieter and more conservative with our approach. ... They are actually celebrating and openly having a lot of fun.
Q. What do you think about the celebrating the Panthers are doing?
A. I like the fact that they’re kind of embracing the moment. But at the same time it’s a scary line to walk because you’re going to get teams that see that, and teams are going to want to beat you.
They are going to say, “Hey, from what I hear from around the league, Carolina’s cocky and they’re taking pictures before the game is over.” ... But when you’re undefeated and you’re on top, people are going to say a lot of different things about you anyway. You just have to embrace the moment.
Q. You nearly played on the only 19-0 team in NFL history, but the 2007 New England Patriots were upset by the New York Giants in the Super Bowl. What, if anything, could have changed the outcome that day and made you and New England 19-0?
A. Going into the game, I just didn’t have a great feeling, because I didn’t think we had a great week of practice like we had previous years, in 2003 or 2004. It was almost like we took the Giants a little lightly.
Obviously there are plays that could have been made on everybody’s part. I had a play that I could have made that could have changed the course of the game.
So for people to automatically assume that just because the Panthers are undefeated that they are going to the Super Bowl, it’s crazy ... I get these tweets and people get mad at me because I said, “I believe in Seattle.”
The reason I believe in Seattle is because they’ve played under that pressure of playoff football. They are experienced. They aren’t afraid of the big stage. ... Everyone may be saying: “Carolina, Carolina.” But once that whistle blows, an undefeated record doesn’t matter. They all want to be the team that say, “We broke their undefeated streak.”