I've thoroughly enjoyed watching and listening to Rodney Harrison throughout his 15-year NFL career, but maybe never more so than I did Wednesday morning as Harrison offered a clear-eyed explanation for walking away from the game.
In an age when players can't say goodbye and mean it -- Brett Favre, Junior Seau and Deion Sanders leap to mind -- it was refreshing to hear Harrison avoid equivocation, self-delusion or any major display of self-aggrandizing while announcing his retirement. We didn't get tears or a big show of emotion. We didn't get a laundry list reading of his career achievements or the opening arguments for his Hall of Fame bid. We got Harrison displaying the good sense to know when enough's enough and sharing his decision with us in his typical, straightforward fashion.
GALLERY: Big Retirements of 2009
"When I made my decision to retire, I made my decision to retire," Harrison, the former Patriots and Chargers safety, said in a conference call. "I want to walk away from the game. There is a point in time when we all have to walk away from the game, and I just thought it would be very disrespectful for me to come back and forth and not make my decision.
"I am done, and I am very much so at peace with that. Football has been good to me. I respect people in the National Football League enough not to put them on this joy ride -- the back and forth, the ups and downs of am I coming back [or] will I not come back? I am done.''
If that wasn't an anti-Favre shot across the bow, I don't know what in the world would qualify. It makes me eager to hear Harrison in his new role as an NBC studio analyst on Sunday nights, because my experience with him tells me he's not going to be one of those ex-players who sugarcoats his words on TV in order to maintain all his close, personal friendships around the league. Harrison never played with much subtlety, and I don't think he'll tip-toe in analyzing the game either.
I'm not talking about bashing for bashing's sake, but about having something meaningful and thoughtful to say, and being unafraid to say it, no matter whom it might perturb. I've always respected Harrison's penchant for honesty in an NFL locker room setting -- even in New England, where the walls have ears and nothing escapes Big Brother's notice (or someone else with those same initials). He's one of those rare players who just gets it. He understands the game and his place in it. Fifth-round picks, after all, aren't supposed to last 15 seasons in the NFL.
"As a player in the National Football League, it's not about you," Harrison said, expressing a sentiment that, sadly, few players understand. "This is a game where you can get caught up in self-analysis, self-promotion. But it's not about you. It's about giving back along the way and really helping someone along the way, impacting and influencing someone's life. That's the greatest satisfaction I got from playing in the National Football League."
Good luck, Sir Rodney. Here's hoping the world of TV and retirement fit you at least half as well as shoulder pads and a helmet did. And watch out, current NFL players. If you're not careful, Harrison will still be capable of leveling you from the blind side.
• Let's skip the sky-is-falling routine over the news Eagles running back Brian Westbrook will undergo surgery to remove some bone spurs from his right ankle Friday. It'll be his second surgery this offseason following an arthroscopic procedure on his left knee in February. That's no reason to panic, per se, but consider the following:
-- Westbrook turns 30 on Sept. 2, and history shows that's around when NFL running backs start to hit the wall physically. Somebody start the countdown clock in Philly.
-- Westbrook missed some playing time last year with both ankle and knee injuries, and most of his numbers fell considerably short of his All-Pro 2007 season, when he led the NFL in yards from scrimmage with 2,104. The beginning of the end always has to start somewhere.
-- Now it's even more obvious why the Eagles drafted Pitt running back LeSean McCoy in the second round in April after losing backup Correll Buckhalter to Denver via free agency. In the NFL these days, teams that don't have two quality running backs stand a great chance of having none at some point during the season.
GALLERY: NFL Stars on the Mend
• Some members of my own family seethe at the thought of seeing Michael Vick return to some level of prominence in the NFL after serving his dog-fighting conviction, and I completely understand their indignation. But let's be clear: Michael Vick is the best thing that ever happened to combat dog-fighting in this country. Without his high-profile face attached to that sick and largely secretive world, the spotlight would not have found the story in the same way, and I say that as someone who dug into the Vick dog-fighting saga from some of its earliest days in May 2007.
As sad and grisly as the story was, Vick's deep involvement wound up being a godsend to anti-dog-fighting efforts. It assured nationwide attention, and that attention ultimately saved the lives of many of Vick's dogs plus countless others around the country who would not have cracked the public radar otherwise.
Vick's fall from grace could well serve as the tipping point that eventually eradicates dog-fighting in the United States, and that's a pretty big silver lining in a very disturbing and painful story. Vick's continued prominence will do more to end dog-fighting than any other steps could by keeping the issue alive in our woefully short national attention span.
Blocking Vick's return to the NFL and forcing him to disappear might make his many critics feel better, but it won't necessarily save more dogs. Let him resume his career and become the foremost advocate of anti-dog fighting efforts, whether or not he's sincere. Most great movements boast an identifiable public face, and for better or worse, Vick's will forever be linked to this hot-button issue.
• Speaking of Vick, I can't help but marvel at how rapidly the football fates have turned for both he and fellow quarterback Vince Young. Not long ago, weren't these two supposedly revolutionizing the position of quarterback in the NFL, with their multi-threat talents?
Now, as one waits out his NFL exile -- which may or may not end this summer -- the other's career remains in limbo with the team that once considered him its savior.
No matter how much Young's agent spins the story and practices the art of damage control, there was absolutely nothing ambiguous about what Young told that Baltimore TV station this week. He quite clearly said he wants a legitimate shot at earning back his starting job from Kerry Collins in Tennessee this year, or wants to be traded to a team that wants him to start. No interpretation needed.
"Definitely I want to be in there playing ball and picking up where I left off, winning games and having a good time with my teammates and fans," Young said. "But at the same time, if them guys don't want me in there, it's time for me to make a career change for myself. The fact is, I'm ready to play ball, and if they're not ready for me to play ball, somebody is."
Why do I get the distinct feeling the VY saga in Tennessee will get worse before it gets better? If you ask me whether Matt Leinart in Arizona or Young in Tennessee has a better shot at winning back his starting job this season, I'll take Leinart -- even though Kurt Warner took Arizona to the Super Bowl a scant four months ago.
• Gotta love all the moves this time of year. Jon Gruden going to ESPN. Tony Dungy and Harrison jumping to NBC. Matt Millen perhaps bound for the NFL Network. Jerome Bettis turning in his personnel badge at 30 Rock. Hard to keep track of the talking heads without a scorecard.
Given that both Gruden and Dungy will now be on TV rather than the sidelines, ex-Bucs head coaches-turned NFL analysts has become a thriving sub-set of the game. Sam Wyche saw his promising broadcast career cut short years ago when doctors accidentally cut one of his vocal cords during surgery, and I'm starting to wonder how Ray Perkins never got a shot at a TV gig?
• I have to admit, though, I'm a bit surprised NBC hired Dungy, because I really didn't see the soft-spoken ex-coach going the NFL analyst route in retirement. He certainly wouldn't fit into the just-one-of-the-guys high jinks Jimmy Johnson and Bill Cowher have to endure on the Fox and CBS pregame shows.
But don't underestimate Dungy's chances to succeed in TV. From what I know, Dungy rarely fails for long.
• I've probably written something similar about 20 times, but I always chuckle at the NFL coverage this time of year that focuses on some rookie coming on strong in his attempts to win a starting job. Based, of course, on little more than how that rookie has looked so far in mini-camp, or offseason workouts.
A recent case in point: Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford is apparently off to an impressive start in a Lions jersey, shorts and helmet. But remember, we can't tell too much until the pads go on. I didn't look it up, but I'm guessing Joey Harrington looked pretty darn sharp in the spring of 2002, too.
And for that matter, after the Lions picked Stafford first overall in the draft, it'd be an upset of sorts if veteran QB Daunte Culpepper, who hasn't managed a quality season since 2004, keeps him off the field until Halloween. After all, two first-round quarterbacks started from Week 1 on last season, and I seem to recall Atlanta and Baltimore muddled through.
• If the Rams really do wind up moving back to Southern California, it'll mean the franchise went from L.A. to St. Louis to L.A. That would allow Los Angeles to have seen it from both sides now, given that the Raiders went from Oakland to Los Angeles to Oakland in the 1980s and '90s. Rams defensive end Chris Long could probably talk to his dad, Howie, and find out what a move like that entails.
• And while we're at it, how come the NFL is snubbing the Los Angeles Chargers this season? As part of the league's upcoming tribute to the AFL's 50th anniversary, the original eight AFL teams will play in 16 "legacy games," in which they'll wear 1960s-era throwback uniforms.
In all the news releases, the NFL has noted four of the original AFL teams were founded under different names. The Patriots were known as the Boston Patriots, the Titans as the Houston Oilers, the Chiefs as the Dallas Texans and the Jets as the New York Titans. But there's no mention that the Chargers played in L.A. for their first season, in 1960.
Why? Because traffic on I-5 wasn't all that difficult back then?
• I didn't get a chance to say it last week, but Fran Tarkenton gave voice to what a lot of people have been thinking for a while now: At some point, and I'm not sure when, Brett Favre started believing his own hype. He started thinking it was all about Favre, all the time. And I doubt that'll change at this late date.
• He didn't tweet it, but I take it Jacksonville head coach Jack Del Rio wasn't LOL after defensive tackle John Henderson missed that OTA workout with what Del Rio considered a slight shoulder injury. It's still TBD if Del Rio might consider Henderson's roster status DOA.