PHOENIX (AP) -Rodney Harrison spent the first four weeks of the season ashamed and embarrassed.
The hard-hitting safety was reduced to watching the New England Patriots instead of playing for them after he was suspended without pay by the NFL for using a banned substance.
``It was tough seeing my teammates out there busting their butts in two-a-days and out there sacrificing so much to win ball games,'' Harrison recalled Monday during a Super Bowl news conference. ``But when I came back, I had a fire and I just joined right in and they welcomed me.''
One of the most popular and respected of all the Patriots, Harrison didn't hide when it was reported that he admitted obtaining human growth hormone.
``I think by playing and the way you handle adversity, the way you handle bad decisions that you make, I think that redeems you,'' he said.
At the time of the suspension, Harrison set up a conference call with reporters and while he didn't take questions or say what the banned substance was, he apologized for being a poor role model.
``Time heals all wounds,'' he said Monday. ``But at the same time, being forthright and being honest - those are the things that I'm probably most proud of. My message to young kids basically was, 'Hey, you make a mistake, own up to it, accept your consequences and move forward.' We, as people, have to do that. I mean, we all have skeletons in our closet. No one's perfect here. The way you make amends is by becoming a better person.''
Linebacker Junior Seau, who played with Harrison in San Diego for nine years, has watched him mature.
``When Rodney came to San Diego, he was a snotty-nosed kid who was running into the wedge on kickoffs,'' Seau said with a smile. ``What makes him different than he was before is that he's a humble guy. He loves and appreciates the integrity of the game, the fabric of the game, and he's here to tell everybody about it.''
Harrison might be humble off the field, but on it he's nothing but vicious.
``Receivers are afraid of Rodney walking the street, let alone just with the helmet on,'' Seau said. ``Rodney's a hard-hitting guy.''
He certainly is. Harrison has been fined a number of times, costing him more than $200,000, during his 14-year career for bone-jarring hits that the league has characterized as illegal or ultra-aggressive.
So what is the line between playing aggressive or dirty?
``I don't know because football is a dirty sport,'' Harrison said. ``You look at the receivers out here, how linemen cut-block and how receivers intentionally go at your knees and try to take you out.''
Harrison has firsthand experience with that. He was sidelined for the Patriots' three playoff games last season after he sprained his right knee when he was blocked by Tennessee wide receiver Bobby Wade in Week 17.
``Is that dirty? I mean, I missed the AFC championship and he could have ended my career, but they look at me and say I'm dirty,'' Harrison said. ``It's all good. I'm not going to change who I am, the way I approach the game, or the way I play.''
The Patriots wouldn't want him to, either. He's the only NFL player with at least 30 sacks and 30 interceptions in his career. He has 30 1/2 sacks, the most in league history by a defensive back, and 33 career interceptions.
``That's something I really haven't reflected on yet because I don't feel like my career is over yet,'' he said. ``When I'm done playing and am relaxing with my kids, that's probably a story I'll tell my two boys, but right now, that really doesn't have any relevance to the game.''
Right now, Harrison is only thinking about the New York Giants, who stand in the way of the Patriots' pursuit of a 19-0 season.
``I think it's probably a little bit more special for me, for the simple fact that the older you get, you understand that your time playing football and having this opportunity really wears down,'' he said. ``For me to have this opportunity at this point and stage of my career, 14th year, is pretty special.''
Playing for a title wasn't always a regular occurrence for Harrison, who spent some paltry seasons in San Diego after making it to the Super Bowl as a rookie. He got to the playoffs again the following year, but didn't get back until New England signed him before the 2003 season after he was cut by the Chargers.
``I had a choice and an opportunity to sign with the Denver Broncos or the Oakland Raiders,'' Harrison said. ``I prayed on it, and someway, somehow, God led me to New England. I had on shorts and a T-shirt and I never imagined I'd play for the Patriots, but it was a great decision and a true blessing for me to be able to experience what I have experienced.
``I've learned more in five years here than in nine of my previous seasons in San Diego.''

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