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Patriots fueled by past adversity

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FOXBORO -- As a mere collection of names, the 2007 New England Patriots are daunting. Tom Brady. Randy Moss. Richard Seymour. Ty Warren. Rosevelt Colvin. Vince Wilfork. Tedy Bruschi. Mike Vrabel. Junior Seau. Adalius Thomas. Rodney Harrison. All magnificently skilled. Each as adept mentally as physically.

Now use your imagination. Let the names morph into people. Let them stand before you. Look hard at them and recall the backstory each one owns.

Bruschi returning from a stroke he suffered just 30 months ago. Rosevelt Colvin coming back from a broken hip in 2003. Randy Moss, discounted and discarded. Brady, taken 199th in 2001. Wilfork, carrying the sadness of his parents' deaths while he was still at the University of Miami. And Seymour, burdened by the death of his father who killed his girlfriend then himself in 2004. All of them every day seeing the empty locker of recently drowned teammate Marquise Hill.

They don't wear these things on their sleeves, cheapening them with constant rehashing. Instead, they serve as silent fuel. They, in turn, become fuel for their teammates. It's a quiet drive that makes this team that much more imposing.

"You walk in this locker room, if you have any perspective about life and football you can look around and see inspiration each and every day," Patriots safety Rodney Harrison said Friday night.

Two hours before we spoke, the 34-year-old Harrison had punctuated a brilliant first half for the New England defense by pounding Tennessee quarterback Vince Young to the ground with a thunderous shoulder to the chest.

Coming off the left side of the defensive line, Young never saw Harrison in the maelstrom of bodies locked up at the line. Never saw Harrison until he accelerated and exploded into him.

This Titans team was the one that blew out Harrison's knee in 2006 in the final regular season game. That meant 2006 ended as 2005 had for Harrison, who had his left knee blown out against the Steelers the season before. In 2003, Harrison cracked his forearm late in the Patriots' Super Bowl win over the Panthers, making one additional tackle with the broken arm before succumbing to the pain. He came to New England after ripping his groin off the bone in his final season with the San Diego Chargers. He tried to play with that injury too.

All that, yet there he was, exulting after the sack. Joined by Seau. The 38-year-old linebacker who had his right forearm snap in two last season in a game against the Colts, has been through a lot with Harrison. They shared nine seasons together in San Diego, forging a unique personal and professional bond. Seau's on his way to the Hall of Fame. Harrison may have a shot. This season represents their last best shot at winning a Super Bowl together.

Of all the talented, passionate, intelligent players in the Patriots' locker room, Harrison and Seau, in the December of their careers, could be the most driven.

"He is the best football player I've ever played with," Harrison said of Seau. "His preparation. His work ethic. His consistency. Day in and day out, he's a consummate pro, a great leader, a great teammate. He's the hardest working guy I've seen in my life. He's the first guy to get in at 6:00, the last guy to leave."

When the Patriots signed Seau last August just days after a retirement announcement in San Diego, it seemed a lark. Maybe he could make some plays in New England and be a Yoda figure. Maybe not. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Seau turned out better than anyone imagined, making 70 tackles before going down in Week 11. He left the field at Gillette Stadium that night waving to Patriots fans who had known him so briefly. He was saying goodbye to them and probably to football. But the arm healed and the fire still burned and Friday night, just a few plays after Harrison sacked Young, Seau got him.

He was asked if his return were emotional.

"I try not to dramatize the situation. It is preseason. But (it was hard) leaving that field and saying goodbye to the fans and not knowing whether or not our future was going to be back here. I know the game of football. When you're 37 years old and you compound fracture your arm it's pretty much over. That wasn't it. They gave me another opportunity."

Was Harrison inspiration for Seau during their rehab?

"We don't even have to call each other," he said. "We can feel each other. There's a big difference when you have a lot of love for someone. A call is overrated. I can look at him and he knows what I feel for him."

Harrison makes it easy to know what he's feeling. His intensity is omnipresent.

"You can't slap it out there with your effort," he said. "You can't take it for granted. You can't go out there and think that because you have a name or what you've done in the past (will make people) fear you or bow down to you.

"I appreciate the grind," he said. "I talk to ex-players and they say, 'I wish I had that grind. My approach as well as (Mike) Vrabel and Junior and Tedy and Seymour and all these guys, you never want to take it for granted. Once you do, that opportunity passes you by. You never want to have any regrets."

Harrison doesn't live in a narrow world, where he perceives his burdens to be more intense than the average person.

"Everyone goes through adversity in life," he pointed out. "What I've gone through isn't any more special than what someone else has gone through. I mean, you see people go through tragic events. I've had my share of adversity, yes, but the true test of a man is how he responds when he's hit with adversity. If I couldn't run or move then I wouldn't play, no matter how much more passion I have. But when I come in here and look around, there's inspiration each and every day, yes there is.

"When it's over, it's over," he concluded. "When it's done it's done. At least when I walk away I can say, 'You know what, I've done everything I possibly could do.'"

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