By DAVID GINSBURG
OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Bernard Pollard likes to talk and loves to hit.
The Baltimore Ravens strong safety is one of the chattiest players in the locker room, eager to discuss anything from NFL policy to gay marriage.
On the field, Pollard is arguably the fiercest tackler on a rugged defense with a reputation for nastiness. His affection for collisions is one big reason why the Ravens beat New England 28-13 last Sunday to earn a berth in the Super Bowl.
Pollard’s legal helmet-to-helmet hit on Patriots running back Stevan Ridley forced a fourth-quarter fumble that proved to be pivotal play in Baltimore’s upset victory. New England trailed by eight points with just under 13 minutes left when Pollard leveled Ridley, forcing him from the game by technical knockout.
“That was the turning point of the football game there on the 40-yard-line,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “It was just a tremendous hit. It was football at its finest. It was Bernard Pollard making a great physical tackle, just as good a tackle as you’re ever going to see in football right there.”
It’s not as if Pollard hadn’t done it before.
When he was the Kansas City Chiefs in 2008, Pollard inadvertently hit Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in the knee, but the play ended his year in the first game of the season. One year later, New England wide receiver Wes Welker tore his ACL on a tackle by Pollard. Then, in last year’s AFC title game, Pollard sprained the ankle of Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski.
Pollard, 6-foot-1, 225 pounds, has paid thousands of dollars in fines for his hard-hitting ways, including a $10,000 fee for an illegal helmet-to-helmet hit in a game against Jacksonville last season. But he makes no apologies for his aggressive play against Ridley, which did not draw a flag because Ridley was not considered a defenseless player.
“This is a violent sport. We run fast, we hit hard,” Pollard said. “For me, I love to play this game. I love to tackle. That’s what I do. When you have two guys running full speed at each other, and you have helmets and shoulder pads on, somebody is going to go down. It’s not something that I’m proud of. I hope he’s all right.”
After helping level the Patriots, Pollard engaged in his other favorite activity — talking. He suggested Brady should be fined for his leg-up slide that clipped Baltimore free safety Ed Reed.
For sure, Pollard won’t be hiding behind a newspaper during media day in New Orleans. But his main focus over the next several days will be getting prepared to play in the Super Bowl for the first time.
“If we want to play our best football, our preparation the rest of this week and next week has to be outstanding,” he said.
The 28-year-old Pollard began his NFL career with the Chiefs in 2006, was released in 2009 and immediately signed by the Houston Texans. He signed with the Ravens as an unrestricted free agent in August 2011 because he thought that was his best chance to earn a championship ring.
“I want to suit up, and I want to help this team win. I really do,” Pollard said at the time. “The organization is tremendous. We’re blessed to have talent. I’m excited, because I know the history here.”
It didn’t take Pollard to fit in with the renowned Baltimore defense, and now he’s a special part of the team’s lore.
“He is a Raven,” general manager Ozzie Newsome said. “He’s smart, tough and brings passion to our games, our practices and in the weight room. His physical presence on the back end is very important to the way we play defense.”