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Thursday, October 30, 2008
In their own words: Fear on -- and off -- the field

Former NFL players Eric Allen, Mark Schlereth and Merril Hoge recount their football fears.

Eric Allen: A meeting with Terrell Davis

Eric Allen/Terrell Davis
After his first encounter with Terrell Davis, right, former Raiders cornerback Eric Allen switched to a much different tackling technique.
The biggest fear when I played was coming off a downfield block and being face to face with Broncos running back Terrell Davis. I'll never forget my first season with the Raiders when I first faced T.D. on the field. I was coming off a good game against the Giants where I'd lit Tiki Barber up on a running play and had helped set the tone for the defense. Tiki came off the edge and was making his cut when I drew a bead on him and made a big hit. Now, fast forward to our game against the Broncos, and I was really feeling good about my run-support abilities. I'd lit up one of the better backs in the league, and I knew that backs around the league were going to be a little more apprehensive if and when they got into the second level.

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IN THEIR OWN WORDS: Former NFL players Eric Allen, Mark Schlereth and Merril Hoge recount their football fears.

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Now, I'd never faced Davis before so I had no idea what I was getting myself into. He was the perfect size for a running back because he was low enough to the ground where he could run over a defender if they went down low and he was strong enough up top that a high tackle wasn't going to work. So, early in the game, Davis turns the corner and is starting to get a good head of steam and I have a bead on him so I'm thinking this was going to be a redux of the Tiki hit. Not exactly. I went low and Davis drove his knee through my head and kept going. I stumbled off to the side and it took a couple seconds to get my bearing back. From that point on, whenever I tried to tackle him, I would let him get slightly past me and try to catch him from behind.

Merril Hoge: The pain the day after

I was never afraid on Sundays. I was never afraid of what was coming after me on a run or who I'd have to block. My fear was how I was going to feel the day after the game when the adrenaline is gone and the pain is setting into the body. Obviously you're in a ton of pain on Monday morning after a game because you've just had 300-pound men knocking the heck out of you for three hours on a grass or artificial turf field. The fear sets in when it's a pain that won't go away and it's in the knee area. Because at that point you might be beyond the help of the trainer and have to call a knee specialist. Trust me, a running back doesn't want a doctor anywhere near his knees.

Mark Schlereth: Third and long

Mark Schlereth
Former Broncos offensive lineman Mark Schlereth dreaded third and long because "the king (quarterback) is exposed and the bishops and rooks are going after him."
Like every offensive lineman, I feared everything starting with being noticed because if you're on the line and being noticed it's mostly because you did something boneheaded. Linemen don't get their names called by the stadium announcers unless it's for a penalty or something dumb. You'll never hear an announcer say: "Thirty-five-yard touchdown run by Davis -- couldn't have happened without the big hole opened up by Schlereth." But you will definitely hear: "Holding by No. 69." That would be followed by a loud series of boos.

But my greatest fear when I was on the field was caused by third-and-long situations because there is absolutely no disguising what an offense is going to do. All the talk about the game being a chess match between an offensive and defensive coordinator goes straight out the window. The king is exposed and the bishops and rooks are going after him. The defense knows that it's going to be a pass, that it's going to probably be a seven-step drop and they are going to send the house. So the line has to pick up the linemen and the blitzers and hope you can hold them long enough so that the quarterback can make a play downfield because if you don't, then you're going to hear that sickening sound of the quarterback getting crunched and hitting the ground.