RUSH: It’s Super Bowl Friday and, as always, we take a departure from our normal schedule of events and talk about the game, and I’m really excited. This is gonna be fun. Rodney Harrison joins us from his home in Atlanta. Rodney, welcome to the EIB Network. It’s great to have you here.
HARRISON: Hey, Rush, how are you? Thanks for having me, bud.
RUSH: You bet. What I want to explore with you: I love taking media conventional wisdom and asking people like you about it. How many Super Bowls you played in?
HARRISON: I played in four.
RUSH: How many you won?
RUSH: Two. You miss it, by the way? You’ve been retired two years. Do you miss it? Do you wish you were there?
HARRISON: Not at all, Rush. You know, I’ve been playing football since I was six years old and I’ve played in four Super Bowls and I just don’t miss it. When I walked away from the game — well, I was carted away from the game, but I don’t miss it. I’m enjoying retirement.
RUSH: Now you’re doing media. Now you’re on the side of the bunch that is outside looking in. We as fans really don’t know how far inside the media gets. What’s been your experience now? Does the media really know what it’s talking about, say, when it discusses in-depth preparations for a big playoff game like this one or a championship game? Or are there things that they know that they don’t tell us?
HARRISON: I think, you know, you look at individuals that you’ve played against, that you probably played with, and you listen to their insight. Most of the guys that are talking about football, they know exactly what they’re talking about. But, you know, there are other guys that say or make big comments just to get attention. So, my experience has been, since I have a gone to the media side, I’ve had players act totally different towards me. (chuckles) Guys that I was really close friends with, they won’t even really pick up the phone call because they think I’m trying to pry for information. So, as an analyst, a former football player going into the booth, you have to be able to separate yourself. Because there’s a lot of people out there, they don’t like when you’re critical of ’em. People get mad. They get upset. Players stop talking to you. Because they think you’re personally attacking them as opposed to looking at their own play and seeing that they’re not very good.
RUSH: Well, there are… I can understand that. I mean, athletes in our culture are revered, and regardless what kind of people they are, if they have brilliance on the field, they are reported on in ways… (laughs) I would never be reported on in ways that these people are, and I can understand those people not wanting to have that upset. Let me get to an area of conventional wisdom that we’re peppered with every Super Bowl, every big playoff game, and that is: Distractions, Super Bowl distractions. Roethlisberger took the offensive line out, had dinner on Tuesday night, and it became a big story. In a game like this, do you really get distracted? Is it possible?
HARRISON: Well, it is distraction. You deal with anything from tickets that you have to deal with. You deal with flights; people coming in, calling you, asking you, ‘Hey, man, where’s the party at?’ I mean, some of the smallest, minute things, people are calling you and bothering you with and you’re like, ‘I’m trying to prepare for the biggest game of my life,’ and, you know, you have friends coming in, flying in from all different types of places. They’re calling you. It’s like, ‘Man, just take care of your own business.’ But as far as Ben Roethlisberger doing what he did and people are making such a big fuss about it, it’s ridiculous. It’s a Tuesday night. He’s having fun with his buddies, his teammates. He should be allowed to go out and have dinner, and if he wanted a couple drinks, that’s on him. He’s been playing football the last six and a half, seven months. What’s the big deal if the guy goes out on a Tuesday night with his teammates? He didn’t break curfew, and it’s not like he’s hung-over the very next day in practice. If his coach and his organization didn’t make a big deal about it or have any problems with it, why is everyone else? This is just part of the distractions, part of the hype, and part of the nonsense that goes along with being in the Super Bowl.
RUSH: What about the whole notion of experience? I’ve listened to Coach Tomlin, and he said, ‘Well, I don’t think experience matters once the game starts. You might have butterflies and nerves up until that time.’ Other people say it makes all the difference in the world: A team like the Steelers that’s been there far more frequently, more players than the Packers have, does it matter in a game like this?
HARRISON: No question it matters. You know, I look at one particular situation: When we played against the Philadelphia Eagles. You know, right before the game we’re all warming up and what happens is you warm up for about, say, 25, 30 minutes and they have you go back in the locker room and sit for about 50 minutes to an hour. In a normal game, you only sit for about 10 or 15 minutes and you come back out on the field. Well, Philadelphia, they were jumping around. They exerted all this energy in that brief time but they didn’t realize there was a 50-minute wait. So they came back out and they were tired. But little experiences like that really make a difference, and I believe that Mike Tomlin… You know, he kind of brushed it over his shoulder, but experience plays a huge part because now, in those critical moments, you have those players that have played in those big games. They’re not as nervous as the other guys being there for the first time, and, you know, they’re not afraid to go out there and take chances on the field and try to make a play.
RUSH: Steelers: Number one defense this year. Even their pass defense, which is unusual, ranked high in terms of the average yards per completion that they allowed. But, Rodney, there were two games this year — the Patriots game and the New Orleans game — where they were lit up in the secondary. The way it happened was (the way it’s said to have happened) is that both of those offenses, the Patriots and the Saints, spread ’em out, four wide receivers, and basically took away Lawrence Timmons, the linebacker from pass rush.
RUSH: They kept him in pass coverage or off the field because they had to go dime coverage. Now, the Packers have got all kinds of wide receivers. They can go four wide. Is this a vulnerability you think the Steelers have or do you think they’ve found a way to fix it?
HARRISON: Rush, I’ve talked this whole year about the way you attack the Pittsburgh Steelers. The way you attack them… They’re fast, they’re a blitzing-type defense, they’re very aggressive, and you attack them by spreading them out. And Tom Brady, we’ve done it, and the years I played with the Patriots we had a lot of success because the way is you force ’em out and you throw quick, intermediate passes. You take shots and challenge their cornerbacks which I believe are the weakest part of their defense.
HARRISON: Now, they have good cornerbacks but they’re not great. So you attack those guys from the outside and now you’re able to neutralize Troy Polamalu, keep him in coverage, keep him on the deep part of the field. If you come out and spread the ball out four or five receivers that forces Troy away from the line of scrimmage, and he does so much damage along the line of scrimmage, and that’s these guys have had success. Tom Brady and Drew Brees and those guys they can see — and especially with Aaron Rodgers. He has the ability to scramble outside the pocket and that’s what really makes him dangerous because you see James Harrison and these guys coming off the edge. He has the ability and he’s very patient in the pocket but he can escape, and he’s a very fast quarterback. People don’t understand how athletic this guy is. So I think — and I know you’re a beloved Pittsburgh Steelers fan.
HARRISON: But I believe Aaron Rodgers can beat this defense not running the ball but passing the ball 40 to 45 times, and I think Green Bay wins this game.
RUSH: We’re talking with Rodney Harrison, formally of the New England Patriots and now with NBC Sports. Well, that’s… I’ve seen it. I’ll tell you where I first saw the beginning of teams figuring this out was in the Super Bowl: Kurt Warner and the Cardinals tore them apart in the second half. They just ate the Pittsburgh secondary up. Their pass defense is always where I’ve had concern. You know, as a dyed-in-the-wool Steelers fan, you’re right: That to me appears to be the weakness. So here’s the football question. The Steelers know this, apparently. Everybody knows it. Four wides, quick release, Aaron Rodgers with scramble, cornerbacks are fine but they’re not great, keep Polamalu away from the line of scrimmage. So the Steelers know this is how they’re gonna be targeted. If they do, what do they do?
HARRISON: (laughing) They do what they do best and that’s let James Harrison and these guys disguise coverage. They bring cornerbacks, they bring linebackers, they drop defensive linemen. You just continue to do what you’ve done, and I think that’s the myth about playoff football and the myth about playing in the championship game: That you have to do something so outside of yourself and try something differently. Just be yourself. Be who you are. Be who got you there. And that’s blitzing, that’s playing a lot of zone coverage, that’s jamming the receivers. And even when these receivers catch the ball down the field — they’re gonna catch a lot of balls — you gotta hit ’em in the mouth. And that’s where guys like Ryan Clark who’s an intimidator back there, Polamalu and those guys coming across the middle, have to intimidate and stay patient. Because Aaron Rodgers and this offense will be able to go up and down the field a little bit. But you negate them, you hold ’em to three points and force ’em into kicking field goals and I think your offense can make some noise possibly on that defense.
RUSH: All right: ‘Hit ’em in the mouth.’
HARRISON: No question, Rush.
RUSH: ‘Hit ’em in the mouth.’
RUSH: Contrasted with the commissioner trying to keep that from happening, especially with helmets. And are we correct or incorrect as fans: We look at Super Bowls and it seems that for the most part, unless it’s really flagrant, the refs let you play.
RUSH: They’re not throwing a lot of flags in the Super Bowl.
HARRISON: Well, you know what? Now with all these rule changes and the heightened awareness of concussions and legal hits and things of that sort — especially with James Harrison, all the publicity that he received this year — they’re gonna throw the flag. There’s a hundred million people that will be watching the Super Bowl and you’d best believe the commissioner, he’ll be one of those people and they’re gonna be very conscious and cautious of those dirty hits. James Harrison talked about it all year. I think you just go out there. You can’t think about it. You have to go out there and play. But James Harrison, he’s too good of a player to put his team in a situation where it may cost them the game or a critical third down or something if he lowers that helmet. You gotta play within the rules — and really what I’m looking at from a standpoint of a guy that’s done it and done it for a long time and finally stepping away from the game: Rush, you realize that, ‘You know what? The league is trying to protect these players,’ because I go out on the golf course, Rush, and sometimes the light hurts my eyes. Sometimes I have dizzy spells because of the sun, because of the sensitivity to the light because of all those concussions I sustained playing football. So I suggest to these young players: You got a life after football, man. You know, you’re gonna play ten or 12, 13 years if you’re fortunate. But life after football is more important because you have family, you have kids, and you have to take care of yourself.
RUSH: Rodney… I mean you, you were one of the hardest hitters the game has ever seen. How do you balance that with what you just said? How do you dial it back?
HARRISON: I — I didn’t, Rush. I didn’t. It didn’t matter to me because I was in a different mind-set. I went out there and I played hard and I tried to be intimidator, and I tried to make my reputation taking guys out. Not like trying to hurt or kill ’em and anything like that or injure them, but just trying to establish my reputation. But as I’ve gotten away from football and I realize, ‘You know what? There’s life after football.’ I’m removed and I have four kids and I have a wife and I realize how much they depend on me and they need me to be able to function mentally. You know, I realize that. That’s why I’m using my experience and my platform to let these guys know. And fans call me, ‘Oh, he’s a hypocrite.’ I’m not a hypocrite. I made mistakes during my years of playing, but at the same time I’m trying to keep these guys from sustaining concussions and dealing with the headaches and the migraines and the lack of sleep sometimes that I go through.
RUSH: Yeah, but Rodney, you know half the time you had a concussion you wouldn’t even tell ’em.
HARRISON: No question.
RUSH: If they couldn’t figure it out, the staff, you wouldn’t tell ’em because I didn’t want it to come out. You didn’t want anybody thinking you were susceptible to them.
HARRISON: Right. But that was part of my mind-set when I was playing football, because I had this gladiator mentality. I didn’t care, because I had no regard for my body and the future. It was all about the moment now. But if you can educate these players and let them know that football is not everything and that your family and your life for the next 30 years after you retire or 40 years is more important, then that’s my job. And that’s what I’m gonna use my experience for.
RUSH: All right, gotta take a quick time-out. This is Rodney Harrison, and we’ll be back and continue here. Super Bowl Friday, EIB Network, back after this.
RUSH: We’re back, number 37, Rodney Harrison, the New England Patriots, prior to that the San Diego Chargers, with us. You told us about the vulnerability of the Steelers, spread ’em out, four wides, take advantage of ’em that way. What is the Packers’ vulnerability? If you were coaching the Steelers, what would you tell ’em to do?
HARRISON: I would tell them to make sure you have a balanced offense, make sure you run the ball, you do a lot of play actions, a lot of screens, and you’re aware of Charles Woodson. His presence in the run game, his presence in the blitz packages, he’s one of those guys where you have to know exactly where he is at every single play.
RUSH: Well, how do you do that?
HARRISON: (laughing) You gotta call ’em out. There’s something about Charles Woodson, you pay attention to him because he’s lined up in the slot, and especially on third down, he’s really lined up outside as a cornerback but he likes to blitz, he likes to move around and you have to move your receivers around to make sure — if he follows a receiver, that means he’s playing man-to-man coverage, but if he stays in the zone when the receiver goes in motion, that means he’s either blitzing or it’s a zone coverage. So those little type of tidbits that Aaron Rodgers — I mean that Ben Roethlisberger will have to pay attention to, just make sure you know where he’s at all the time.
RUSH: Rodney, is the sports media biased? How did you get along with them when you played?
HARRISON: Yeah, they’re biased, some of them are. I’ve had relationships with guys that, you know, I’ve played terrible and they’ve come out and said, ‘You know what, Rodney, you played terrible,’ and they were very critical of me of things that have gone on in my career. But I had other guys that I had bad relationships with that, I played well and the whole year, you know, they would say nothing but bad things about me. So they’re very biased, but I think for the majority of the people that are media related I think they’re fair and I think they’re pretty honest.
RUSH: Well, I’m not trying to provoke or cause any trouble here.
HARRISON: Yes, you are.
RUSH: How many of them are groupies with a pen?
HARRISON: Excuse me?
RUSH: How many sports reporters are just groupies, they’re wannabes and they got a pen or they got a camera? How many of them really know the game, Rodney, how many of them really know what to talk to you about?
HARRISON: You know what, really I look at guys that are fair, I look at guys — and I’m not gonna name any names — but I look at guys that when they’re wrong about something, they’re not afraid to come out and say they’re wrong. I look for guys that if they make excuses, you try to stay away from them. And guys know who they are and guys will stay away from certain guys because they have a bad reputation and guys, like I said earlier, guys try to make a big statement just to get attention, because you look on ESPN, Fox, NBC, we’re all talking heads, we all think we got all the answers, but there’s always certain guys trying to make big statements to get that attention.
RUSH: Right. Okay, I got a minute here, 18 games —
HARRISON: I got a question for you. How is your golf game, and what is that process like for you? You know, ’cause I’ve seen your golf swing, and it was bad at first, but now it’s starting to get better on the show.
RUSH: It is getting better. The only reason I did the show was to try get better at something I’m not very good at, because I love it, and I just want to enjoy playing it more. And it actually is improving. The next two episodes, don’t miss ’em, I think people are gonna be shocked with these next two episodes.
HARRISON: Rush, it has to be frustrating for you to be able to play some of the world’s most beautiful golf courses yet not be able to play ’em as well as you want to play ’em.
RUSH: Well, there’s two schools of thought. A, it’s great to be out there on the right side of the grass, be able to see those things. But, yeah, that’s the whole point. I mean, those of us who are not athletes envy those of you who are. You make it look so easy and it isn’t. And for me it’s just trying to enjoy it as much as I can when I’m out there and get better at something that I’m not very good at. Okay, so Rodney, 20 seconds here, you really do think the Packers win?
HARRISON: I think the Packers win. I have a lot of respect for Pittsburgh, their organization, I think they’re first class, everything, but I think this is Aaron Rodgers time.
RUSH: Well, this is a guy who never lost to the Steelers in the playoffs. The Patriots had their number and if anybody knows how to do it, it would be Rodney Harrison. Thanks for your time. I appreciate it. It’s always a thrill to talk to Rodney Harrison, wherever you see him and whatever the circumstances.