Mike Tolbert #35 of the San Diego Chargers reacts after scoring a touchdown in the first quarter against the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field on December 5, 2011 in Jacksonville, Florida.
A white, circular bandage covers four stiches on Mike Tolbert's forehead.
Inches below, the skin atop his nose chips outward like it's been sent through a pocket-sized lawnmower.
Beneath his new look, the Chargers running back, battered but not beaten, flashed a smile this week in the locker room, recounting a conversation with his wife after returning home from Monday night's win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.
In a league of 21st century tacklers, runners and receivers, Tolbert is a tribute to the old school, made from the cloth of leather helmets and picked from a Georgia garden where rubbing dirt is pain's best remedy.
So Monday's game fit him well: He barrelled through the Jaguars defense for a 13-yard touchdown on the first drive, and just as he earned his NFL keep four years ago, he was a terror on special teams with a career-high five tackles and an assist on seven kickoffs.
The next day, he brought his wife a surprise from Florida. Not flowers. Not oranges.
"I didn't tell her before I came home, and I came home with bandages everywhere," Tolbert said. "She was iike, 'Damn! What happened?' I was like, 'You know, part of the day.'"
Tolbert, who usually shrugs his shoulders when speaking of contact, has seen his role expand since joining the Chargers in 2008 as an undrafted rookie free agent from Coastal Carolina. Where he's gained respect from his teammates is how, despite the rising offensive involvement, his approach to the game stays level.
He still loves special teams — "Where else on earth do you get a 70-yard head start and run head-first into somebody?" said Tolbert, in the final year of his contract. "That's what it's all about."
He still loves lead blocking whenever the Chargers deploy the converted fullback.
And when given the rock, he still loves to bash whoever stands in his way.
Darrell Stuckey, Chargers safety and special teams ace, calls Tolbert "tenacious." Fullback Jacob Hester says if the team ever needs an emergency linebacker in goal-line situations, Tolbert could fill a gap.
"He loves contact," Hester said. "He kind of looks forward to it. Running back, fullback — no matter where he's at. He's a guy who's played a lot of running back here; he's our third-down back and does a lot of different things. You don't see a lot of guys who do that and want to run down kickoff coverage like he does. But gosh, he's a head-hunter out there. He's the first one down there, and he usually makes the play."
The Chargers had their most complete game of the season Monday, in part for their work in special teams coverage, as directed by first-year coordinator Rich Bisaccia.
On three returns apiece, Cecil Shorts and DuJuan Harris never made it past their own 23 and had an average start at the 20.4-yard line.
Tolbert was involved in all six kickoffs that weren't a touchback. On the third, near the end of the first quarter, he smacked into Harris and dropped him at the 21-yard line. The impact popped the buttons on Tolbert's shock-resistant helmet, and his helmet crashed down violently against his own face.
"Just the stitches in the head," Tolbert said, shrugging his shoulders. "They glued the nose back together."
Rub some dirt on it. He'll be fine.