The Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens rivalry has a lot of iconic plays. Troy Polamalu’s pick-six, Ben Roethlisberger’s incompletion shrugging off Terrell Suggs, and the Immaculate Extension are just a few to name. My personal favorite took place in the 2008 AFC Championship game when safety Ryan Clark forced a fumble and knocked out Ravens running back Willis McGahee to seal the victory.
Yesterday, Clark joined Trey Wingo on The Pro Football Network for an interview posted on YouTube and discussed that hit.
“You know Troy makes the interception, they’re trying to score,” Clark said, walking Wingo through the play. “The week before Darren Sproles, we’re playing the San Diego at the time, Darren Sproles is on the right side of Phillip Rivers, he moves him to the left. They throw him a little angle route; he scores like a 50-yard touchdown because me and Troy are basically just back there lunchin’ because we were winning. I studied that the week going into the next week. Willis McGahee, we’re in the same situation, Flacco goes and moves Willis McGahee to the other side. I was like ‘Hmm, this is familiar.’ And so we were in a different coverage this time. I give them the same exact look I had the week before. So they’d feel like, ‘We got him, this is what we want to do.’ And I just remember planting my back foot. And when he started moving, I started running and I was like, I’m just not going to stop until I run through his face mask.”
For reference of the play Clark was talking with Darren Sproles, below is his touchdown on the angle route. As Clark said, the game was over at that point, even with the touchdown the Chargers were still down by multiple scores with less than two minutes remaining. But, now that it was on film teams like the Ravens would try and take advantage of it.
Clark is an admitted film buff, often times saying he would grind in the film room to try and get a step ahead of his opponents because he did not have the same athletic or intuitive gifts of his safety partner Polamalu. The tandem worked will together because while Polamalu made some insane plays that made you scratch your head, Clark would always be in the right position to make a play. This film study is what led to his game sealing hit and forced fumble in the AFC Championship Game as Clark made sure he was in right position to stop McGahee dead in his tracks.
Clark could also lay the boom, as evident in his this against McGahee and Wes Welker earlier that season. Clark even joked around on the podcast saying, “Oh, I would go to jail,” if he made the hit on McGahee in 2022.
2008 was as special season for Clark, and not only because he won a Super Bowl. After signing for Pittsburgh in 2006 he had a decent first year, but in his second year with the Steelers he almost died after playing a game at Mile High Stadium in Denver when he was hospitalized and lost around 40 pounds. He missed the final ten games of the regular season and the Steelers playoff loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Clark came back and was excellent in 2008 being a starting safety in one of the greatest defenses of all time, finishing the regular season with 88 tackles, one interception, and six passes defended against. In the postseason his play continued to impress, recording 15 tackles and forcing a fumble. Clark ended up finishing tenth that year in Comeback Player of the Year voting.
After the season, Clark and McGahee ended up making up and laughing about the hit that had McGahee taken off on the stretcher.
“It actually got me a free daiquiri from Willis McGahee at Wet Willie’s that summer.”
While that hit would never be allowed in today’s NFL due to the danger of it and the concerns about concussions, it is still an iconic moment in an iconic rivalry. The Steelers will be taking on the Ravens this Sunday night in another important game as Pittsburgh needs to win to keep their slim playoff hopes alive. Hopefully they can channel their inner Ryan Clark and lay the boom (legally) and beat Baltimore.