Pittsburgh Steelers safety Ryan Clark didn’t put up a fight when coach Mike Tomlin told him he couldn’t play in the NFL playoff game at Denver on Sunday.
Clark nearly died the last time he played in the place nicknamed Mile High City. He has a blood condition that becomes aggravated when playing at altitude.
The normally verbose Clark simply listened when he sat in Tomlin’s office, and was grateful for the coach’s decision.
“I said ‘OK coach,’” Clark said on Wednesday. “It wasn’t any fight … does he seem like a man who changes his mind anyway? I knew there wasn’t going to be any changing in that.”
If given the choice, Clark would give it a shot against the Denver Broncos even when faced with potentially dire consequences.
“Y’all have seen me play, I run into people all the time, so clearly I’m not that bright,” Clark said with a laugh.
He’s kidding. Clark knows what’s at stake.
The then-undiagnosed sickle-cell trait flared up when Clark last played in Denver, and he ended up having his gall bladder and spleen removed in addition to losing 30 pounds (nearly 14 kilograms).
Doctors cleared Clark to play this weekend but didn’t make any guarantees. That’s all Tomlin needed to hear.
Tomlin told Clark that if Tomlin’s son Dino was in the same situation, he wouldn’t let him play, the kind of blunt assessment that Clark has grown to appreciate during Tomlin’s five years on the job.
“I think either way is a difficult situation,” Clark said. “Not to play with your teammates is a tough situation but to have to wonder after every play if you’re going to be alright is also a stressful situation.”
Instead Clark will watch Pittsburgh’s biggest game of the year (so far) from the sidelines. He’ll miss a start while healthy for the first time since playing for the Washington Redskins in 2004.
It’s why he didn’t exactly celebrate when it became clear the defending AFC champions would have to start their bid for a record ninth trip to the Super Bowl in Denver. Clark admitted getting emotional after the playoff pairings became set, knowing it would likely mean he’d have to sit out and hope the Steelers advance.
“You fought 16 weeks, you trained during the offseason to help your team win a Super Bowl and this is part of that mission and part of that journey,” Clark said. “I was upset about it, not in the sense of not angry at coach … but just as a competitor you want to go out there and compete and I knew I probably wouldn’t have the opportunity.”