NFL suspends Patriots' Harrison for first four games

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Rodney Harrison, the frequently fined strong safety who solidified the New England Patriots' defense through back-to-back Super Bowl victories, will miss the first four games of the NFL season for violating the league's substance abuse policy.

"Tomorrow, the commissioner will announce I have been suspended," a somber Harrison said in a hastily announced conference call with reporters Friday night.

"I want to make it clear that not once did I ever use steroids," he said. "I did admit to the commissioner that I did, in fact, use a banned substance."

Harrison did not take questions or confirm the banned substance involved. However, ESPN reported that Harrison admitted to federal investigators that he obtained human growth hormone.

The league issued a statement late Friday night confirming that Harrison is suspended without pay for four games, effective immediately. He is eligible to return to the active roster on Tuesday, Oct. 2, following the previous night's game against the Cincinnati Bengals, the league said.

The NFL Network's Adam Schefter reports that the Albany (N.Y.) County District Attorney's office has informed the NFL that Harrison and Dallas Cowboys quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson are among the individuals whose names surfaced in federal and New York state investigations into an Internet pharmaceutical distribution ring for steroids and other performance enhancers.

Wilson told the Associated Press that he took the drugs to try to improve the quality of his life after living with diabetes for more than 20 years.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said the third NFL person involved in the investigation was Dr. Richard Ryzde, one of the Pittsburgh Steelers' team doctors. He had earlier been fired by the team.

The NFL has confirmed that Harrison and Wilson violated the league's performance enhancement policy for banned substances and will be suspended. The Cowboys are expected to hold a news conference Saturday.

The Patriots, who lost in the AFC championship game to the Indianapolis Colts last season, are considered favorites to reach the Super Bowl after a series of strong offseason acquisitions, including Adalius Thomas and Randy Moss. Harrison apologized for becoming a distraction to his team as it prepares for its Sept. 9 opener against the New York Jets.

"I will be absent from the team for the next four weeks. That is a penalty that I have to serve. I intend to return and do my best to really help this team in any capacity I can help this team get back to winning the championship," Harrison said.

"This is something that Rodney Harrison did, and Rodney Harrison did alone. My teammates didn't do it. As they prepare for the Jets and games after that, I would ask that you give them the respect, not badger them with questions, because they don't have any information."

The team had no comment, spokesman Stacey James said.

Harrison also apologized for serving as a poor role model for young football players.

"I sent the wrong message with my actions," he said. "I have not made excuses, nor will I make excuses. I made a mistake and I am very sorry for that. ... I do not condone my behavior. I am very, very embarrassed by it. I am disappointed in myself."

In a 13-year career, Harrison has earned a reputation as one of the NFL's most aggressive players, one feared by opponents for bonecrushing hits they complain are cheap or illegal. The league often agrees, fining him more than $200,000 in his career, including a one-game suspension in 2002 for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Oakland's Jerry Rice that cost him a game check of $111,764.

But as much as others hate to play against him, his teammates appreciate the way he practices, plays -- and talks -- at full speed.

On his second day of training camp after joining New England, Harrison took out elder statesman Troy Brown on a route across the middle. Brown threw the ball at him, but a month later a group of Patriots went to coach Bill Belichick and asked him to make Harrison one of the defensive captains.

"It wasn't about me making friends," Harrison said before the 2004 Super Bowl. "It was about me proving that I still had some gas in my tank and I could still play."

But it wasn't just gas in his tank.

As the hits took their toll on Harrison, he turned to banned substances to get back on the field.

"My purpose was never to gain a competitive edge," he said Friday night. "Rather, my use was solely for the purpose of accelerating the healing process of injuries I sustained while playing football."

The injuries came more frequently as Harrison, now 34, got older.

He was sidelined for eight games in 1999 with a shoulder injury. After injuring his ankle in 2002, the Chargers feared his career was in jeopardy and cut him.

Harrison quickly signed with New England and held together the defense for teams that won the 2004 and 2005 Super Bowls, sealing the second victory by intercepting Donovan McNabb with 9 seconds remaining.

But he played in just three games in 2005 before tearing his anterior cruciate ligament, medial collateral ligament and posterior cruciate ligaments. He broke his right shoulder blade last season and missed six games, then returned for two more before straining his right knee and missing the rest of the regular season and playoffs.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press.

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