Bernard Pollard has a knack for impact, with his hits and his wits.
The Baltimore Ravens safety and Fort Wayne native might be the hardest hitter in the NFL. A handful of New England Patriots would surely rank him there after visits to the athletic trainer's room. Pollard is also bold enough to give his thoughts without a filter.
On his latest philosophical hit, I have to agree and disagree.
I agree that the NFL will be a different league and pro football a different game 30 years from now. I'm not buying extinction.
Here's what Pollard told CBSSports.com, as he prepares to play in Sunday's Super Bowl:
“Thirty years from now, I don't think it will be in existence. I could be wrong. It's just my opinion, but I think with the direction things are going -- where [NFL rules makers] want to lighten up, and they're throwing flags and everything else -- there's going to come a point where fans are going to get fed up with it.
"Guys are getting fined, and they're talking about, 'Let's take away the strike zone' and 'Take the pads off' or 'Take the helmets off.' It's going to be a thing where fans aren't going to want to watch it anymore."
There's no doubt the NFL will be different in 2043. Technological advances will demand as much. I think back to where I was 30 years ago. I would have composed this column on a bulky office word processor, if not a typewriter. You would have read it in a printed newspaper, or not at all.
Today, I can send thoughts straight from my phone to anywhere in the world, via social media and the internet, if the world chooses to click on them.
Likewise, look at the helmets, shoulder pads, sideline technology, etc., used by the NFL today. Compare it to the grainy video of Vince Lombardi.
Yes, the NFL and especially Commissioner Roger Goodell, has worked to eliminate some of the dangers of the sport. As Pollard points out, dangerous hits are fined, helmet-to-helmet hits are taboo, and possible bold changes, including eliminating the kickoff, have been put on the table for consideration.
From Pollard's viewpoint, or at least my interpretation of his viewpoint, he implies fans won't want to watch anymore because some of the violent aspects of the game will be excised.
I understand that. For so many years, the big hits were lionized by TV. They still are, to a degree. Part of the appeal, especially with the NFL, is seeing how the biggest and strongest can slam into each other. It's primal. Not everyone embraces it, but many do.
Yet the images of players, such as the Colts' Austin Collie, being knocked unconscious, are tough to watch. The post-career problems of players such as Junior Seau, who suffered and took his own life, perhaps as a result of too many blows to the head, are justifiably worth examining. I've written before that it can be a difficult call on whether to let my son play football. He enjoys the sport. I let him play. And I pray.
But in my dealings with football fans, the day after games there are more conversations about throws and catches and runs and interceptions than there are big hits. My personal feeling is it runs about 10 to 1 in favor of the spectacular athletic play over the brutal blow.
So if the game reduces some of the head blows – and better, more fundamental tackling is a great place to start – in favor of a more offensive-oriented game, I'm not sure that's the road to extinction.
Who are the biggest stars in the game? Overwhelmingly, they're the skill players who deliver athletic plays – quarterbacks throwing, receivers catching – not the ones that knock those players out. Ask a youngster to name their favorite player. Chances are, he's not a defensive player. He's not someone delivering a hit.
Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis is a notable exception. His aggressive, hard-hitting style is celebrated. When I covered the Colts at Ravens playoff game, Lewis jerseys in the stands overwhelmed the rest. Part of that is his pending retirement, part of it a celebration of his physical play.
Pollard implies injuries are unavoidable, and he's right.
“(Coaches want players who are) stronger and faster year in and year out,” Pollard said. “And that means you're going to keep getting big hits and concussions and blown-out knees.”
President Obama, in an interview with the New Republic, says fans will have to deal with a changing game, one that continues to try to reduce the dangerous hits and most violent aspects.
Maybe Pollard saying the NFL won't “be in existence,” simply means the game as we know it today won't be here in 30 years.
I agree the game will be different, perhaps in ways we can't imagine. If it's safer for the players, and still fun for the rest of us to watch (via holograms by then?), it'll be a change worth embracing.