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Clark's Story Worth Remembering


Ryan Clark walked into the Redskins Park media room on Nov. 7, 2005, and his eyes opened wide.

He was genuinely surprised to see a host of reporters waiting to interview him.

The night before, Clark was one of the defensive stars in a 17-10 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles at FedExField.

With 1:25 left in the game, Clark had intercepted a Donovan McNabb pass at the 3-yard line, sealing a key NFC East win for the playoff-bound Redskins.

Clark, a 5-11, 205-pound safety, would go on to finish the 2005 season with 72 tackles and a three interceptions. He added 14 more tackles in two postseason contests.

The following offseason, Clark departed the Redskins and signed on with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Since then, Clark has played on football's biggest stage, capping off the 2008 season with a Super Bowl XLIII championship over the Arizona Cardinals 27-23.

This Sunday, Clark returns to the big stage as the Steelers take on the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XLV at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Tex.

In looking back at Clark's short time in Washington, his story is worth reflection.

The lesson: quality talent is not always found at the top of the draft board or in free agency.

Clark had spent his first two NFL seasons with the New York Giants, but he was released following the 2003 season.

He was working in the academic administration offices at LSU, his alma mater, preparing for a life outside of football. Then the Redskins contacted him right before 2004 training camp.

Clark impressed enough to earn a roster spot coming out of preseason, even though some media outlets mistakenly included him among the Redskins' final cuts.

When Matt Bowen, the starting strong safety, was sidelined with a knee injury midway through the season, Clark stepped in and solidified the position on a defense that would finish fourth-best in the NFL.

Clark showed early on that he was a sound tackler.

In a game against Baltimore at FedExField, he found himself in a gap staring at hard-charging running back Jamal Lewis, who outweighed him by 50 pounds.

Clark made the tackle, though.

"It seemed to fire up our defense," Clark said after that game. "When a big player like LaVar Arrington or Marcus Washington makes a play for us, that's one thing. But when somebody like me makes a good tackle, it gives everybody a lift."

In two seasons in Washington, Clark also forged a close bond with the late Sean Taylor. He was a calming influence as Taylor adjusted to the NFL.

A free agent following the 2005 season, Clark wanted to stay with the Redskins, but the team decided to sign free agent Adam Archuleta instead.

With Pittsburgh, Clark has started 62-of-64 games and posted 455 tackles, seven interceptions and one sack in the last five years.

Last season, he played a key role on the Steelers' second-ranked defense, starting 15 games and logging 90 tackles and two interceptions.

When Clark was with with the Redskins, Gregg Williams, the assistant head coach-defense at the time, praised Clark for playing "full throttle."

It's evident that Clark still plays with that mentality.

He developed a reputation as a big hitter in the 2008 season, leveling New England Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker in a regular season game and Baltimore Ravens running back Willis McGahee in the AFC Championship game.

"My whole thing is getting to the ball as fast as I can to make a play," Clark told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette at the time. "Most times, as soon as I see a quarterback looking at a guy, I'm full speed. Once you decide to go, you go. You can't pull back. Then once you get there, it's him or you."

Perhaps it's something that Clark learned from Taylor.

Taylor, of course, was one of the hardest hitting defensive backs to ever play the game.

Clark remains popular among Redskins fans because he pays tribute to Taylor every chance he gets. In 2008, he wore a No. 21 practice jersey in honor of Taylor and he wore eye back with "21" on it. That drew a $5,000 fine from the NFL, incidentally.

Redskins safeties coach Steve Jackson once commented that Clark's best attribute was that he "stayed humble."

That's why it remains easy to root for Clark in these parts.

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