Life is pretty darned good right now for David Pollack.
Considering his honored-filled college football career, as the only three-time first-team all-American in University of Georgia history besides Heisman Trophy-winning running back Herschel Walker, you knew Pollack would be a success.
A 6-2, 265-pound defensive end with a 37-inch vertical who never got tired of chasing quarterbacks. Block him with a tackle, chip him with a running back and David would pursue a QB always to The Varsity in downtown Athens if necessary.
His school-record 36 sacks for the Bulldogs from 2001-04, still fourth in the SEC record books, were often game-changers. It’s why the Cincinnati Bengals drafted No. 17 overall in the first round of the ’05 NFL draft.
So seven years later, David, 29, is healthy and happy, married with 3-year old son. But it’s not content because he’s been a five-time Pro Bowler, or led the NFL in sacks, or signed a contract extension that gave him job security for life.
It’s because as David says, “God never closes one door without opening another one.”
David’s pro career lasted exactly 16 games (“If you blinked, you would have missed it,” he says with a laugh). On the second play in the second game of Pollack’s second NFL season, he sustained a broken sixth cervical vertebrae while tackling Cleveland Browns running back Reuben Droughns.
There was no paralysis, but David was in a neck brace for almost four months. He never played another snap again of the game he loved.
In April 2008, he officially retired. By the fall, he started a radio-TV broadcast career, and now, just more three years later, he’s an essential part of ESPN’s college football coverage.
Not only has he advanced to the network’s popular GameDay show on Saturdays, but also teams with former Florida quarterback Jesse Palmer for the “Palmer and Pollack Show.”
“This isn’t a real job, this is ridiculous.” David says. “I feel like I’ve got to pinch myself sometimes. This year doing the Gameday stuff, I’ve been at one of the best games in college football every single week. It’s really cool.
“I’ve been obsessed with football since I was six years old. So having this job gives me my outlet to plug into it, follow it, have a voice and be passionate about it. Not being able to play anymore, because of neck, this is my fix.”
There are people you meet in life that you immediately know are going to be hugely successful no matter what they do, and David is one of them.
Playing for Snellville (Ga.) High, he was the Atlanta Touchdown Club’s “Defensive Lineman of the Year.” But he so underwhelmed Georgia coach Mark Richt that David was handed jersey No. 43 when he reported to Athens and was told he was a fullback.
“Then everybody gets hurt at defensive tackle, so during training camp they ship me to defensive tackle,” David says. “I had some success by freshman year, but coming into my sophomore season, (defensive ends) Coach (Jon) Fabris said, `I want to put him at the defensive end.’ They threw me in at defensive end.”
And that’s when the legend was born.
“I’m an extremely hyper-competitive guy,” David says. “That’s one of my biggest faults and one of my biggest strengths. I say that because I’m so competitive that I want to be the first to the drill, I want to win the drill, I want to work harder than everybody, run faster and further and harder. I always pushed myself. Hard work and being competitive drove me.”
In Pollack’s second game of his sophomore season, he made a play that will forever be part of Georgia football lore. He bullrushed South Carolina quarterback Corey Jenkins in the Gamecocks’ end zone, blowing past two blockers and swiping the ball out of Jenkins’ hand as he began his throwing motion for a touchdown. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NQYAD-KSd1E
“I’ll never forget before that game, I checked my e-mail and I had four in my inbox,” David recalls. “I came back after the game and I had 1,000 e-mails from fans saying, `That was the greatest play I’ve seen.’ I’d never seen something more instant.
“After that game, it was `Holy Cow!” I got a lot of attention. It made me feel real uncomfortable, because I’m a country boy. I’m not like a polished speaker. I tell you how I feel. That changed my whole career. That changed my whole life from that point on.”
For the next three years from 2002-04, David terrorized SEC quarterbacks, racking up two Hendricks Awards as college football’s best defensive end, two SEC “Defensive Player of the Year” honors, a Lombardi Award as the nation’s best lineman and a Bednarik Award as the best defensive player nationally.
In that same time frame, Georgia won 34-of-40 games, including a 19-5 SEC record, winning one SEC title, two Eastern Division championships and three bowls. The Bulldogs finished No. 3, No. 7 and No. 7 in the ’02-’03-’04 final Associated Press polls.
David’s teammates fed off his frenzied play.
"No matter what he does, he wants to win," said David’s Georgia teammate Kedric Golston once said of him. "If you're swimming, he wants to swim faster. If you're driving, he wants to drive faster. If you jump off a building, he wants to jump off a higher building. You need those types of guys in the world. They set the standard."
Despite all of David’s enormous success, his strong religious faith always kept him grounded. That’s why when his pro career ended so suddenly, he was emotionally well-equipped to carry on.
“When I was in a halo for all that time, and my wife was in school at the time,” David remembers, “I had a whole lot of time to sit by myself and think. Reality sets in after awhile. You know you’re probably not going to play again.
“It’s like anything else in life. Where you want to be and where you’re at, are usually two different things. You’ve got to take care of the little things everyday, and try to enjoy life along the way.
“I never said or thought, `Why me?’ Getting hurt just happened. Like everything else in life, there’s something worse that happens to somebody else every single day. It wasn’t the worst thing that happened. I could have been a lot worse off. I could have been in a wheelchair.
“At the time I got hurt, I didn’t think `Oh wow, this is great.’ But it’s probably the best thing that ever happened to me personally, because I would have beat my body for the next 10, 12, 15 years, as long as I could have played football. I would have been one of those guys who can barely walk and has a lot of broken fingers and other health issues.”
It was natural that David got into broadcasting. When he was a player, the media always loved his honesty, his ability to blend his analytical side with his passion and sense of humor.
While learning some of the technical points of being one of the fastest rising stars in ESPN’s deep stable of analysts, he has stayed true to something that nobody taught him – being himself.
“You look at people on TV you like and you look at people on TV you might not like necessarily as much,” David says. “You can see when people are being themselves, or they putting something on.
“I’m like a 3-year-old child that hasn’t grown up, and I still talk like a kid, and look at life like that. So I think I explain football like that. It’s not about stats. I see what see and I tell people how it works, why it won’t work, why it works, why it won’t work against a team their schedule.
“It’s not difficult. It’s not complicated. It’s pretty cut and dried simple. Just tell it like it is. Don’t have bias.”
David says he hopes his TV career lasts a long while.
“Unlike football, you can do broadcasting for 20 or 30 years if you are good enough,” David says. “I think it’s a better path than I had as player. I have more time with the family in the off-season and I still get to have my football. I feel incredibly blessed to have what I have.”