Commentary

Canton: Arguments for, against Harrison

Originally Published: June 9, 2009
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

In the wake of the retirement of Rodney Harrison last week, there has been considerable and emotional discussion about his Pro Football Hall Of Fame candidacy.

In many respects, the former San Diego Chargers and New England Patriots safety possesses a résumé worthy of Canton consideration.

Some of the best written debate came from old buddy Jim Donaldson of The Providence Journal, who penned a terrific, objective and dispassionate column delineating Harrison's strengths and weaknesses. Donaldson concluded that the 15-year veteran defender is shy of the credentials necessary to merit Hall of Fame induction.

We agree.

When Harrison is presented in at least five years (the required waiting period for retired players) for potential Hall of Fame induction, we will consider, as a member of the board of selectors, his candidacy with an open mind. But for now, a week removed from his NFL departure, Harrison is probably deserving of inclusion into what Sports Illustrated's Peter King once dubbed "The Hall of Very Good."

But the Hall of Fame? Probably not.

Granted, Harrison owns an impressive résumé: He won two Super Bowls with the Patriots, started 159 games, and is the only player in league history to record both 30 sacks (30½) and 30 interceptions (34) in a career. He was a two-time Pro Bowl selection.

Harrison was a big hitter, a fierce and feared presence in the middle of two teams' secondaries, and an incredibly instinctive defender. All of those things, for sure, go in the plus column.

Consider the negative part of the ledger. Harrison was fined more than $200,000 by the league for overzealous hits. He was suspended for the first four games of the 2007 season for his admitted use of HGH (human growth hormone) to help overcome an injury. And after missing just 21 games in his first 11 seasons, Harrison missed more contests than he played (33-31) because of injuries and suspension in his final four NFL campaigns.

To be sure, the physical safety authored a lot of big plays, but the most lasting visual image in recent years was Harrison limping off the field with torn knee ligaments or a broken shoulder. And anyone who listened in to Harrison's national conference call in 2007 can't help but recall the reasons he employed to rationalize his use of HGH, which is prominent on the league's banned substances list.

Harrison was questioned as a team leader in both San Diego and New England. He always played with verve, no doubt about it.

As Donaldson pointed out in his column, Harrison generally played big in the big games, as evidenced by his four interceptions in the 2004 playoffs, including two pickoffs against the Philadelphia Eagles in New England's Super Bowl XXXIX victory. Still, as much as Harrison revered the game, he sometimes wandered across the line of discretion.

Since there is no concrete criteria established by the Hall of Fame, except that the selectors consider only a player's feats on the field, some might ignore Harrison's fines and suspension. But human nature enters into the voting as well, and those indiscretions could be an issue.

Even if Harrison had a pristine record, history indicates his path to the Hall of Fame could be marked by potholes.

There have been 111 players chosen for the Hall from the so-called "Super Bowl Era." From that group, there are only five safeties: Ken Houston, Paul Krause, Larry Wilson, Ronnie Lott and Rod Woodson. Only the center position, with four, has fewer Hall of Fame inductees. For whatever reason, safety just isn't a position that lends itself to Hall of Fame inclusion.

For those reasons -- and this is hardly scientific -- we make Harrison no better than a 15-1 shot for Hall of Fame induction.

Of course, things could change dramatically by the time Harrison is eligible for the Hall of Fame, after the standard five-year waiting period. Often, being inducted into the Hall is a function of that particular year's class of candidates.

And the Hall of Fame selectors, about as diligent a group as you can find, certainly keep an open mind on candidates. This year, for instance, it appeared that Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson was a long shot for inclusion. But thanks to a terrific presentation by Mark Gaughn of The Buffalo News, and positive discussion from other selectors about Wilson's candidacy, one could feel that the Buffalo owner was gaining traction with the group, and he was chosen as part of the Class of 2009.

In 2003, it appeared that former Bills guard Joe DeLamielleure didn't have a snowball's chance of being elected. But after selectors talked among themselves during the week preceding the vote, it became clear when the annual election was held that DeLamielleure had gained considerable momentum.

The dynamic inside the meeting room is a fascinating one, and usually unpredictable.

Harrison's candidacy could be strengthened by the relatively weak class of players who have retired in 2009. From that group, quarterback Brett Favre is the only sure thing -- and that's only if he decides to remain retired. If he plays this season, he won't be part of the Class of 2014.

Coach Tony Dungy also figures to have strong support. But after that, the group of 2009 retirees seems fairly nondescript.

There are some players (wide receiver Marvin Harrison, linebacker Derrick Brooks, quarterback Trent Green and tailback Edgerrin James) who could make a strong case for Hall of Fame induction, but none of those players officially has retired yet. Certainly last year's class of retirees was significantly stronger, with players such as defensive linemen Warren Sapp and Michael Strahan, offensive linemen Jonathan Ogden and Larry Allen, safety John Lynch and kicker Morten Andersen.

So, while Harrison seems a long shot for now, the situation could change radically by the time he is presented.

Len Pasquarelli, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

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