WORLD CHAMPIONS – Green Bay Packers offensive tackle and Martin-native Chad Clifton hoists the Vince Lombardi championship trophy following their win over the Pittsburgh Steelers after the NFL’s Super Bowl XLV football game in Arlington, Texas, Februa
WORLD CHAMPIONS – Green Bay Packers offensive tackle and Martin-native Chad Clifton hoists the Vince Lombardi championship trophy following their win over the Pittsburgh Steelers after the NFL’s Super Bowl XLV football game in Arlington, Texas, February 6, 2011.
Photo by Pierre Ducharme/Reuters
That’s the one-word description Josh Vincent used to recall the experience of watching in person as his longtime friend and Martin native Chad Clifton won a Super Bowl.
Vincent and another friend of Clifton – Clint Damron – made the trek from Weakley County to Dallas to attend Super Bowl XLV and to share part of the weekend with the former Westview High School classmate.
Clifton and his Green Bay teammates built a lead and then held off a rally try by the Pittsburgh Steelers to win the fourth championship for the Packers franchise, triumphing 31-25 on Sunday night.
Awesome could be used to describe more than just attending the NFL’s superlative game.
“The whole experience, you know, growing up with Chad our whole lives. This was his ultimate goal for his career. The whole surroundings all weekend. It was a great experience,” Vincent noted.
The friendship shared by Vincent, Damron and Clifton extends back to their junior-high years.
“Chad and I were in the same grade and kind of knew each other our whole lives. In seventh grade we got put in several classes together and started up our friendship really in seventh grade. He’s a great guy,” Vincent remembered.
Damron graduated a year before the other two, but was a steadfast friend also.
“We all played football together in junior high and high school. It’s a lifetime of memories with those people growing up. That’s the advantage of living in a small town,” Vincent said.
Asked if he thought back in their junior-high days that Clifton would play on such a big stage, Vincent admitted he didn’t foresee it until later.
“I can’t say that back in those days I really thought about him being in a Super Bowl. I don’t guess it really ever hit me until his junior and senior year at UT, we realized he was going to be playing in the NFL,” he stated of the gridiron potential of Clifton, who started for the University of Tennessee Volunteers when they won the National Championship in 1998.
The local pair began their eight-and-a-half hour trek to the Super Bowl on Thursday morning and began to encounter some ice on the road just outside Dallas.
The area received five inches of snow on their first night in Texas.
Inclement weather didn’t deter Clifton’s hometown friends from making the trip, but traveling directions nearly derailed a chance to dine with the NFL Pro Bowler, his wife Candy, and offensive linemate Mark Tauscher and his wife at The Ranch in Las Calinas on Friday evening.
“We kind of got turned around a little bit and got lost. We were a little late getting there,” Vincent recalled of their delayed arrival at the planned meal together.
Once they reached the restaurant, they found their friend in a familiar mood.
“He didn’t seem nervous at all. He seemed real relaxed and pretty confident. That’s his style – calm, cool and collected,” Vincent laughed.
While dinner conversation was mostly centered around catching up with each other’s families, talk did turn to football.
“Of course, he and Tauscher both talked about looking forward to the game. They were very confident. They felt good about the game plan and were just ready to get the game played,” Damron said, referring to the two-week layoff between the NFC Championship game and Sunday’s Super Bowl.
Clifton gave his friends their tickets during the meal.
With tickets in hand, the duo arrived at Cowboy Stadium three hours before Sunday’s kickoff in order to soak in the atmosphere, concerts and fan events surrounding the big game.
“We had exceptional seats. We were right in the end zone, six rows up. We had phenomenal seats. That stadium is amazing. It’s unbelievable,” Damron raved.
For Damron, the Dallas Cowboys’ two-year-old home arena was a sight to behold.
“That JumboTron everybody talks about is definitely worth the price of admission. It was amazing by itself. It stretches from one 20 to the other 20-yard line. I couldn’t imagine a better venue to have the Super Bowl at,” Damron proclaimed.
Once the friends got comfortable in their deluxe surroundings, the excitement of the game took over.
“The culmination of the venue itself and then Chad, our best friend, actually being in the Super Bowl and having an opportunity to win it was just an unbelievable feeling,” Damron added.
The Steelers’ rally try had the pair on edge as the game wound down.
“I know me and Josh during the game expressed so many emotions going from really excited to really nervous and then back to excited. That last drive of the ballgame we were both tore all to pieces. We were really nerved up,” Damron admitted.
With the Packers clinging to a six-point lead, the Green Bay defense was called upon to make one last stand in the game’s final two minutes. Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was unable to complete a fourth-down pass to end the threat and set off a celebration among the Packers and their fans.
“We were just really, really anxious. As soon as that pass was incomplete we were like a bunch of kids hugging and going crazy. It was a great experience,” Damron added.
Asked to pick one mental image from the weekend that stood out, Damron singled out the postgame celebration on the field.
“He got his little boys on the field after the game. Seeing him that excited made me and Josh really happy,” Damron recalled. “Him being able to take that in with his family and get his two boys on the field. I know that will be an experience they’ll never forget and he won’t either.”
Vincent too admitted the highlight of the evening was watching his childhood friend and former teammate celebrate on the field.
“Seeing the joy of him with his family. Like I said earlier, him reaching his ultimate goal. That’s a great achievement. With his kids and his wife on the field, it’s pretty awesome,” he said.
The locals had intended to meet up with Clifton after the game, but team celebrations at the stadium extended into the wee hours of Monday morning. Plus, all the excitement wore down Vincent and Damron.
“Actually, we were kind of beat, if you can imagine that. We were just mentally drained and emotionally drained from the whole experience. We just told him we would talk to him today (Monday),” Damron said.
In their postgame phone conversation with the 11-year NFL veteran, the foundation of plans for a future get-together were laid out.
“He did say he was excited to get back home and us get together and celebrate. We’re looking forward to seeing him again when he comes home. I don’t know when that will be, but I imagine it will be a few weeks.”
Until they meet again face-to-face, Vincent and Damron have the memories of their “awesome” trip to Super Bowl XLV to recall.