Dallas Clark Q&A: 'It’s like when you lay eyes on that girl'
He was born to be an NFL Tight End. Here's the text from our conversation with the Indianapolis Colts great.
In addition to the full podcast episode — video and audio available here — text of our conversation with Indianapolis Colts great Dallas Clark is below.
If you’d like to read Clark’s story in full, you can find “Blood and Guts: How Tight Ends Save Football” everywhere books are sold, including Amazon. Those who’d like a signed copy, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Dallas Clark here ran the full gamut of emotions for Blood and Guts. I was so grateful that you were willing to kind of go down some darker roads and relive some great memories, too. And really, you cannot tell the story of the tight end position, hell, the story of football without hearing where Dallas Clark has come from. You had no business being in the NFL.
Clark: Right? That statement is so true. Someone left the back door open for one second and I stumbled in it, so it worked out pretty good.
That’s probably a good place to start — walk-on life in Iowa. You’re checking out socks, they’re treating you like hell. You’ve got three digits on your equipment, right? You don't even really have a number yet.
Clark: Like, “117.” To all you walk-ons listening — former, current — feel ya. Love ya. You’re doing it because you truly love the game of football. To pull that off, you have to love the game and it exposes you if you don’t. Because if you don’t, you’re done. It’ll chew you up and spit you out and not even give a second thought. And so that’s the first thing you learn. And then the next thing you learn is brotherhood. What the team provides, where you feel like where you belong, you feel accepted. And then to earn that respect. Everyone has their story, everyone has their status and to just like, ‘OK, I’m at the bottom. If I could get a compliment from this person or this coach…’ So if we can just dilute it down to just like, ‘Let's work our ass off and let’s just get recognized in the weight room. Let’s get recognized training. Let’s get recognized at practice.’ And then you just start putting those little bricks together and you never know what’s going to happen. And a crap-ton has to go (right), like your head coach looking at you going, “You’re not a very good linebacker. Why don’t you try this tight end position?”
The survival element to walk-on life though was so fascinating. You’re just trying to get by and make enough money to eat. And we’re not talking even Chick-fil-A or fast food. I think you had Grands! biscuits, right?
Clark: And Bush’s Baked Beans, baby. You put butter on a whole tube of the eight biscuits that you get, and then you just smother it like gravy with the Bush’s Baked Beans. For about five, six bucks, we’re putting fuel back into the machine. And by the way, I had to heat up the oven. Now the adult “dad” of me can appreciate this version of me: “I came home from a hard day at work and I have to make my own supper!” And I was doing that at 18, 19 years old. You have all your roommates, they’re all scholarship kids. They’re coming back with loaves of bread and cartons of milk that they get to take home with them after they had a fricking five-course meal. And I’m just scarfing down — and you know what? I loved every bean. I loved every biscuit. I wouldn’t trade it. Not in a minute.
Obviously in high school, you go through an unbelievably traumatic moment. Your mother passes away in your arms. You get to Iowa. You’re a walk-on. You’re a seventh-string linebacker. Just to eat that biscuit, you’re selling the campus newspaper. You’re a test dummy for psychology students. I think you did some work with dentistry students.
Clark: Yeah, I got a free filling by some student. I hope they’re crushing it out there in the dentistry world. It’s still in there, so they passed on me. The only thing I didn’t do was plasma. I don’t know why I didn’t do it, but it just scared the hell out of me. I’m like, “What do they do? What’s plasma?” I was a little “sus” as the kids would say these days. And I was like, “Alright, I’m going to stay away from that. I’ll come in and pick A or B on your psych test on your experimental human breakdown of tendencies and all that and be your little Guinea pig, but plasma? Whoa! I have a standard.”
No. 1, though, Larry Putney. You’re working on the fields — Kinnick Stadium, all the fields at Iowa. You’re mowing for seven bucks an hour that summer, waking up at 6 a.m. I want to let you tell the stories because one in particular just cracked me up. What was that like working for “Legend Larry?”
Clark: He was a legend. He was a grouchy old man. Ryan was my other guy, my teammate. It was just him and I, and he would just dog-cuss us because we couldn’t do anything right. We probably couldn’t. So, I mean, it’s not Larry's fault. We’d always make fun: “Geez, Legend. Did you spend a little too much time at the VFW last night?” “Hey! Don’t tell me what I do!” But yeah, I’d mow Kinnick Monday, Wednesday, Friday at 6 a.m. every morning. And at that point, playing there is a dream. I’m not anything. At 6 o'clock in the morning — dew, sun peaking up, quiet. That’s where I bonded with that stadium and made that place home.
I can fall asleep like that. I have no problem falling asleep. And apparently, I can fall asleep on a lawnmower. So along the edges, there’s these big pads that protect the cement walls of Kinnick Stadium. Kinnick, if you don't know, has very tight quarters. On the sideline, there’s no room. This stadium is (1929), whenever was built. A legendary stadium. If you’re a fan of football, go watch a game at Kinnick. It is special. And so I’m mowing along the edge, and it’s the same thing. Like, “Gosh, I’m going to weed-eat in 10 minutes. Do I really need to get that close?” But when you’re 18 years old, you don’t think that stuff. I can get closer. So I’m going along, going along and watching the edge, watching the edge — and I kid you not — I doze off and I put a rip in the mat about a foot long, and it’s right by the tunnel. I’m like, “Oh, crap.”
I got a little scared and I look across and it has a “1” on it for the 10-yard line. I look across — way across — 110 yards kitty corner. I grabbed this thing. I don’t know how much it weighed, but I carried this thing all the way across the field, switched it out. Larry wasn’t very happy. He was like, “What are you doing?”
You said it was eight-feet long and weighed 150 pounds and you had to drag it across the entire field. So you’re taking breaks to kind of catch your breath.
Clark: And you just know it’s like, “Gosh, he’s coming. He’s coming!” And so you just feel, it’s like you against time. And granted, yes, I know people are out there are like, “Well, that sounds foolish. Why don’t you just tell him?” Yeah, could have. But I was kind of in the world of “I can’t make mistakes. Do I get fired for this?” That thing was like carrying a dead body. Not that I know that. This thing was so heavy, so awkward, and oh my God, your heart is just racing.
I love how you put it. You said, “I was like a mouse when you lift a bale of hay and the mouse says ‘Oh shit, the whole world can see me!’ I’m carrying this across Kinnick Stadium. It’s 6 a.m., but in my head, I feel like there’s 71,000 there. I’m just, ‘heh-heh-heh-heh.’ Scurrying across like you’re trying to find another bale to hide under. I needed that job.” So you’re just getting by — hoping, maybe, possibly, potentially you get a special team snap. Dying for an opportunity at this point.
Clark: One, one. And obviously everyone’s familiar with Rudy, and you could just show me that last 10 minutes of him getting that snap and then they snap to the family. And we all have those dynamics. I guarantee you there’s people out there that thought, “You’re walking on at Iowa? Yeah, good luck kid.” You have that person that says, “Hey, you got this!” And maybe deep down inside they're like, “No, you don’t!” Or that person that, “Oh, anyone can do that!” Name it. They’re out there. And I guaran-damn-tee you they’re even more out there these days because our attitudes towards things that are good, it feels like there’s a mob of people that just want to tear down good. And so all those people out there that are fighting for something good, fricking don’t listen to it. Keep fighting. Keep chasing your dreams and keep getting after it.” And that’s what it was. So when they show in the movie, Rudy, getting that one, two snaps, and I mean, that’s all I wanted. That’s what I was doing it for. I can relate with that. That was the goal. That was the five-year plan was to just get on the field and to be able to look around and say, “I fricking did it.”
There were so many Rudy moments. Weren’t the equipment managers — you’re asking for stuff and they’re looking at you almost like you are barely human: “Ugh, you disgust me. What do you doing deserve this pair of socks?”
Clark: And I love Greg and Dick. They were the equipment guys. Dick passed away quite a few years ago. Here’s the thing. It takes one guy to ruin it for all of us. So I am pretty sure there was probably a walk-on that was taking advantage of the system and trying to be like, “Hey, I can get…” And so they had to defend their own and they had to put up a front. But when you had to show ‘em the hole — “I have a hole in my sock, dude.” And then it’s like, “Ugh, OK. Here you go.” And you’re like, “Really? C’mon man. It’s not your sock drawer.” But me and Greg (Morris), I love that guy. Solon native. We all have jobs, so we can joke and kid about that. And every now and then, I’ll throw that back at him. Granted, a pair of socks, that’s not a hurdle. But if it’s one of those things where that could easily — if you’re having a bad day and it’s culminating things of maybe getting demoted on the depth chart, getting hurt, being injured — that might just be the thing: “You know what? I’m done. I’ve had it.” And I shared there’s twice where I wanted to quit. And thank the good Lord he put the right people in my life. My brother being one of them who came drove from Des Moines, he lived in Des Moines, came and rescued me. I was done. My car wasn’t working, so he came to Iowa City and picked me up and just got me out for a couple days and “Alright, back on the horse.” Things got better just one day at a time.
And this is after your appendix nearly blew. I mean you went through so much, we’re kind of skimming over, but that was horrifying.
Clark: My freshman year — that senior year (of high school) — I was playing baseball in the summer. And so I’m playing baseball, one of my favorite sports, running into my second baseman, I break my collarbone. I’m like, “I am done. There’s no way they’re going to take me.” And at this point they invited me to walk on. I of course took it. It was the only offer of anything. I called Bret Bielema, the linebacker coach, and he was like, “Hey, why don’t you grayshirt? Why don’t you take nine hours? You’re not a full-time student. And then you can join us in the spring.” So I did that and the collarbone never healed right. So then the following year — my second year on campus — I joined the team and then that’s when Coach Ferentz came in. Hayden Fry retired and Coach Ferentz came in and we basically came in the same time. I’m working my way up the depth chart and I ended up hurting my collarbone again two weeks before playing Nebraska. Opening week. And I was on the depth chart. I was making some good ground and getting some respect and might’ve been traveling, might’ve been playing. And then hurt my collarbone. “Alright, A little bump in the road.” I come back about three, four weeks later, it feels OK. I start playing. Well then about Week 3, Week 4, appendicitis hits me. Emergency surgery. Pretty much season’s over. A month later, I get my collarbone fixed. So second year on campus, I have two surgeries. And so that was two years without playing football and — to remind you — I’m still a linebacker.
No one could predict this one. So I look kind of like a walk-on casualty. Like, “Oh man, this kid’s just never going to catch a break.” And then things started rolling. So, it worked out pretty good with special teams. All you walk-ons: Special teams, special teams, special teams, that’s how you make your mark. Every kickoff I went down as a man on a mission. No one’s blocking me.
You were putting up these insane numbers in the weight room, right? (Iowa strength coach) Chris Doyle is calling you “Roy Hobbs” because you’re like The Natural. Yet, it’s not translating. You’re not a very good linebacker. The position wasn’t for you. And in this book, I was always blown away by how guys don’t like dream of being a tight end as a kid — unless you’re Rob Gronkowski and you dream of being Jeremy Shockey — but you’ve got this gravitational pull to the position. The tight end position kind of chooses you. You don’t choose it. And that was the case for you, wasn’t it?
Clark: Well said. Your book is such a great segue into what the tight end position is now. It wasn’t flashy. It wasn’t sexy. It wasn’t marketable. It wasn’t badass. It was just like “You’re a glorified offensive lineman.” Now that I’m watching, I’m getting to know these guys at Iowa and becoming friends with ‘em and watching these kids come in as freshmen. Every one of these dudes are 6-4, 6-5, skinny, 220. And it’s the same thing. It’s “OK, we’ll put a plate of food in front of him and see if he gains weight? If so, he’s becoming a tackle. If not, he’s going to stay a tight end. Or maybe he’s a receiver. Maybe he just doesn’t gain any weight and we’ll put him out wide.” There’s so much about the position that’s so hard and so many intangibles that you don’t really know until you get thrown in the fire. When you put your hand on the ground and you’ve got a fricking beast across from you, do you pee your pants or do you get fired up? What’s going on? We’ve got to find that out. And so all that dictates who you’re going to be, what you’re going to be, and how do you face that? And it’s tough.
You said: The linemen don't like us because stepping on their toes and the receivers don’t like us because we’re stealing targets from them. We’re kind of like somebody without a home. And it kind of makes you work harder in a lot of ways. It forces you to lock in and grind in a way nobody else is. It took you a while to come around to this whole tight end thing when Kirk Ferentz and the coaches bring it to you. You were a little stubborn at first. You wanted to be a linebacker.
Clark: Yeah, that’s a man’s position! It was awesome because that summer, my roommate was Kyle McCann, who was our starting quarterback and one of my best friends. That kid’s a gym rat. He came in as a freshman, played basketball and football for Iowa. And then he focused on football. So it was awesome for him to be like, “Hey, let’s go run some routes.” I can go back like it was yesterday and it was probably one of my most favorite parts of football, of just being out there and him breaking down… because usually when you learn the offense, it’s a team setting. It’s crazy, yada, yada, yada. Or you’re in the film room and you’re with the coach and it’s just getting taught to you and you got to visualize and all that. This was such a hands-on experience of Kyle just like, “Hey, this is what I’m seeing.” And so I think that’s where it started with me. And I mean, you carry over with Peyton and I. Peyton obviously is on another level of just like, “You need be where you need to be at the spot.”
That was how we rolled and that’s how I rolled where, “You tell me where you need me to be and I’m going to get there. And I’m going to catch that fricking ball.” But it started with Kyle and understanding like, “Hey, you’re going to be 10 yards because above on top of you, there’s going to be a receiver coming in, so we’re going to try to attract that safety or we’re going to try to pull that linebacker.” Also, I just came from the dark side. I came from the defensive side. So now I’m putting two and two like, “Wait a minute, when we’re playing Cover 3 and we got a buzz to the flat. Okay, so that’s the defender I’m trying to influence.” And so it all just kind of started marrying. And then just going up and catching that fricking ball. I mean, I’m getting goosebumps. And turning up and doing something?! It’s like when you lay eyes on that girl. I fell in love at one glance. I put my hand on the ground and I fell in love.
Gloveless, too. Obviously, people think of Dallas Clark, they picture you out there with bare hands the way God intended playing the sport. It was so cool to talk to Peyton Manning for this, too. .. Peyton said: “Dallas was wired the same way. I’m one of those guys. If I missed a throw, I'd say, ‘Let’s get another one.’ If Dallas dropped a pass or he and I were just off, we'd get another one. The receiver has to run another route. That’s 15 yards. He was like, ‘Absolutely. Why would we move on to the next one before we have this one right?’ The fact that he loved to work, that's when I knew he was going to be part of our offense. He asked questions: What are you looking for on this defense? He was a football rat, a junkie. Even when he was a first-round pick with the Colts, it wasn't like he said, “I made it.” He kept working. He was still a walk-on.”
This is a high-tech offense. The way that worked with Peyton and operating at such a fast clip. You helped take a really, really good offense and make it historic. I mean, Peyton said himself, Dallas is in the slot? There’s a DB on you? Let’s call a running play that direction. You’re going to drive him into the dirt. If there’s a linebacker on him, send him on a route. All of a sudden, the offense opened up.
Clark: Yeah, I’ll sign off on that. There’s a lot of caveats to what you said. What the focus needs to really expand out to are the dudes that were in that huddle. Let me remind you, if you didn’t grow up in the early-to-mid 2000s of NFL Football and Colts Football. We had Hall of Famer, Marvin Harrison, let’s start there. That dude, think about whatever job you have and then think about the best person to ever do your job and to watch them work every day. Tell me that you don’t get better. And then you have Reggie Wayne, who’s a 1 who just so happens to be in the shadow of Marvin Harrison. Of course, what a miserable/great problem to have with all these dudes that want the rock. And then we’ve got Edgerrin James in the backfield, who’s a Hall of Famer. Reggie Wayne’s going to be a Hall of Famer. Saturday holding it down on the offensive line. And then they get this chump from Iowa, and I just kind of shut up and I’m just like, “Dude, you guys are fun. Let’s go!” And so it elevated my game, my problem of wanting to be perfect and needing to be perfect. All those dudes are competitors. We all wanted to win it. This was before social media, and so no one was really into marketing themselves. We just wanted to fricking win. It wasn’t about doing all that stuff, extracurricular stuff. It was about the ball. So to go into war with those guys every fricking Sunday, come on now. Amazing, amazing.
Two Super Bowl runs that you can kind of look back at here, too. We’ve got the Super Bowl this Sunday. Do those memories resurface as we close in on the Super Bowl each year? I mean, start there in ‘06 where Brandon Stokely was battling injuries. You become that slot weapon and, holy heck, that playoff run. Go back and just pull up that AFC Championship Game against New England. You became a focal point.
Clark: There’s actually some dumb-dumbs out there that actually believe that the NFL is scripted. That’s the world we live in. There’s just some dumb people out there. So all of y’all that believe that bull crap, you’re dumb. Let’s just get that straight. For example, us facing our nemesis, New England. We’re talking Bulls-Pistons. It's just like, “Are you fricking kidding me?” Here we are down 21-3. You look at that and then you see the finish and you’re like, “Yeah, that looks scripted because it was a badass game.” Fast forward to this year. The Rams going to Detroit. You can’t make that stuff up. And that’s what just makes this game so fricking awesome. And we get those special moments and we get to witness that type of stuff and those stories of hearing these guys overcome so much and ridicule and then you go somewhere else and revive your career. That is beautiful. Let’s celebrate those instead of dragging it down about saying, “Oh, it’s this and that.” To be a part of that run and to face our nemesis made it extra special. And sorry to waste time on the conspiracy theory, but I just had this conversation with a buddy here. They brought it up and I’m like, “Really? There’s people that believe that?”
Taylor Swift is a plant. You didn't know that?
Clark: There you go. Can two kids not just fall in love? Spoiler alert: Do you look to gain something when you date someone? Yeah, absolutely. You want that person to make you better. And if that person just so happens to be an unbelievable singer and an enterprise herself, it’s not her fault. OK, make each other better. Go do something good. Love it, love it, love it, love it. So happy for those guys.
You can’t just take a deep breath and enjoy what we’re seeing.
Clark: No, no. Can’t do that! There’s got to be something. Like, oh my gosh. Yeah, I’m sorry when she walks into the room or he walks into the room, people react. Do they expect that? Do they demand that? Do they pay people? No, no. That’s just how people generally react. So you can’t blame them for supporting each other, loving each other and being there for each other. How else is it supposed to look? It’s no different than all the other wives and girlfriends that are in the stands. Yes. They don’t break the record for winning the most Grammys, so maybe her day job is a little different.
I guess she’s supposed to be a worse musician. Be less talented and less popular.
Clark: Yeah, I just love that she shows up. I love that she is genuinely, you can see she’s genuinely enjoying it. I would rather see that than — (slow, golf clap) — “Oh, that’s my baby.” It’s like Freaking-A! I think she could go out there and catch. She’d make someone miss.
When it first went down, I was skeptical, but not toward Taylor Swift. Toward the NFL. I’m cynical with a lot of the things the league does. Like, “Oh, of course, they love having Taylor Swift on TV because they’ve got to work on that women interest.” We see a lot of pink ribbons and pink apparel… but at this point, it’s real.
Clark: Yeah, exactly. And here’s the thing. The reason why the game is where it’s gone. And I think even “Peyton’s Places,” I’ve seen a couple of those episodes where he’s talked about some pivotal points through the history of the game that have helped make it what it is. And some of it is strategically marketing and planning. This one is the $5 in your pocket after doing laundry. This was not planned. This was just like, “Holy shit, awesome. Win for us.” Oh, by the way, that $5 is probably $5 billion. But either way, it’s awesome. You can go back to the same conversation of fantasy football, that’s just the first thing that comes to mind that’s helped take the game to a whole other level. And this, we’ll be able to look back and go, “Gosh, remember the impact of Taylor Swift?” And I hope they have a long, happy whatever’s meant to be life that they’re supposed to live. And I guaran-dang-tee you, we’re not going to look back and go, “Huh? That backfired on the NFL! They tried to set that up.” No, they’re not that smart. They can’t do that. That’s called love, folks.
I didn’t really want to talk about Taylor Swift all week. What did you do to me?
Clark: I left the door open. I’ll talk about it. I have no shame because I’ve gotten to know Travis here with Tight End U, and we have an admiration for one another. I love the dude. And so I am always going to stick up for him and make sure that people in my circle that I talk to — the four people — that, “Hey, this is real. Just relax. Stop putting fricking gasoline on the fires out there that are just wanting this to be something bigger.”
What’s Travis really like? And obviously George Kittle. He idolized you. He was watching you as a kid in the stands, and I imagine those are relationships that have kind of developed through Tight End U.
Clark: That’s the beauty. Tight End U, being asked to come there. It’s kind of funny when they asked me, I’m like, “Oh my gosh, these guys are fricking beasts. What am I going to be able to share there?” I walked into the room and you’re like, “Holy shit. I know exactly where they’re at right now. I’m like, their future self. OK, I do have some value here.” And so it was just awesome talking to them — where they’re at, what they’re struggling with. Injuries? Here’s my Rolodex of how you overcome. Family problems? Money? Here we go. These are the lessons. I tell them up-front, I don’t have the answers, but I do have experiences. I’m going to tell you my suggestion for this. I’m not forgetting the Magic 8 Ball here. You get to know these cats and they’re just great guys and all those guys — George and Trav have that caveat to their game — that’s just wicked. You’re not going to coach that into someone else. That was God-given. And then you entangle that ability with the style of offense and their quarterbacks. Watch out. Now, you’re cooking with oil. Yeah, it is fun to see where they’re at and to stay in touch with them and to be their cheerleader from afar. I don’t know what I am. A crazy uncle or something? Like, “Hey, good footwork on your blocks today. Hey, great routes. Hey, I love that third quarter…” Just re-affirm, let’s focus on the craft. It’s a long season, man. And everyone thinks that, “Oh, these guys have it made.” It’s not a true facade, but it’s tough. I mean, everyone looks at these guys, “Oh, they have it made, and no they don’t.” They go home and they’re beat and they’re tired and they’re hurting and it actually feels good to hear “Atta boy” from a text. That stuff goes a long way and it feels good. And that’s what I try to provide for those guys. I’m always just trying to make ‘em smile and know that fricking Week 13’s hell. And it's like, “Oh shit, we got five more weeks. Oh, alright, let's go, let's go. All right, let’s get the pads on! Here we go!”
Thinking back to the conversation with George when he was at Iowa. He went through it, but his story is so different from yours. For one, he’s drinking Loaded Coronas. He’s ordering a Corona, taking a few sips, pouring the tequila in and throwing back a handful of those. Liked to party. Dallas couldn’t afford to party because he gets caught? That’s it. You’re going back to Livermore never to be seen again.
Clark: Never to be heard from again. I’m a woulda, shoulda, coulda. Don’t be that story.
It was something to hang out with Jeremy Shockey at Miami Beach and then connect with Dallas Clark. Talk about polar-opposite college experiences. Jeremy’s got the co-eds throwing themselves at ‘em. I don’t want to sell you short.
Clark: No, no, no, you nailed it. You want to talk about intimidation? The “Ped Mall” (Pedestrian Mall in downtown Iowa City). I mean, there’s a reason why we’re one of the top-three party schools in the country. I tell the freshmen, “Hey, Ped Mall? Undefeated. Don’t think you’re going to go and think you have this plan that you can party and study. It doesn’t work.” The Ped Mall is undefeated, and it scared the hell out of me from Day 1. I still remember walking into the Field House (bar) and it’s double floors. You can look down onto the dance floor, like a fricking scene from Bad Boys. And I remember looking over like, “Holy shit, we’re not in Livermore anymore.” And no one wearing anything. I’m like, “Where am I? OK, back to Slater Hall, let’s go.” This is not good. But you lean on my two older brothers, we didn’t drink. We didn’t drink in college. We didn’t drink in high school. And talk about a small town in Iowa and you don’t drink? You want to talk about being a fricking unicorn and getting made fun of and thinking like, “Who are you? You’re better than us? You can’t do what everyone is doing? That’s what you do in small-town Iowa.” That took a lot. Thank God for my brothers. I don’t know if our Dad threatened them with death or something. But Dan blazed the trail. Derrik followed the trail. It was easy for me to go to those parties in high school. Like, “Here’s a beer.” “Nope, I don’t drink.” “What?” And then go to college, go to the Field House, go to all those parties. “Nope.” I’ll go, and then when you all get drunk and annoying, I leave. And so that was kind of the gig. And so Thank God for that because who knows, right? Maybe I could have enjoyed it a little more. Maybe I could have done that stuff. But I’m glad I didn't.
In your head, the margin for error was minuscule.
Clark: But you read Shockey’s chapter and you’re just like, “That’s my hero.” I’ve gotten to meet him a couple times back in the day playing against each other. But you’re like, “That's him.” It’s not right or wrong or indifferent. That’s you, dude. That is you. And I love that he owns it. Take it or leave it. I can respect that. Do you, dude. He crushed it. He was like pre-Gronk where it was just like, “God, this guy has a tenacity about him that’s awesome. That’s different.”
He's got Mom throwing him a box of condoms at age 14, and he’s knocking people out at bars into his senior year of high school. Broke the guy’s orbital bone. But your point is so spot on. Even you and George Kittle had such different experiences at Iowa — aside from all the drinking.
George spent three years finding himself. Not taking football as seriously as he should. He had a conversation with you that he said went a long way when you came back to campus. Pat Angerer, the linebacker, basically told him what turned his collegiate career around. But you looked up to Chris Doyle and the strength staff as fatherly figures — this was family. George and him clashed. He’s more of a fun-loving, free spirit. And also he’s lactose intolerant. So all those protein shakes aren't exactly doing wonders for his insides as he’s beefing up to 255. It wasn’t as good of a mix there, but maybe he still came out of it, George Kittle.
Clark: Your path, you see it as your path, and you kind of have that natural reaction of like, “Well, why aren’t we all going down this path?” And that’s what makes you unique and special. You add those up into why it clicked for me and Coach Doyle and why it doesn’t click with Coach Doyle and those guys. It was interesting to see that through — and even some of my dear friends struggled with it. But I will stand firm. I will shout from the tallest… Chris Doyle made me who I am. As a football player, as a man.
You have a choice. You come in the University of Iowa, and when you sign up for that, you sign up for being held accountable. You sign up for giving everything you have because the university is giving you an education and so much more. A platform. They’re giving you a platform. Back in the day, it was like, “Oh, we’re giving you a free education.” Now, kids are getting cars. That whole idea has changed. So the university is giving you a platform. Hell, now they’re giving you money. But in our era, obviously if you take $5 from somebody, your eligibility is gone. So they literally gave you an education. And so that was the agreement.
I struggle with of the splitting of hairs because what made us great at Iowa was we bought in to an idea that is so true in this game of football. Because if you think you’re 11 dudes doing something by yourself and you can just check in and play this team game and then check out, success will not happen. It’s never been proven. It’s never happened. Why do you think the great teams that have more talent don’t make it to the Super Bowl? It’s the team that has the best chemistry. It’s the team playing for each other. You go into the Kansas City locker room, there’s a love and respect in there. You go into the San Francisco 49ers, there’s a little something different that’s gotten those two teams where they’re at.
All that starts back in April when we start doing OTAs and it’s just that grind. It’s the weeding out. We’re trying to figure out: “Are you in this? Because in about three, four months, shit’s going to get real. And we need to find out if you're in it and you need to put your personal feelings aside because it’s not about you right now, it’s about the team. And I promise you — if you buy into this team — you’ll have a band of brothers that you’ll meet 20 years later at a Big Ten Championship reunion. And you’ll be able to talk to that dude that you haven’t seen for 20 years, that teammate, and you’ll hug them up and you’ll be genuinely like, ‘Oh my!’ You’ll talk about the good old days, and you’ll talk about how old your kids are and chasing them. And I promise you, that’s what you get from this experience. Were you all-conference? No. Did your career work out the way? No. But guess what? You’re part of this team and you’re no different than the fricking all-conference, All-American player that was on our team. You mean just as much because you’re fricking out there. You’re the best scout player. You gave us a great look. You showed up every day. I remember you fricking grinding it.”
Tony Burrier is my dude. He played special teams. But that dude was about 220, 225, ran like a fricking deer. And it pissed me off because it took me everything I had to beat him in sprints. I’m not who I am without Tony Burrier. And could Tony Burrier have this like, “Oh, I got picked on!” Oh, absolutely. But what does Tony Burrier get out of it? He gets a group of guys that love him. We have a connection.
That’s why you are most qualified to make that point. I mean, you lived that end of the spectrum. Your surviving day-to-day on pennies and nickels and dimes, meal to meal, hoping that maybe you play on the field that you’re mowing and tearing up the siding. And then there you are in the rain in Miami, winning a Super Bowl with Peyton Manning and nearly winning another one. Inside of a locker room, you can probably relate to everybody.
Clark: It’s that respect. I think respect in this game goes a long way. It’s just like, “Man, to get respected in any level, in any sport.” Ultimately, if you’re an athlete, that should be Goal No. 1. Earn your respect from your teammates and then your coach. Teammates should be probably first. And then if you get a group of gals and guys, whatever sport you’re playing, if you get a group with that philosophy and that’s our goal? Then, let’s go. I guarantee you — whatever our goals are —we’re going to have a hell of a fun time trying to achieve them because we have already put yourself in the backseat. It’s about you. I want to play for you. And I think that’s the walk-on mentality. The first thing as a walk-on — and that’s why I would never change it — you can’t walk in day one and go, “I’m here! Step aside! We’re all good. Your worries should be over.” Nope, not the case at all. And so it’s fun to walk in there, go to work, and then just have someone go, “Hey, what’s your name? Dude? Why did you not get…” Deep down inside you’re like, “Oh my gosh, that’s awesome.” And if that’s not your drive of being a team player? Get out. We don’t got time. Don’t got time. Go golf. Go wrestle. Because there, you’re the only to get all the glory and get all the blame. It’s all you. It’s on you. But this team sport, we don’t got time for it. It does not fit. I don’t care how good you are, you are bringing us down. And all you athletes out there — if you’re that person — change. Don’t be that person. You’ll get way more out of this game, any sport you’re playing if you put the team first, it comes back tenfold.
Even through the boom of NIL. And the contracts that you see in the NFL. And the marketing and social media and as big financially as the sport gets at every level, that never changes. I’d imagine you could see it in that Chiefs locker room. They have every reason to check out on the season losing to the Raiders on Christmas Day. It looks like all’s lost. But there’s something beyond even Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes that can bond a team through that kind of adversity.
Clark: The year we won the Super Bowl, we lost to Jacksonville, and Fred Taylor would still be running the ball if they didn’t invent the goal line. He ran over our ass. Couldn’t stop him. I can still see him running: “Oh, Thank God they put the goal line up, otherwise no one’s catching him.” It was a disaster — and the best thing that happened to us as a team. Because there was a moment where we had to have a little gut-check and that gut-check realigned our focus, realigned everyone: “Alright, what do I got to do different?” So we all did that and then boom, boom, boom, boom. Same thing with the Chiefs. I live in Iowa, so there’s a lot of Chiefs fans around here because we get to pick who our favorite team is because we don’t have one. And so it’s funny how all the Chiefs fans were out. They were out swimming in the ocean, jumped off the boat and now they're quickly: “Hey, wait, wait, wait, wait! Let me have my seat back!” Screw you. Either you’re in or out. But they lost hope. I guaran-dang-tee you that you could go into that locker room and the same type of… something just happened in that locker room where those guys got the blinders on. Finite focus. Back to work. “Hey, let’s be us,” whatever it is. But something happened. It’s the chemistry. It’s the chemistry. It’s team. It’s so important.
Jacksonville ran for 375 yards and four touchdowns that game. So it wasn’t just Taylor. Maurice Jones-Drew had 166. Taylor had 131. Alvin Pearman had 71 yards. Holy cow, 44-17.
Clark: Talk about the old 1-2 punch. Those guys were amazing, but one of them, it was like the second play of the game broke off one for 80 and it was like, “Whoa, I hope he stretched.” I mean, that was like, “Oh boy, this is going to be a long day” And it was a long plane ride home from Jacksonville.
Tony Dungy isn’t exactly standing in front of the team and mother-effing guys up and down after a game like that. It does take something a little more intrinsic in every single player to bounce back.
Clark: And you know what? You find out if you’re in it for the right reason because if that type of shit doesn’t piss you off, then we’ve got problems. If we had a group of guys that are like, “Oh, I did my job. I don’t need to do anything different. I’m good,” we would’ve sank like the Titanic. We all had pride and we all looked at it with the right perspective: “We’ve got a challenge here, boys, let’s get back at it.” And, man, it was awesome. Talk about chip on the shoulder. That defense? We had Kansas City in the first round. Larry Johnson was running over his grandma. He was running over everyone. I mean, they were a force.
Thirty-two yards on 13 carries for Larry Johnson that game in the wild card.
Clark: Was it under 100 as a team?
Well under. They only had 44 rushing yards as a team. Larry Johnson ran for almost 1,800 that year, too.
Clark: That’s a phenomenal example of, “Alright, here’s your challenge.” And you have a group of men going, “No, no, we’re better.” They took it personally. It was awesome. Now when you take that field, you’re unstoppable. Before even kickoff. Two teams right now, 49ers and Chiefs, they both walk onto that field: “Ain’t no one stopping us.”
That’s what makes football great, man. The highs and the lows. I’d imagine you think back to the Super Bowl loss as well, to bring it all down, right? To just zap your joy here.
Clark: Look at the time. Wow.
Cut it off right there, right?
Clark: No, you’re right. There’s no greater win in football and there’s no greater loss in football. It’s tough to say that the better team won, but apparently they did. They made the plays, man.
Well, Jim Monos, my co-host over at our pod was a scout with the Saints then. So you can talk all the junk you want right now and say they didn’t deserve it.
Clark: But then all he has to do is. (Points to ring finger) And then that shuts it all up. And it’s like, “OK, exit stage right. And good night.”
Can’t thank you enough for reliving some stories and sharing some new ones.
Clark: I can talk football, but I can talk tight ends. And we didn’t even talk about LaPorta and Hockenson and all our Iowa tight ends who are doing fricking amazing things. And we got another one, Luke Lachey coming out. Erick All, we’re claiming him. He did his damage with Michigan, but then he transferred to Iowa and had a terrible ACL, but he’s going to come back bigger, stronger, and he’s going to freaking tear it up next year. It’s fun, man. I’ll close it with your book. Thank you for putting a spotlight on the position because it is the best position. And it is a true joy to be able to be a part of that fraternity and to have a small impact and to be able to just see the progress and see where the position's going and seeing these dudes do things that… what?! Stupid numbers. Stupid highlight reels. So thank you so much for putting a much-needed spotlight on the position and putting it front and center right behind the quarterbacks. Because as we all know, the quarterbacks, if they don't get that spotlight, they get a little sensitive. And we can’t have sensitive quarterbacks out there. They got to get us the rock.
That’s why you were pulling pranks with Peyton Manning, right? You teamed up with him in training camp so the friendship could grow. Some ruthless stories there.
Clark: So good, so good. Another time, another time.
New School vs. Old. Glitz vs. Grunters. Tony Gonzalez vs. Mike Mularkey, Sports Illustrated
How Mike Ditka changed football forever, The Dispatch
The Rise of Gronk, Buffalo News
Yo Soy Fiesta!, NBC Sports Boston
Jimmy Graham becomes a Saint, NOLA.com
Tears & Beers: How Jackie Smith found himself, The Read Optional
The alter egos of George Kittle, Go Long