If there were a vote on the five biggest hits delivered during this NFL season, Pittsburgh Steelers safety Ryan Clark would have at least two of them.
In a 33-10 win at New England, Clark’s decleating shot on wide receiver Wes Welker coming across the middle knocked the Pro Bowl wide receiver out of the game with a concussion and punctuated the Steelers’ dominance that day.
In Pittsburgh’s 23-14 win over Baltimore in the AFC Championship, Clark’s shot on running back Willis McGahee in the fourth quarter forced a fumble and sent McGahee to the hospital.
While those two hits will be the most remembered by the 5-11, 205-pound Clark from this season, he’s delivered a number of others. In addition to firing up the rest of the Pittsburgh defense, the big hits have another, perhaps more important, purpose.
“Those hits are on tape,” said Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley. “When he hit Willis McGahee, when he hit (Welker). That’s on tape. Whenever offenses see that, they twice about coming across the middle and catching the ball because you’ve got No. 25, who’s been doing a lot of hitting.”
You can bet the Arizona Cardinals have seen Clark’s big hits and will be keeping an eye out for him in Super Bowl XLIII. Clark, however, wonders if receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin, both of whom weigh in the 220-pound range, will be all that concerned about him.
“I’m a little dude. All of their receivers are way bigger than I am,” Clark said. “I’m more than sure they’re more worried about catching that ball than they are me hitting them.”
The big hits have taken their toll on Clark. He suffered two shoulder dislocations, the first of which forced him to miss a game at Washington. The second came against Tennessee on a fourth-quarter tackle of running back LenDale White. That one kept Clark out of the regular-season finale against Cleveland.
The fourth-quarter hit on McGahee was also a knockout blow for Clark, who left the game and did not return.
“They’ve just been running into me really hard this year,” said Clark. “I just stand there and they just run into me. I’ve never been scared to hit. In situations like that when a guy is running full speed and you’re running full speed, it’s going to be a big collision. You hope everybody gets up.”
The McGahee hit led to some concussion concerns but Clark hasn’t missed practice time this week. The Steelers gave him three words to remember on the sidelines to check his cognitive skills, something his wife continued throughout the night.
“She asked me those three words all night and then told me the next morning, ‘You do know that I never remembered the words.’ If I was wrong, she would have never known,” Clark said. “I could have made some words up. I could have said ‘Batman.’ I could have said anything. She kept asking me my name. Of course, I remember that.”
Opponents and their fans are getting to know Clark very well, too. Some have even labeled him a dirty player – though the league did not levy fines for his hits on Welker or McGahee.
“I always turn. That’s probably why I have shoulder problems,” Clark said. “I don’t want to hit nobody with my head. I don’t want to knock myself out. I think I’m mildly attractive and slightly intelligent. I try to keep that.
“So many people … say I should be fined or suspended. It wasn’t a defenseless receiver – it was somebody running with the ball. It doesn’t matter which way you hit him. People have to stop looking at the viciousness of the hit or the consequences of the hit and know the rules.”