The handwritten list is posted on his mirror at home, so it's the first thing Bernard Pollard sees when he wakes up in the morning and the last thing he views before he goes to bed. If he ever needs a reminder during the hours in between, another copy hangs in Pollard's locker, next to pictures of his wife and two kids.
Under the heading “Be a Man” are 13 guidelines that drive everything the Ravens' hard-hitting and tough-talking safety does.
“I sat down every year and wrote down all the stats I wanted to get, but at the beginning of this year, I was just like, ‘Those will come,'” Pollard said. “If your house is in order, you can't come in here and slip up. You just can't. When I step into my bathroom, [the list] is the first thing I see. I'm not seeing my face. I'm seeing what I want to be.”
Pollard has been in Baltimore for 131/2 months and played in just one Ravens-New England Patriots game. However, he's become one of the faces of a rivalry rooted in mutual respect. Heading into tonight's rematch of January's AFC championship game, Pollard, who has said all week that he plans to play despite a chest injury, is Public Enemy No.1 when it comes to Patriots fans.
It was Pollard, then a member of the Kansas City Chiefs, who slammed into Tom Brady's knee, ending the quarterback's 2008 season in the first week. A year later, Pollard, then a member of the Houston Texans, was the player Wes Welker was trying to elude when Welker suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Last year, it was Pollard who took down Rob Gronkowski, resulting in an ankle injury that left the tight end virtually immobile in the Super Bowl.
“That doesn't bother me at all,” Pollard said when asked about the dislike Patriots fans have for him. “I am not a malicious player. I look to play football hard, fast and physical, so it just happened that a lot of injuries came against the Patriots. But I respect them as men, I respect them as players.”
Pollard, 27, is completely different away from the team facility than his on-field persona would suggest. He is a self-proclaimed computer geek. He doesn't curse, and he swears that his goal each day is to put somebody in a good mood.
On the field, his nickname is “The Bonecrusher.” If inside linebacker Ray Lewis is the defensive leader and safety Ed Reed is the playmaker, Pollard might well be the Ravens' enforcer.
“Off the field, he's a laid-back guy. When he's on that field, his one intention is to cause harm to another person,” said fullback Vonta Leach, a teammate for the past four seasons, the past two in Baltimore.
Circuitous route to Ravens
Pollard played three seasons in Kansas City and two in Houston, but everyone who knows him says he's finally where he belongs. The Ravens defense has long prided itself on being physical and intense. Pollard exudes those characteristics.
“I've told him before, he played on the other two teams just to warm him up,” cornerback Lardarius Webb said. “This is where he's supposed to be. He plays more like a Raven than anybody I know. We've got a Ray Lewis, a Haloti Ngata, a Terrell Suggs. Bernard exemplifies all of them.”
Added running back Ray Rice: “They say every team has a perfect fit. He's ours.”
Pollard signed with the Ravens before the 2011 season and played so well he received a two-year extension in May. He had 75 tackles last season to go with two sacks, an interception, three forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. Through the first five quarters of this season, Pollard was probably the Ravens' most effective defensive player before he got hurt last Sunday colliding with teammate Courtney Upshaw.
However, his brash, in-your-face style, which has endeared him to teammates and Ravens fans, was not always admired. As a senior at Purdue, he clashed with the coaching staff, including one exchange in which he told Boilermakers coach Joe Tiller to “give me my papers,” essentially asking for a transfer. He was suspended for three games.
“I'm not going to take BS from anybody, whether it's a coach, GM or player,” Pollard said. “I'm going to give you the utmost respect, but if you disrespect me, then you're knocking on the wrong door. I was in college and I probably should have waited, but I had every right to say what I said. When your back is against the wall, you have to stand up for yourself.”
Drafted in the second round in 2006, he started all but one game for the Chiefs during the 2007 and 2008 seasons and flourished under coach Herm Edwards, leading the team in tackles in 2008. But Edwards was fired after the season, and Pollard was released eight months later amid issues with new coach Todd Haley and accusations that he had become a divisive figure in the locker room.
“The thing about Bernard, he's about the truth,” Edwards said. “I coached him in a certain way, and a new coach staff came in and it wasn't done that way anymore. He was asking questions. That's just Bernard. I knew it wasn't going to work from the beginning. It didn't fit, but that doesn't mean his character is bad. I know the character of Bernard Pollard.”