When the greats of a franchise approach retirement, it's not uncommon for them to want to retire as a member of that franchise if they have gone on to play somewhere else in their later years. This was the case with center Jeff Saturday, who retired as a member of the Colts last offseason after spending a year with the Packers. The same will be true of tight end Dallas Clark, as the franchise announced today that he will retire as a member of the Colts on Wednesday, joining Saturday as the only members to return to the Colts franchise and retire.
Clark was the first round pick of the Colts in 2003, being selected 23rd overall out of Iowa. Right away he started making contributions to the offense, but his role would only grow from there. In fact, from 2008-2009 there was no more dangerous tight end threat in the entire NFL as Dallas Clark, and he was the go-to guy for quarterback Peyton Manning in a run of back-to-back MVP seasons. In 2009, Clark put up career highs with 100 catches, 1,106 yards and 10 touchdowns. Even going back to 2006, Clark played a huge role in the Colts Super Bowl run. For his 11-year career (9 with the Colts), Clark caught 505 passes for 5,665 yards and 53 touchdowns. He retires as the franchise's career leader in receptions (427) and touchdowns (46) for a tight end, with those numbers even surpassing those of NFL great John Mackey. His 4,887 receiving yards as a Colt ranks second in franchise history to only Mackey.
Tony Dungy, the Colts coach for much of Clark's tenure in Indianapolis, had high praise for Clark, saying (per Colts.com):
"He was kind of the last piece of the puzzle. We had Edgerrin, Marvin and Reggie, we had outside receivers and runners, but that go-to guy in the middle of the field - Dallas brought that.
"Bill Polian took criticism when we drafted Dallas in 2003 because we needed defensive players. Bill said, ‘Dallas is a special weapon that is going to fit right into what we do.' He was the missing piece to the puzzle."
High praise indeed, but Dungy makes a very valid point - the arrival of Dallas Clark seemed to be the last little piece the Colts needed to go from a good offense to a great one - one that will be remembered for a long, long time. While Clark arrived in year two of the Dungy regime and year six of the Peyton Manning era, he was around for the run of seven straight 12-win seasons, for Peyton Manning's record breaking season in 2004 (in which Clark caught 5 of Manning's 49 touchdown passes), and for the Colts Super Bowl championship in 2007. In many ways, Dallas's arrival symbolizes the start of the Colts dominant run, and in other ways, Dallas's release after the 2011 season symbolizes the end of that run. With Dallas Clark in the lineup, the Colts won 84 games, 7 AFC South division titles, 2 AFC conference titles, and a Super Bowl.
Clark had some thoughts about that incredible era, saying (also per Colts.com):
"We knew what we were doing was special, but it took for me to go to another team to fully realize it. For us, it was like, ‘This is how you play football. This is how you win. This is how you do it.' That's what we did. Rarely did we allow ourselves to say, ‘Wow, we're awesome.'
"We were just so narrowly-focused it was like, ‘Let's go win another one.' That's the reason we could come back each year and have 12-plus wins. Never did we hit cruise control. It always was about getting better. It was, ‘What can we do this year? Let's go win it.' That was the excitement about being in that group and focus - where your best effort was the only thing that was acceptable. That's special."
It's said a lot, but in an article reminiscing on Dallas Clark's greatness, I would be remiss to not mention the fact that despite his great play on the field, he was (and is) and even better person. He's the type of guy that you want representing your franchise - not only on the field but off it. In retirement, Clark will spend time with his wife, Karen, and their two kids.
Clark was one of Peyton Manning's favorite and most dangerous targets in Indianapolis and played an integral role in the all-time great run the Colts went on in the decade. He was a great player and an even better person, and he is returning to the Colts after two years away (with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Baltimore Ravens, respectively). On Wednesday, June 18, at 11:00 A.M. at the Colts complex they will hold a press conference announcing his retirement as a member of the Colts, and it will be a time to reflect on the greatness of the player and the man. I'll have more as we approach that moment and then I'll have more after the fact as well.
For now, though, Dallas Clark is coming back to the Colts, and Colts nation couldn't be happier.