SAN FRANCISCO — Rodney Harrison never had to play against a quarterback like Cam Newton. But if he did, he knows what his game plan would be.
“If I see Cam Newton running the ball and he’s a quarterback and I’m on defense, I’m trying to hurt him,” Harrison, the former Pro Bowl safety and current analyst for NBC Sports, told Newsday on Radio Row at Super Bowl 50 on Tuesday. “I’m trying to knock him out of the game.”
Harrison had a reputation for being a bruising player with the Chargers and the Patriots. He was often referred to as the dirtiest player in the league.
It’s a different game now, in terms of rules and culture.
“The one thing that I see is the level of physicality,” he said of the recent differences. “You’re not able to play physical. When I first came in the league safeties were able to hit you right in this area [near the neck] and now they say you have to hit guys in the chest. You see more tackling and not really the intimidation from the safeties and linebackers to guys coming across the middle.”
Nor are they intimidating in the buildup to the game. Broncos defenders have been heaping praise on Newton this week and Harrison has heard those comments. He just does not believe them. The surface of the sport may have changed, but deep down the essentials are the same.
“I guarantee you that as many compliments that Denver’s defense is giving Cam Newton,” he said, “those guys are in the background saying: ‘If we can knock him out of the game, that’s the difference between us winning and losing the Super Bowl.’ ”