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Ryan Clark did it his way in fashioning an unlikely 13-year NFL career

2/18/2015

Dick LeBeau, in his farewell to Pittsburgh earlier this month, paid homage to the 2008 defense that led the Steelers to the Super Bowl title.

LeBeau, the coordinator of that esteemed defense, talked at length on a day honoring him about the key players on that unit.

And he certainly did not forget about Ryan Clark, who was often overshadowed by the great players on that defense, and especially by fellow safety Troy Polamalu.

"One of the smartest men and, pound for pound, maybe one of the toughest men I’ve ever seen,” LeBeau said of Clark during a ceremony in which Pittsburgh City Council gave LeBeau a symbolic key to the city.

Steelers fans would do well to remember those words when it comes to Clark’s legacy in Pittsburgh.

As hard-hitting off the field as he was on it – and he backed down from no one -- Clark could rankle fans, reporters and maybe even some of his teammates with his nonstop chatter and outspoken nature.

He infamously referred to the Pittsburgh media as “turds” in the midst of the Steelers’ 2009 second-half collapse. Two seasons later, a Steelers media relations staffer had to separate Clark and another reporter after they nearly came to blows at training camp.

If Clark’s look-at-me ways could be grating, they were also not surprising.

Clark had to fight his way into the NFL after going undrafted in 2002 and signing with the New York Giants.

He climbed the ranks as an undersized safety and never lost his edge even after he established himself as Polamalu’s running mate on the back end of the Steelers’ defense.

Clark served an indispensable role on some great Steelers’ defenses as his familiarity with Polamalu allowed the eight-time Pro Bowl safety to play all over the field, knowing that Clark had his back.

And Clark could deliver a pop.

Willis McGahee will never forget the shot that Clark delivered at the end of the 2008 AFC Championship Game -- if the former Baltimore Ravens running back remembers it in the first place.

Clark hit McGahee so hard that fans at Heinz Field weren’t sure whether to gasp or cheer, and the ghastly collision knocked out both players.

That willingness to give up his body is Clark’s legacy, as are the strong opinions he routinely offered while not giving a hoot about whom they ticked off.

In the end, Clark did it his way.

And he did it for 13 seasons in the NFL, overcoming a life-threatening injury along the way, while staying true to himself right up until he announced his retirement.