Former Denver Broncos center Tom Nalen made a surprising revelation this week, admitting that he tried to injure a defensive lineman's knee on a specific play during his career.
The act itself shouldn't be all that surprising. Nalen had a reputation as a dirty player through his career, as did many of Denver's linemen in the Broncos' zone-blocking era. That he tried ruining San Diego defensive lineman Igor Olshansky's knee on a play near the end of a game in 2006 shouldn't truly shock anyone.
The fact that he would announce it publicly is pretty startling, however.
"I wouldn’t consider myself a dirty player," Nalen said at a press conference for his election into the team's ring of fame. "I know people will bring up the Igor Olshansky play in 2006, but if people will look at the play before that and realize why I did what I did—and even on that play, I missed the cut. Definitely I wanted to blow his knee out on that play, because of what happened the play before. But is that dirty? I don’t know. It’s revenge, kind of."
On the play in question, the Broncos were spiking the ball near the end of a game against San Diego. Nalen dove at Olshansky's legs even though the Broncos were not even running a play. Olshansky punched Nalen and got ejected, and the 15-yard penalty with the Chargers nursing an 8-point lead drew the ire of coach Marty Schottenheimer. Nalen was fined $25,000, and Olshansky was fined $10,000.
These things happen in football, it's just that not many would admit to deliberately trying to hurt another player. Maybe this is why Nalen never wanted to talk to the media.
(Nalen famously led the Broncos' offensive linemen's childish boycott of the media when he played, bullying other players into following suit. When I covered the Broncos, in 2007 I did a "Where are they now?" series on the 1997 Broncos. I managed to track down almost everyone from that team, but the last guy who talked to me for that series was Nalen, who I asked numerous times as I saw him just about every day covering the Broncos beat. Now Nalen is a sports radio show host in Denver. Go figure.)
Nalen was a great player for those Broncos teams, as an undersized center who slipped to the seventh round of the 1994 draft but fit Denver's scheme perfectly. He was one of the best players on back-to-back Super Bowl teams and Mike Shanahan said he thinks Nalen is the best center to ever play the game. Nalen probably probably deserves to get strong consideration for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
He was also known for a dirty style of play, and based on this week's admission, he probably earned that reputation.