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INDIANAPOLIS – Dallas Clark's farewell to the NFL and the Indianapolis Colts had all sorts of poignant moments, times when he had to gather his composure for his goodbye speech.
If you know Clark – even peripherally, as I do as a reporter – you find yourself pulling for him. He's a genuine nice guy, one of those players that always embraced each day with a positive vibe. It's a PR move for the Colts to bring back a popular player and let him retire with the team, but I do believe it's a heartfelt PR move.
Yet one thing stuck out to me when Clark answered a couple questions following his official retirement Wednesday at the Colts practice facility.
“(My) brain, time will tell on that,” Clark said. “It's kind of scary with that type of stuff.”
Clark then went on to credit the Colts medical staff with never pushing him to play when he suffered a concussion, the exact number of which is unknown.
But that one question about how his mind might work as he ages is a legitimate one for all NFL players. Before I drove down to the Colts complex Wednesday to attend Clark's news conference, I caught a bit of former Chicago Bears quarterback Jim McMahon and some contemporaries on one of the morning television talk shows. McMahon is an example of the grave concerns about the effect of hits to the head of an NFL player.
Clark played in an era where there has been more concern and precautions about concussions and the long-term ramifications.
But the fact Clark brought up the subject is a stark reminder that yes, these NFL players make a significant amount of money for playing a game, but the toll on their bodies is tremendous. Clark retires now, after 11 seasons (nine with the Colts, one with Tampa Bay and one with Baltimore) and you hope that means he's getting out at the right time.
Let's face it. Clark took a lot of shots during his time setting Colts tight end records for receptions and touchdowns. He'd head across the middle ready for those Peyton Manning passes and pay the consequence. There were many times he ran fade patterns or sideline routes – including that tremendous one-handed catch in the corner of the end zone that Robert Mathis says he remembers most fondly – but many other times went across the middle and got blasted.
Clark said he knows his body will have the arthritis and other issues that come with the territory. It's an agreement – without a real choice, except leaving the profession – that NFL players have to accept.
Clark joked that he hopes he stays as fast as his young children for a few more years. If only his leg speed slows down, he'll be blessed.
You have to hope Clark left the game in time to be able to carry all the memories for a lifetime that he shared with the audience in his retirement ceremony.
When he was drafted out of the University of Iowa in 2003, he said he was surprised to be considered such a value – a first-round value – by the Colts. He thanked former Colts general manager Bill Polian for his faith in Clark and what he could do for the Manning-led offense.
“They saw something bigger in me than I saw in myself,” Clark said.
Clark went on, of course, to be a major offensive weapon for Manning, once catching 100 passes in a season. He helped the Colts to two Super Bowls, winning one, and holds the NFL postseason record for career receptions and yards by a tight end. He was a Manning favorite, on and off the field. You could tell he was a favorite teammate, too, by the fact former players such as Ryan Diem and Hunter Smith and current Colts Wayne, Mathis and Adam Vinatieri attended the news conference.
“There are not 31 other teams like this,” Clark said of the Colts organization while making sure to thank the Buccaneers and Ravens for his time there. “This is special.”
I'm not sure I can judge Clark's career with total objectivity, since I find him to be such a likable person. He's a longtime good friend of Fort Wayne's former NFL punter Jason Baker, another quality man, and that influences my perception as well. The numbers are there for Clark to be a future Colts Ring of Honor candidate.
Clark said he doesn't know where his life will take him from here, only that he's “excited to see where God uses me.”
Here's hoping he'll look back on his career with fondness for years to come, brain unaffected by years of NFL shots. It's tough, even on a day of celebration, not to worry.