What's tougher than having your helmet pop off and running 60 yards downfield to try and make a tackle anyway? Getting drilled after having your helmet pop off and running 60 yards downfield to try and make a tackle.
Tolbert isn't a rookie trying to impress coaches on special teams, he's a running back with over 750 yards and 11 touchdowns on the season. I don't think anyone on the San Diego Chargers coaching staff was going to call Tolbert out in film session if he stayed back in coverage to protect against a long return instead of sprinting 60 yards downfield, helmet-less, to pursue a tackle at full speed. (Especially considering that Ted Ginn Jr.(notes) had already leveled a Chargers player earlier in the game.)
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But he did anyway and forever endeared himself to NFL fans who remember and love the game the way it used to be, when each play wasn't as closely monitored for safety as a kindergarten recess. Running down that play was a tough guy move. Mike Ditka would be proud.
As for the hit Tolbert took at the end of the return, San Francisco 49ers cornerback Phillip Adams(notes) could easily have used his hands to shove down the Chargers running back instead of lowering his shoulder and drilling him. It seemed unnecessary and a cheap, if legal, shot. On the other hand, Tolbert knew what he was getting himself into when he got in the play and as long as Adams didn't hit his head, Tolbert was fair game.
Judging by the toughness Mike Tolbert showed on that play and the smile he flashed after it, I'm sure he'd agree.
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- Mike Tolbert