Defensive leader rolls with the punches

Updated: October 22, 2003, 6:33 PM ET
ESPN

FOXBORO, Mass. -- You can take his money, trample his good name and beat him to the ball.

Rodney Harrison shrugs it all off and comes back just as hard.

Last Sunday, the New England safety struck back with heavy hits on Miami tight end Randy McMichael. On Wednesday, he fired back verbally at McMichael's claim that he's a dirty player.

"I really don't care what he says," Harrison said. "He's a good young player. He has some growing up to do, but it really doesn't matter."

Certainly, he must care about the more than $200,000 in fines he's incurred in his NFL career. Nearly all of that came during nine seasons with the San Diego Chargers. He already has been fined once this year, his first with the Patriots.

But he doesn't complain about paying for his aggressive style.

"I'm making more money than I thought I'd ever make in my whole life," Harrison said. "It's not about the money. It's about playing the game the way the game's supposed to be played.

"Unfortunately, in the NFL, they changed the rules to protect the offensive players and when you have a reputation, you end up getting hurt even more. But in all fairness, I play between the whistles. I play hard. I play 100 miles per hour."

He hits hard, talks trash and irritates opponents. He hopes that intimidates them and distracts them from their on-field tasks.

Harrison seemed to get to McMichael.

The second-year tight end had career highs of eight catches and 102 yards receiving in the Patriots 19-13 overtime win last Sunday in Miami.

He stayed on the attack after the game, criticizing Harrison's tactics.

"He's a garbage player. He's a a great player but he's a dirty player. That's all right, though. He got the win," McMichael said. "I can't wait to get some more of that cat and you can print that. Put that up on his bulletin board."

As if Harrison, a two-time Pro Bowl player, needs anything else to motivate him.

Mild-mannered during the week, he charges around the field and talks with officials throughout the game.

"It seems like Rodney's not just satisfied with tackling guys. He wants to punish people," Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi said. "He wants to drive them in the ground. He wants to let them know that it was him doing it.

"He's probably one of the more physical hitters that I've seen in the league."

That helped convince the Patriots to sign him after he was cut by San Diego last Feb. 27. So did the fact he's not intimidated by opponents' criticism.

"I don't really care what anybody thinks about me," he said.

Harrison leads the team with 67 tackles and has been outstanding in the last three games, all wins. He had 14 tackles, 11 unassisted, against Tennessee, two interceptions against the New York Giants, and 13 tackles and one fumble recovery against Miami.

He also measures his success in the attention he commands from opponents.

"That's what the game is about, making people become aware of you," he said. "Once they start looking and talking about you, then you know you're doing your job."

Harrison became the leader of the secondary when the Patriots cut safety Lawyer Milloy five days before their season opener.

"Rodney has good character and he has good leadership skills," defensive end Anthony Pleasant said. "Guys look up to him."

Unless you're an opponent, like McMichael.

"He thought I tried to twist his ankle or something like that, which I didn't try to do," Harrison said. "If I was trying to hurt the guy he would know.

"When he makes a catch, he gets up and he does his little dance. So when we get a chance, we're going to make him pay. We're going to try to rip his head off, and that's what football is."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index