PREPPING FOR THE BOWL – Martin native Chad Clifton is mentally prepping for his team’s Super Bowl match up against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Fans from home have sent out numerous well wishes for Clifton and his family and the Packers.
PREPPING FOR THE BOWL – Martin native Chad Clifton is mentally prepping for his team’s Super Bowl match up against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Fans from home have sent out numerous well wishes for Clifton and his family and the Packers. AP Photo
Growing up in a small rural northwest Tennessee town where everybody knows most everybody else, Chad Clifton likely never worried about having enough friends.
He’s finding out now, he has more than he ever imagined.
“All my buddies, they’d love to get a ticket, and I’ve heard from a lot of them,” Clifton chuckled during a phone interview Tuesday with The Union City Daily Messenger from Green Bay, where he and his Packer teammates are in the early stages of Super Bowl preparations for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The former Martin Westview prep standout and current Green Bay Pro Bowl left tackle said each player is allotted 15 tickets to the NFL Championship game and, as one of five children of Harold and Dotsie Clifton, his share would be taken up by family.
Clifton’s mother, too, has been kept busy since Sunday, when the Packers beat the Chicago Bears in the NFC Championship Game, answering calls from well-wishers who also likely wouldn’t mind stumbling upon a ticket to the Feb. 6 Super Bowl.
“This telephone has been ringing off the hook,” laughed Mrs. Clifton, when contacted at the family residence in Martin.
“Most of them are just calling with congratulations, but a few of them have asked something about tickets. I really think they know about the chances for getting one.”
Clifton’s status as Martin’s favorite professional sports-playing native son has only been enhanced since the Packers punched their Super Bowl ticket with a 21-14 victory Sunday over the Bears.
And, while his football resumé seemingly already couldn’t have been more impressive, playing for the ultimate NFL prize will be the icing on top of an already-sweet and rich cake.
“I’ve been blessed. I’m fortunate to have played on the teams I’ve played on and with so many great players who’ve been on those teams,” he said, noting first his college career at the University of Tennessee and then an 11-season stint with professional football’s most-storied franchise.
Clifton was a starter on a pair of Southeastern Conference championship teams and the 1998 National Championship squad for the Volunteers while playing with UT legendary quarterback Peyton Manning.
He then protected the blindside of three-time NFL Most Valuable Player Brett Favre for eight years and has done likewise for rising Green Bay icon Aaron Rodgers the past three seasons.
Clifton has been a Pro Bowl alternate on three separate occasions, but was voted in as a starter for the elite honor for the first time this season.
“It’s been a good year, but I don’t know if it’s been my best. I had some really good seasons my first six years,” Clifton said.
“Being voted into the Pro Bowl and making the Super Bowl in the same year, I guess, have been my defining moments so far. I’d obviously like to add a Super Bowl win to that in a couple of weeks to cap that off.”
Remaining relatively injury-free this season has been critical to Clifton’s continued steady play at one of the pro game’s most critical positions. He had some minor knee issues earlier, but insists that time well-spent in the weight room and training room as he’s aged has been critical to his longevity.
He signed a three-year contract last spring, reportedly worth $20 million, and said he intends to fulfill that pact as long as his health allows him to continue to be effective.
The soft-spoken Packer trenchmen — known as “Cliffy” in the team’s lockerroom — was forced from the NFC Championship game for a couple of series in the first half with what’s commonly referred to as a “stinger.” He returned midway through the second quarter, though, and did not allow a sack to heralded Bears defensive end Julius Peppers.
“There was no question I was going to do everything I could to get back into game,” insisted Clifton, who received lockerroom ultrasound treatments and massages to ease numbness in his shoulder and arm.
“Once it got calmed down from the massage, I felt like I could play effectively.”
“It’s natural to have some aches and pains at this time of the year, especially for as long as I’ve been playing. I’ve been able to stay on the field for most part this year and play pretty good football, and I’m proud of that.”
Clifton said the extreme passion fans in Knoxville and Green Bay have for their respective teams is very similar and counts himself as fortunate to have played in both venues.
“No question, the people, they’re so loyal. They bleed orange and white in Knoxville, and green and gold in Green Bay. There’s nothing else in either place,” he said.
“As a player, you appreciate that.”
For the record, Harold and Dotsie will be among the Clifton family contingent making the trip to Arlington, Texas, for Super Bowl XLV.
“We didn’t go to Chicago because my husband has had a bout with pneumonia and we didn’t want to risk a relapse with being out in that cold,” Mrs. Clifton said, alluding to this past weekend’s NFC Championship game where the Soldier Field temperatures were in the teens with single-digit wind chills.
“We try to get up to Green Bay two or three times a year. A lot of times, I’d rather watch the games from home. We sit in the (players’) box and I can’t see as good as I can on television. And sometimes, I get to yelling and get a little out of hand.”
Before the proud mom hung up at the end of this particular conversation, she spoke of the small-town upbringing with a caring community that she believes was instrumental in her son’s salt-of-the-earth make-up.”
“This has been just an unbelievable experience for not only Chad, but our whole family,” Mrs. Clifton said, noting her boy’s gridiron career from high school to the pros.
“We’ve all been blessed.
“I’m so proud of him and that he’s been humble through it all. He grew up in church and has received so much love and support from a little town where people care about him and each other.”
Super Bowl ticket, or not.
Editor’s note: Mike Hutchens, who is the sports editor of The Union City Daily Messenger, may be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.