Starkey: Clark's D.C. experience monumental
Ryan Clark insists this is just another game, even though it's his first against the Washington Redskins since they kicked him out the door seven years ago.
Doesn't he want to show them what they've been missing?
“They know what they're missing,” Clark says. “I just want to win the game.”
What they're missing is a player who has, in many ways, become the rock of the Steelers' defense from his free safety position. Clark is a consistently excellent performer having another Pro Bowl-caliber season.
Clark's experience in D.C., though it lasted just two years (2004-05), was monumental on multiple fronts:
• He got play for Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs.
“That was an enlightening experience,” Clark says. “He was a man of God, so it was cool to see a man lead who had those types of beliefs.”
• He got his first taste of regular starting duty under a coordinator (Gregg Williams) who would become infamous in the Bountygate scandal.
“Still love Gregg. Always will. Gregg, he just saw me as a player, not as an undrafted free agent or a guy who was too small, maybe too slow. He gave me an opportunity to play football. And he's one of the main reasons I'm here today.”
• He developed a close relationship with a spectacular young safety named Sean Taylor, who was tragically murdered two seasons after Clark left.
“We were both young, and when you're that young, you think you'll play together forever,” Clark said. “Obviously, I left, and he passed, so it wasn't meant to be. But those two years I had with him, I'll always remember. I won't let other people forget him. It was a blessing.”
• He came to represent, perhaps more than any player, the radical difference between how the impetuous, once-proud Redskins and the conservative, still-proud Steelers do business.
Flash back to winter 2005, after the Steelers won Super Bowl XL. The Redskins made a decent run that year, too, getting hot late and winning a playoff game before losing at Seattle.
Then this happened: Washington owner Dan Snyder fell in love with a couple of free agents, as was his habit, and started throwing money around.
One of Snyder's targets was Steelers receiver Antwaan Randle El, a role player coming off a 35-catch season. The Redskins thought it wise to offer Randle El $31 million (nearly a million per catch?) over seven years.
Snyder's real infatuation, however, was with St. Louis Rams safety Adam Archuleta.
Truth be told, Archuleta's first choice was Chicago, where he would be reunited with his old position coach, Lovie Smith. But he couldn't say no to Washington's offer: It was the richest in NFL history for a safety — $30 million over six years with $10 million guaranteed.
That spelled the end of Clark in Washington.
Meanwhile, the Steelers lost their starting free safety, Chris Hope, who signed an Archuleta-like, $30 million deal with the Tennessee Titans.
So what did the Steelers do?
Well, with hardly anybody noticing, they signed little ole Ryan Clark to a little ole four-year, $7 million deal — then watched him become the best of the four.
Clark believes Snyder has learned from his mistakes.
“He's a guy who takes a lot of flak for spending a lot of money,” Clark says. “He wants to win, and I think a lot of times he didn't understand how to win. He didn't have the right people underneath him. I think now he does.”
Time will tell, but Snyder finally has a real quarterback (Robert Griffin III) to go with a bona fide coach (Mike Shanahan).
Now it's time to back off and practice a little patience. That has been an issue for Snyder.
That and getting rid of guys like Ryan Clark.
Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 “The Fan.” His columns appear Thursdays and Sundays. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.