Patrick Willis and Ray Lewis shake hands and exchange jerseys… (Kyle Terada, USA TODAY Sports )
NEW ORLEANS — Ravens strong safety Bernard Pollard looks the part of an enforcer who loves inflicting punishment.
He's barrel-chested and powerfully constructed at 6-foot-1, 228 pounds.
And Pollard has built a reputation as one of the most intimidating hitters in the game, violently uncoiling his body to deliver brutal tackles tackles that separate oppoennts from their senses as well as the football.
Just ask New England Patriots running back Stevan Ridley, whom Pollard hit in the AFC championship with a ferocious force that knocked him out of the game with a concussion. Ridley was lying on the ground disoriented for a long time before finally regaining his faculties and leaving the field with trainers' assistance.
"It was just a tremendous hit," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "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."
The crushing blow caused a fumble and led to the Ravens' final touchdown of the game as Pollard finished with nine tackles. Pollard launched himself into the air at Gillette Stadium, unleashing a devastating shot on Ridley garnering serious approval from his teammates.
"Bernard fires all of us up with his tackles," Ravens outside linebacker Paul Kruger said. "The guy brings it every play like it's his last. You can't help but be inspired by what he does. He's one of the toughest guys around, anywhere. He's a hammer."
Nicknamed "Bonecrusher," Pollard is as blunt in conversations as he is forceful on the field.
He's never shy about expressing his opinions about the NFL scrutinizing defensive players' actions, or the future of the game he believes is in danger because of the league's emphasis on player safety and policing hits.
Pollard accepts the fines he regularly racks up for illegal hits, including a recent $15,250 fine for smashing into the helmet and neck area of Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker, as the price of doing business.
"It's a car crash every play," Pollard said. "You can't take away the intensity. This is a grown man's game. You're going to feel it. I enjoy this game. I love giving you my best shot. We play with a certain edge. That's something everyone knows about this defense.
"I don't play thinking. The way the league is trying to go, they want you to think about the hits and the shots and all of this other stuff. It's an offensive game and they're trying to move it in a certain direction. In Baltimore, we don't roll that way. We're going to hit you."
Despite missing the final three games of the regular season with damaged ribs that bothered him for the majority of the season, Pollard managed to lead the team by piling up 98 tackles, two sacks and an interception.
Now, Pollard has acquired new targets: the San Francisco 49ers' running backs and receivers as the Ravens prepare for Sunday's Super Bowl at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Even 49ers Pro Bowl safety Dashon Goldson, as aggressive as any defensive back, gives Pollard his respect.
"He's a physical football player, a physical guy," Goldson said. "He hits very hard. He's putting it on film. That's how you get your respect. We all know what kind of football player he is."
Pollard's a hard-nosed football player. He's also a devoted father and husband who's concerned about the game he loves, and his livelihood.
Pollard recently predicted football will vanish in 30 years due to the sport becoming less popular through decreased hitting.
"I stand by what I said," Pollard said. "I understand this game. Growing up, to see where the game has gone from then to now, this is a very special game. You want to say tone down on the hits, but guys are getting bigger, stronger, faster, and it's not the equipment.
"It doesn't matter if you put a bigger helmet on me, it's still going to be the same contact. You keep playing football, you're going to have the injuries. You're going to have your concussions, you're going to have your broken bones. We as football players know what we signed up for. It's about strength versus strength."
President Barack Obama recently told the New Republic that he would have serious concerns if he had a son who wanted to play football due to the risks of potential injury.
Even though Pollard plays the game with a zeal and exuberance, he doesn't necessarily want his 5-year old son to play football.
"I don't want to groom him," Pollard said. "He sees Daddy play football all of the time. He's very physical, but I'd rather put a basketball or a golf club in his hands. I've seen it, I've done it and it's tough, but it's been good to my family. At the same time, I don't want to see my son go through the pain and all of the stuff that I've been through. It would be very tough to watch my son go through it.
"For us as fathers and mothers, we want our kids to have better than what we had. If he's going to want to play, then I would let him play. I don't want him to, but I would let him play. To go through it, the daily grind and the aches and the pains of the body and young injuries, I don't want to see my son go through that."