There was a time, not all that long ago, when rough-and-tumble safeties Ronnie Lott, Jack Tatum and Rodney Harrison patrolled NFL fields, intimidating wide receivers and hitting everything that moved.
Because of increasing concerns about concussions and player safety, it’s not so cool to be an enforcer in their mold anymore. But for those who miss the way things used to be, there remains at least one old-school safety, someone whose passion for hitting the snot out of people has not been dampened, despite repeat fines and ever-present eye of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.
“I would have thrived there, playing next to players like Tatum, guys like that,” Tennessee Titans safety Bernard Pollard said. “Those guys, those dudes in the ’70s and ’80s, those are guys that I watch and I pick up so much from.”
The 6-foot-1, 225-pound Pollard, whose Titans will play the Chiefs ― his former team ― at noon Sunday in Nashville, not only has the reputation as a big hitter, but the lighter wallet to prove it.
Just two weeks ago, Pollard ― who according to The Tennesseantaped a piece of paper
in his locker this summer that read “Goal - Super Bowl; Mission – Kill!!!” ― was fined $42,000 for a blow to the head of Houston receiver Andre Johnson.
It was the latest in a string of fines for Pollard, 28, who has also racked up a number of unnecessary roughness penalties for hard hits.
“It’s so different than in 2006, when I first got in the league, which is different from 2000, which is different from 1990,” said Pollard, an eight-year pro. “It’s just a different game. Guys are making so much money I understand that for the safety and everything else, you want to keep guys healthy with the helmet-to-helmet and all of that. As a professional, I can adjust to that.”
But at the same time, Pollard won’t compromise his style of play.
“I don’t want to hurt anybody ― those are not my intentions,” Pollard said. “But I do have a helmet and shoulder pads on, and you do as well, so at some point (in) a violent sport, somebody is going to go down, whether it’s me or it’s you. We just have to hope for speedy recoveries and for the guy to get up if he goes down.”
That attitude is exactly why Tennessee signed Pollard this offseason, once he was cut by Baltimore after racking up 98 tackles and an interception for the Super Bowl champion Ravens.
“Some people want to call me a journeyman, some people want to call me someone who just made it in this industry,” Pollard said, “but one name you have to call me is a champion.”
Titans coach Mike Munchak loves it.
“I think he brings a mental toughness that we need,” said Munchak, whose team went 6-10 in 2012. “We’re a very young defense, and we have been the last couple of years. We didn’t have a lot of veteran leadership here in that way, so someone like him coming in from the beginning it was just kind of a natural fit for us he’s seen what it takes to come together as a football team to play well and he’s brought a lot of that to the way our guys are playing.”
Pollard has 29 tackles thus far for the Titans, who are 3-1 and have given up 17.2 points per game, seventh-fewest in the NFL.
Munchak said he’s spoken with Pollard about his body language and knowing when to pull back when finishing a play, but insisted he has done a good job reining himself in.
“We haven’t had a problem,” Munchak said. “I mean, he’s a team captain, so we talk quite a bit. He knows where the line is.”
But Pollard isn’t afraid to inch right up to that line, because he believes his job depends on it.
“Especially playing a competition sport, you have to have some kind of switch,” Pollard said. “There is a level that I have to go to and if I don’t go there, I don’t have a job. I don’t run the fastest, I don’t catch the best, I don’t cover the best, but I will beat you.”
It’s something you could almost imagine Lott or Tatum saying, which is why it’s no surprise Pollard gets noticeably excited when talking about the no-holds-barred style of the old days, when hard hits were celebrated and players like him might be more welcome.
“If we could bring those rules here now, in 2013, that would be amazing,” Pollard said when asked how much he would enjoy playing in the ’50s or ’60s. “But the pay (back then)? Wow. I don’t know if it’s worth all of that.
“But no, I love the game. Like I said, this is the direction that we’re going. I wish we could turn back the hands of time, but we can’t.”