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Veteran receiver finally makes it to the Super Bowl.
By Charean Williams
Donald Driver couldn’t wait for this day, but he didn’t have a choice. It took the Packers receiver 35 years, 12 NFL seasons and 188 NFL games to make his first Super Bowl, a game he has dreamed about playing in since he was a kid.
“It’s been a long road, but I’m here now,” Driver said. “I’m excited. … We’re going to my [adopted] hometown [of Dallas], and we’re going to enjoy the moment.”
Driver has been to three Pro Bowls. He has seven 1,000-yard seasons. He has a team record 698 catches.
He has been a big part of the Packers for a long time.
“It feels great just to be in the same room with that guy,” Packers receiver Greg Jennings said. “Obviously, I gave him a huge hug [after the NFC title game]. He was tearing up, which he should be. The opportunity doesn’t come too often, and for us to have this opportunity to bring back the Lombardi Trophy, it says a lot about our team, our resilience and our ability to fight against adversity.”
It wasn’t Driver’s best season, though it turned out that way. He caught only 51 passes for 565 yards and four touchdowns. He had no 100-yard games, and last week in the NFC title game victory over the Bears, Driver had only one catch for nine yards.
“Sometimes people feel like you have to go out there and have an amazing season to get to where you want to go,” Driver said. “I had a great season. I don’t complain about my season. Sometimes you’ve got to step into a certain role, and you’ve got to play it. I played my role, and the good thing is that playing that role got me to where I want to go. I’m going to the Super Bowl.”
Clark makes his mark
Steelers safety Ryan Clark doesn’t have a shampoo commercial. He has never been to the Pro Bowl. But he no longer is in Troy Polamalu’s shadow.
“He’s really been out of Troy’s shadow for about three years,” Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said. “He plays great ball every week, but of course, Troy makes so many great plays you’re going to notice him.”
Clark left his mark in the Steelers’ 31-24 victory over the Ravens in the divisional round. He had an interception and a forced fumble, along with five tackles, two for loss, and two defensed passes. His turnovers, which came during a 6:15 span of the third quarter, set up Steelers’ touchdown drives of 23 and 25 yards.
“Ryan doesn’t get a lot of notoriety outside of our locker room, because he plays with some great players like Troy Polamalu and others,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “If you ask anybody in our locker room and you watch us work at practice at our facility, this guy is a leader. He is respected by his teammates. That’s why it was so important that we got him back here when he was a free agent last off-season.
“We just love Ryan Clark.”
Though Clark started 36 consecutive games at free safety for LSU, Mel Kiper had Clark rated as only the 38th best safety in his draft class. Roy Williams was first, Ed Reed second and Chris Hope, the safety Clark replaced in Pittsburgh five years ago, was 10th.
Clark measured only 5-11 and weighed only 183 pounds. Though he ran a 4.48 at LSU’s Pro Day, he had been timed in 4.74 the previous spring.
He signed with the Giants as an undrafted free agent.
“You’re not going to measure what I do in measurables,” Clark said. “It’s not going to be a situation where he’s really big; he’s really fast.”
Clark played two seasons with the Giants and two with the Redskins before finding his home alongside Polamalu, who Clark calls “the best safety in the NFL.” When he became a free agent during the 2010 off-season, Clark re-signed with the Steelers.
He is content with his role.
“To know my value, you have to be a guy inside the organization,” said Clark, who had a career-high 90 tackles and two interceptions in the regular season and made four tackles in the AFC title game. “I’m not going to make the flashy plays and do the things that you really see. It’s about the chemistry and the camaraderie you build with your teammates, and the things you can bring to the team.
“I guess luckily for me, though, is they [saw my value]. I had an opportunity to be a free agent, and I was able to come back. This is why I came back.”
Fourth and short
• With Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck choosing to stay in school, the Panthers missed out on the top college prospect. But the best defensive player will enter the draft, and Auburn tackle Nick Fairley is considered a strong candidate for the Panthers with the No. 1 overall pick. Other options include Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers, LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson and Georgia wide receiver A.J. Green. It doesn’t seem likely the Panthers would draft a quarterback with the top pick.
• Fullback John Kuhn is the only Green Bay player with a Super Bowl ring. He was on the Steelers’ practice squad as an undrafted rookie in the 2005 season.
• The Eagles have 15 players who will be free agents, including quarterback Michael Vick, safety Quintin Mikell and kicker David Akers. The only certainty is that Vick will return. The Eagles will either re-sign him or franchise him.
• Redskins co-captain London Fletcher led his team in tackles for a 12th consecutive season. He had 136. Fletcher turns 36 in May, but he isn’t considering retirement.
• Bears general manager Jerry Angelo said signing coach Lovie Smith to a contract extension is an offseason priority. Smith’s contract expires after the 2011 season.
• The Bengals maintain that they are not trading quarterback Carson Palmer, but if they change their minds, the NFC West is a likely destination. The 49ers are in the market for a quarterback, and Palmer’s wife is from the Bay Area. Palmer played for Seahawks coach Pete Carroll at USC, and Matt Hasselbeck’s future is uncertain as he is a free agent. The Cardinals also could be in the market for a veteran quarterback.
• New coach Pat Shurmur will have to convince the Browns they can win. Cleveland has lost at least 10 games in seven of the past eight years.
• The Cowboys have no interest in even entertaining offers for rookie receiver Dez Bryant despite a published report. Bryant had an injury-plagued rookie season but was the team’s best playmaker with eight total touchdowns in 12 games.
• Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford had right shoulder surgery last week and is expected to be ready for training camp. The second-year player injured his shoulder in the season opener, returned on Halloween and then was re-injured against the Jets on Nov. 7. He has finished his first two seasons on injured reserve and has missed more games (19) than he has played (13).
• The Lions will be in the market for outside linebackers. Julian Peterson and his $8 million contract will not return; Zach Follett ended last season with a serious neck injury; and Landon Johnson is an unrestricted free agent with a history of concussions.
• Texans fans want Bob McNair to pay whatever it takes to sign either Nnamdi Asomugha or Champ Bailey, both of whom are free agents. It’s doubtful, though, that the Texans will pay the money it would take for Asomugha.
• The Colts face a big decision on strong safety Bob Sanders, a former Defensive Player of the Year. Sanders, who has missed 64 of 112 regular-season games because of injury, has a $5.5 million base salary in 2011.
• The Jaguars still owe coach Jack Del Rio $10 million on the last two years of his contract. Owner Wayne Weaver has it set up that he could start over with a new staff next year if the Jaguars don’t win this season. He would have to pay off the final $5 million of Del Rio’s contract, but most of the assistant coaches’ contracts expire after the 2011 season.
• Despite three interceptions and a 20.4 passer rating in the Chiefs’ playoff loss, Matt Cassel is still the team’s quarterback of the present and the future. He will collect a $7.5 million option bonus in March. Cassel’s backup, Brodie Croyle, will be a free agent and likely will find a new home.
• Tom Brady has played in 19 playoff games. Only Tedy Bruschi (22) and Troy Brown (20) have played in more playoff games for the Patriots.
• Saints guard Jahri Evans made the Pro Bowl and was voted to the AP All-Pro team. He did not deserve either after leading the league with nine holding penalties, eight of them accepted.
• The final four teams all ranked in the top 10 in total defense. Pittsburgh was second, the Jets third, Green Bay fifth and Chicago ninth.
• The Falcons could have three of their starting offensive linemen — Justin Blalock, Harvey Dahl and Tyson Clabo — become free agents of some classification, depending on the new collective bargaining agreement.
• The Ravens will look for a speed receiver and upgrades to the offensive line after falling from 13th in total offense last season to 22nd this season.
• The Ravens have 17 players scheduled to become free agents. Fullback Le’Ron McClain, a two-time Pro Bowler, is one free agent who doesn’t expect to return next season.
• The Bills went 0-9 against teams that made the playoffs in 2010, and they were outscored 273-140 in those nine games.