Today, the New England Patriots’ Hall of Fame will welcome its two newest members. One is the late Leon Gray, who played offensive tackle for the team in the 70s and was part of some of the best lines in NFL history. He will join the Hall as a senior member. The modern-era inductee, meanwhile, is two-time Super Bowl winning safety Rodney Harrison. Both men will be honored at a ceremony later today.
With the event on the horizon, Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio used the opening remarks of his press conference on Saturday to speak about Harrison — “not to shortchange Leon Gray, but Leon was playing before I was even born” — and explain what he meant both to the organization as a whole and himself personally. Caserio’s remarks reflect just how well-respected Harrison was during his tenure in New England.
“Rodney, I would say, left an impression on me personally when I was a young coach, a young person in this program. Here’s a player that had been in the league however many years and he came here,” said Caserio about the now-46-year-old who joined the Patriots as a free agency signing in 2003. At that time, Caserio was in his third year with the team and working in his first season as an area scout.
“The thing about Rodney is this guy loved to practice. You guys get to see what goes on on Sundays, how they play, their performance, but what this guy did on a day-to-day basis in terms of practice, in terms of his preparation, that’s why he was great,” continued Caserio. “We know he was tough as hell and he played that well and he played to his personality, and he’s a straight shooter and he tells the truth which he does in his current job.”
Because of his combination of toughness and natural leadership skills, Harrison was voted a team captain in each of his six seasons in New England. Receiving the honor from his teammates from as early on as his first year with his new club is exemplary for how the former San Diego Chargers safety quickly adapted to life with the franchise and the so-called ‘Patriot Way:’ Harrison immediately became an emotional leader for the team.
“When we go out to practice, you guys see we do the work with one another, right? We have a red team working on kickoff or kickoff return and Rodney would kick on a kickoff — the scout team kickoff team — and bust his hump getting down the field,” continued Caserio when speaking about Harrison’s impact and mentality even as a practice player. “That type of effort, that type of mentality, that type of mindset permeates your football team when you see somebody like that.”
“It left an impression on me,” Caserio continued. “I had been here for a couple of years and you see somebody like that, and what it says is really that it shows you that your job and your responsibility while you’re here is to do whatever you can to help the team in whatever capacity that is. You’re talking about a Hall of Fame player and he’s going down on kickoff coverage making it hard on our kickoff return team in order to prepare them for the game in front of them.”
As one of the most physical players of his era — one that was voted as the dirtiest in the NFL on numerous occasions — Harrison exemplified the blue-collar team the early 2000s Patriots aimed to be. As such, he helped build a foundation that still lies at the bottom of the franchise: in their essence, the slogans ‘Do Your Job’ and ‘No Days Off’ date back to that time in Patriots history; one during which Harrison was one of the most prominent and important members of the team.
“We’ve had a lot of great players around here who love to practice,” added Caserio. “I mean, [Tom] Brady loves to practice, [Tedy] Bruschi loved to practice, [Mike] Vrabel, Harrison, Patrick Chung — those guys love to practice and to be recognized the way Rodney is, it’s very well-deserved and it certainly left an impression on me personally.”