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.
Big hits, brute force and a stream of trash talk might define Pollard as a football player, but on that list are the characteristics of the person Pollard strives to be: a good husband and father, a devout Christian, someone who is accountable, works harder and has more fun than anybody else. Pollard keeps the full list to himself.
“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.”
After Pollard's release, Edwards, who remains a close friend and mentor, called around the NFL and vouched for him. Ultimately, Pollard landed in Houston, where he had back-to-back 100-plus-tackle seasons. However, he was not retained after a 2010 season in which Houston surrendered the most passing yards in the NFL.
“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.”