9:40 PM CDT, April 6, 2012
Former Bears safety Doug Plank called himself "a pat-down candidate" as he answered my phone call while going through an airport security line Friday in Philadelphia.
Plank's three artificial joints send off alarms whenever he travels and remind him of the physical price he paid as a player. He also inflicted pain.
Pound-for-pound, the 6-foot, 200-pound Plank hit as hard as any player in the NFL. Of course, Plank is known for leading with his helmet, as was permitted when he played (1975-1982), because that was the way he was taught since he was 8. Plank and fellow safety Gary Fencik were dubbed "The Hit Men."
Former Bears defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan dubbed his dominating unit the "46 Defense" in honor of Plank, who wore that uniform number.
I asked Plank about the current controversy involving the Saints' bounty system.
"I know that in Chicago when (Buddy Ryan) was the defensive coordinator and Mike Ditka was the head coach, there certainly was no bounty system," said Plank, coach of the Philadelphia Soul of the Arena Football League. "There might have been two players among themselves who made some sort of a wager. But in terms of the entire team or the entire defense, I never experienced anything like that in Chicago."
Earlier this week, an audiotape was released that revealed former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams talking to his players the night before an NFL divisional playoff game against the 49ers in January.
Williams instructed Saints defenders to injure specific players, including quarterback Alex Smith, receiver Michael Crabtree and kick returner Kyle Williams.
"I can understand how that is pretty chilling to a person that has never been involved in a violent sport like football," Plank said. "It takes a lot to run into someone. I don't think that's natural human behavior. Most of it is mental conditioning. Not only the practices all during the week, but it's also some of the dialogue that comes from your (coaches).
"To play this game, you have to play with high emotion. … I like to feel I was one of those. You have to take yourself to some other mental state to do that on a regular basis. You have to ignore your survival instincts. Every time you run into someone, there is that fear factor. … You have to condition yourself."
Plank, 59, said he cannot remember how many concussions he sustained.
"I knocked myself out many times," he said "… I have three joints replaced — two shoulders and a knee. I'm probably going to need three more in the next five years. So this isn't (an offense-defense) one-sided issue."
Plank said the NFL fined him just once — for a hit that did not even draw a penalty flag. He also regrets one of his most devastating hits.
"The injury that probably bothered me the most, and it wasn't my own, was when I hit receiver J.D. Hill in the late '70s. He ran a deep inside route. … I hit him on the side of the knee as he was looking at the quarterback. He had surgery and that (effectively) was the end of his career.
"To see him on the ground that day, just grimacing in pain … it was probably the sickest feeling I have ever had as a player … knowing that player was lying there because of something I had done.
"We're all players, and we're all trying to accomplish the same thing to help our team win and make the fans happy. But at a certain point, there is an accountability factor."
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