Bad Player, Good Team: Darryl Pollard

Cornerback Darryl Pollard may be the unluckiest player in all of Tecmo Super Bowl.

His San Francisco squad is one without weakness. QB2 Steve Young is better most teams’ QB1. Roger Craig is a monster with the rock. And Joe Montana to Jerry Rice? Pfft; forget about it. If the COM 49ers have any Juice, you may as well power off your NES and play outside.

The 49er defense roars with beasts like Bill Romanowski, Charles Haley, and Ronnie Lott. Their only real weakness lie in the defensive back Darryl Pollard.

Even in San Francisco, the name “Darryl Pollard” might elicit blank stares. Pollard wasn’t an ace draft pick. He wasn’t a touted free agent. He didn’t make any Pro Bowls and his name wasn’t even whispered in MVP conversations. Undrafted out of Utah’s Weber State, Pollard originally signed with the Seattle Seahawks[1]. Seattle gave him a look but ultimately cut Darryl during training camp in 1987. In the following year, San Francisco signed and released Darryl four separate times. During the winter of 1987, he sold Hyundais in Colorado Springs.

But when given the chance, Pollard brought his lunch pail and went to work.

Injuries forced the 49ers to keep Pollard for the 1988 NFL season. Filling in for an injured Tim McKeyer, Pollard earned a game ball for outstanding play against Tampa Bay. The next week against the Eagles, Pollard had five solo tackles and a handful of pass break-ups. By season’s end, Pollard had 23 tackles as a backup and special-teamer. Not too bad, considering 45 tackles earned CB Ronnie Lott a trip to the Pro Bowl.

Even more important, Darryl Pollard saved the 49ers in Super Bowl XXIII.

Everyone remembers Joe Montana marching 92 yards to a winning score in Super Bowl XXIII’s closing seconds. What people forget is that Montana’s drive almost never started. San Francisco returner John Taylor muffed a Cincinnati punt late in the 4th quarter. If not for Pollard’s alert dive through a crowd of Bengals to scoop the fumble, Cincinnati would have had first and goal on San Francisco’s 8-yard line with mere seconds left. Game, set, championship: Cincinnati.

Pollard was rewarded with a starting job out of training camp in 1990. He was a key part of San Francisco’s smothering defense. In the 1990-91 season, only the New York Giants allowed fewer points.

Pollard’s problem, magnified by his status as an undrafted free agent, is the impression he cost San Francisco the 1991 NFC Championship. The New York Giants’ final drive in that game featured three plays targeting Pollard[2]. One resulted in a costly Pass Interference penalty against Darryl. Another resulted in the 13-yard reception that set up New York’s winning field goal.

Darryl Pollard’s TSB stat line reflects his NFC Championship failures: he scores below average in every category.

Darryl Pollard Tecmo Super Bowl Stats

Pollard’s TSB stats are harsh. The damning passes against Darryl in the 1991 NFC Championship represent little more than bad luck. The pass interference call against Darryl was a questionable call in a brutal game. Replay showed perfectly legal pass defense. The catch which put New York in field goal range was certainly pass interference…on the offense. New York’s Stephen Baker clearly pushed off Pollard to nab Jeff Hostetler‘s pass. John Madden decried the horrible non-call during CBS’s broadcast. Newspaper coverage even describes Baker as “pushing off” Pollard[3].

Despite Pollard’s workman performance[4], coverage of Pollard immediately following the 49ers loss was, to say the least, harsh: “The 49ers’ top aim on defense should be to find someone who can pass defend better than cornerback Darryl Pollard, whose coverage always seems to include a degree of difficulty.[5]

Unfortunately, Darryl Pollard never really got a chance to redeem his NFC Championship performance. San Francisco went on a DB-spree in the 1991 and ‘92 NFL Drafts. He broke his ankle in August of 1991. After spending ’91 on injured reserve, San Francisco cut Darryl for good prior to the 1992 season. Tampa Bay signed Darryl [6], but he never really caught on. Darryl tried arena football with the San Jose SaberCats, but only played one season before hanging up his cleats for good.

Two penalty calls, one incorrect and one ignored, are the difference between Pollard being an average TSB defender and his being noticeably bad. It’s a bit of a pity. He only looked inadequate compared to the Hall of Fame talent around him. Darryl Pollard was a lunchpail-and-hardhat NFL player who had to fight tooth-and-nail for everything he earned. He’s exactly the type of NFL player we should love: a man without glory or riches, a man who played for love of the game.


NOTES:

[1] “Perseverance Pays off for 49ers Cornerback.” Thomas, George. The New York Times, 28 Sep. 1989: D25
[2] “Pollard’s Chance to Threepeat was Stolen Away.” Routon, Ralph. The Colorado Springs Gazette-Telegraph, 24 Jan 1991: C1
[3] “Cool Hostetler Rolls out his best Montana Imitation.” The Chicago Tribune, 21 Jan. 1991: 5
[4] He did, after all, break up a sure-fire Giants touchdown. St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MO) – January 22, 1991: 4
[5] “Back-to-back-to-back to the drawing board.” USA Today, 22 Jan., 1991.
[6] On the same day Cleveland cut Wayne Haddix, ending his career.

Keith Good

Keith Good is a future Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and 8-bit game geek. A perpetual optimist, he convinces himself every September that this could finally be the Cleveland Browns' year. He was once told to eff off by Tecmo great Kevin Mack. You can check out his other work at www.keithisgood.com and follow him on twitter @keithisgood.

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