Patriots safety Rodney Harrison doesn't attempt to disguise his intent or dispute his reputation for physical intimidation. Sunday, Eagles wide receiver Freddie Mitchell became Harrison's likely target in Super Bowl XXXIX.
The two players kicked off the week of media hype with verbal jousts at each other. Mitchell called out Harrison during an interview with ESPN late last week, and Harrison arrived in Jacksonville Sunday to quickly return the favor.
In the ESPN interview, Mitchell was asked to name the Patriots' starting secondary. He identified them, instead, by their numbers. "I know their numbers; 22, 25, 37, which is Harrison. And I got something for you, Harrison, when I meet you," Mitchell added.
Harrison retaliated at the Patriots' World Golf Village headquarters on Sunday with: "You're always going to find one jerk out of the bunch. You're always going to find one guy like that who wants the attention and who wants to do something to kind of stir up the emotions of the game."
Mitchell, who assumed a prominent role on the Eagles when Terrell Owens was injured late in the season, is inviting Harrison's wrath and the Patriots safety usually delivers. Harrison is easily the most fined player in the league. He is, without a doubt, a player who is preceded by his reputation.
"I don't worry about the money, I just play football," Harrison said of the fines. "I've been in the league a long time. It's about hitting, running around, being a kid out there. I love it, I enjoy it. I'm not worried about the fines. I'll keep playing the way I play."
When asked if his reputation for "dirty" play pays off, Harrison said, "Of course it pays off because they look for it, they know who you are."
Those are intriguing remarks for Jaguars fans who recall the $75,000 fine safety Donovin Darius incurred late in the season when Darius delivered a blow to the head of Green Bay wide receiver Robert Ferguson. It caused Darius to be ejected from the game and for Ferguson to spend a couple of days in the hospital. Darius phoned Ferguson to express concern and clarify that no harm was intended. Ferguson accepted that gesture and Darius was not suspended by the league because he had not been a repeat offender.
Repeat offender? If it was an award it would be named after Harrison. He has received four known fines this season. In 2002 he was fined a league-record $110,000 and suspended one week for a head-to-head hit on Jerry Rice. Harrison says his career fines have totaled something in the vicinity of $700,000, but he's not softening. If anything, he's more committed than ever to playing the game his way.
"I open it up, I read how much and I throw it in the garbage. I don't even challenge them now, I just throw them in the garbage," Harrison said.
It's an attitude that hasn't made him a popular player in the league, except with his own teammates and coaches.
"Even though … you don't have any friends around the league, when you get that respect and you have guys come up to you and tell you, 'I don't like you as a person but I love the way you play,' that's all you ask for," Harrison said.
This week, Mitchell is the target of Harrison's nasty ways. The verbal shots have already begun. On Sunday, Harrison is likely to do more than just talk.
"Sometimes that's someone's 15 or 30 seconds of fame," Harrison said of Mitchell's remarks to ESPN. "You really never heard of this guy before T.O. gets hurt. For him to continue to talk, it's just not smart ... You attack me, you attack my whole defense. I just think he made a mistake. Most guys who played long in this league, they wouldn't attack someone a week or so before the Super Bowl.
"I'm not saying I'm going purposely after him," Harrison said, "but he has to watch out for everyone because everyone's going to be pumped up and ready to go. We all take offense to smart comments like that."