"They just kind of blamed it on him," said Leach, who also left Houston for Baltimore after that season. "He was kind of the scapegoat."
If Pollard holds grudges toward his previous employers, he doesn't let on. Instead, he attributes many of his early problems in the NFL to being "young and immature."
"When I got drafted, I was 19 going on 20," he said. "I had a lot of money. I didn't love the game, I loved what the game got me. I wasn't mature enough to understand the concepts and that the game was about consistency. When you play a season, you have to be all-in. The clubs, the purchasing of all the cars, the jewelry, the women, you can't do all that. We as men have to understand what's best for us, and I learned so much from that."
Pollard said his release by Kansas City was a "reality check." He and his wife, Meghan, had just had their first son, Jaylen, and suddenly Pollard was unemployed.
"It was a slap in the face, like, 'Look, Bernard, you have to grow as a man, as a father and as a husband, and you have to change your life,'" he said.
Edwards said being released helped Pollard settle down and understand the priorities in his life. Those priorities were shaped early, growing up in Fort Wayne, Ind. Pollard's mother was often in church, and his father was a hard-driving sort who took on a variety of challenges and jobs and encouraged his children to do the same. Pollard describes himself as a combination of the two.
After Pollard's parents separated and his mother moved to Georgia when he was 11 or 12, Pollard threw himself into football and into any opponent who got near him. Mark Bailey, his high school coach for three seasons at South Side High in Fort Wayne, said Pollard's father wanted him to be a quarterback. But Pollard wanted to find the ball, not carry it.
"He had a lot of passion, a lot of energy and a lot of love for the game. In particular, he loved hitting people hard. That was his claim to fame; he loved to knock the snot out of people," Bailey said.
'A totally different guy'
Ravens wide receiver Jacoby Jones heard Pollard before he actually met him. With the Texans in 2009, Jones was running a route in practice when he heard a voice yelling, "Night-night."
"I was like, 'Who the hell is running around saying "Night-night?'" I looked around and it was Bernard Pollard. Then, the first game I saw him de-cleat somebody. I said, 'Now I know what "night-night" means,'" Jones said. "The guy is a great human being. He speaks the truth and he's loyal. But one thing about him, when he gets on that field, he's a totally different guy. On that field, I don't know who that is. I don't think that's Bernard Pollard. That's just No.31."
Of the misconception that some people have of him, Pollard said: "I live a certain life, but it's a very violent sport. You have to keep up with the Joneses, because they are getting bigger, faster and stronger year in and year out. People might not like the things that I say. They may not like the way my anger arouses on the field, but this is what is keeping me here and getting my bills paid."
After microphones picked up his expletive-laced rant aimed at Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne several seasons ago, Pollard decided to stop cursing because he didn't want to set a bad example for kids. He said he's cursed only once this year and he caught himself while saying it.
Those who know Pollard best know there are times where he just can't help himself. When Pollard talks — and he talks plenty — his voice rises with every sentence. Whether he's discussing a game, challenging NFL commissioner Roger Goodell or giving spiritual advice to teammates, he does it with the same fervor. Pollard's friends say he'll be a preacher when his football career ends.
"I used to tell him all the time: 'Stop yelling at people, Bernard,'" said Ryan Moats, a former NFL running back and a teammate of Pollard's in Houston. "Even in a normal conversation, Bernard is yelling at you. He's so intense, but I love him for it."
Moats, who runs a graphics and video design company, collaborated with Pollard on the design of an app for the card game Bourre. Pollard, who used to take apart and put together computers with his father and took computer courses at Purdue, is a video game enthusiast and thought it would be a good way to interact with fans, teammates and other athletes.
On a recent day before a Ravens practice, Pollard engaged tight end Dennis Pitta in a game of Bourre. That was Pollard in his element, competing, having fun and talking trash as only he knows how.
"We are on a stage, but football doesn't define me," Pollard said. "This is just a gift I was blessed with. I have a very short window to play this sport. The life that I live after football is going to be so much bigger. I just try to be the best man that I can be."
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