"I was injured. It was unfortunate. It got a lot of media attention," Clifton said. "I wish it hadn't happened, but hey, it's football."
Actually, it was violent, brutal, ugly and, yes, wickedly compelling football, complete with fiery sound bytes and a postgame altercation -- head coach vs. player -- the likes of which the NFL rarely sees.
So, at least this week, it's worth reliving.
"Oh yeah, I remember it. It was huge," said Packers guard Josh Sitton, at the time a high school lineman in Pensacola, Fla., who has watched the play on his cell phone via YouTube. "And it was dirty."
That's what everybody in green and gold thought, for sure, but the league ruled differently regarding the controversial hit on Clifton leveled by one of the most controversial (and dominant) defensive linemen of the last quarter-century.
Warren Sapp remembers, too.
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"I made him a household name and $42 million, so what's the problem here?" Sapp, now an analyst for NFL Network, told reporters Tuesday during a news conference at Super Bowl Media Day. "I still don't understand. You wouldn't know who Chad Clifton was if it wasn't for me. But now I'm so vile that I put a block on the guy."
That's like calling $1.2 billion Cowboys Stadium a playground.
Rewind to Nov. 24, 2002 at Raymond James Stadium. The host Tampa Bay Buccaneers, in the middle of what turned out to be a Super Bowl championship season, trailed the Packers 7-6 in the third quarter, when Brett Favre threw a pass for Terry Glenn that was intercepted. Bucs cornerback Brian Kelly took off on a 31-yard return down the sideline on his way to the Green Bay 18.
In the middle of the field -- about 20 yards from the play -- Clifton was giving chase in Kelly's direction, but with no chance of being a factor in the play. The 6-foot-2, 300-pound Sapp, whose seven-time Pro Bowl career also included 1999 NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors, had the perfect blocking angle on the fourth-year lineman and delivered a blindside blow for the ages just beneath Clifton's facemask.
The sold-out crowd let out a collective gasp.
Clifton went down. Stayed down.
The game was delayed close to 15 minutes while medical personnel tended to the 6-foot-5, 327-pounder. Clifton was lifted onto a stretch, put in an ambulance and whisked to nearby St. Joseph's Hospital with numbness in his extremities.
Packers wideout Donald Driver was on the field for that play.
"I remember the hit, but I don't remember seeing it. I remember the aftermath because a lot of guys were upset," Driver said. "Guys were furious that Sapp did that. He said he was just stopping the guy from going to the play, but you had two guys over 300 pounds, so believe me, they weren't going to be (be near) the tackle."
Sapp may have said that after the game, but first came a heated exchange between the Bucs star and Packers coach Mike Sherman, who confronted Sapp as the teams were leaving the field and accused him -- quite profanely, in fact -- of not only a cheap shot but taunting the downed Clifton after the play.
"Put a jersey on!" Sapp railed back. "You're so tough, put a jersey on!"
The two had to be separated.
Sherman was emotional in his postgame news conference following Green Bay's 21-7 defeat.
"I just don't think there's any place in the game for that. Maybe I overreacted to the hit, but what I saw looked kind of cheap. But who knows?" Sherman said. "The joviality that existed after a guy's laying on the ground, with numbness in his legs and fingers, I just thought that wasn't appropriate for any NFL player."
Sapp gave no quarter when cornered in the Tampa Bay locker room.
"Look cuz, I can count the number of personal fouls I've had in my career on two fingers," he said. "I don't play that way. I know what a clean shot is. Front is front, back is back. I hit him right in the mouth.''
As for Sherman's rant?
"He's lucky I'm not 25 without kids and a conscience," Sapp said.
Some questioned that conscience at the time. Sapp, even after the hit was ruled clean by the NFL, never sought out or sent word to Clifton, who remained hospitalized in Tampa for four days after the blow. Most of the damage was done to the two bones of the pelvis joint, along with ligament tears around the area.
Clifton's season was over. He could not walk without assistance for weeks.
"At that point, things were just up in the air," Clifton said of his football status. "I really didn't know what was going to happen with football."
Team doctors, after consulting with specialists around the country, determined Clifton's injury, while serious, was not career-threatening. The rehab was a six-month grind, yet Clifton lined up with teammates to open the 2003 season and started all 16 games.
One of them was at Tampa. It was the first time he'd seen Sapp since the hit.
"He came up to me before the game, said he was glad that I was OK and that it was good to see me back," Clifton recalled. "That was pretty much it."
Not that Clifton didn't learn a lesson from it all; one he's reminded about often.
"We tell all those guys." offensive line coach James Campen said. "Keep your head on a swivel" after a turnover.
Clifton's been swiveling for 11 pro seasons now -- eight since that day in Tampa -- all told, starting 165 out of 170 games, with Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers marking his 20th start this season and first taste of a Super Bowl.
"To finally get here is a special feeling," Clifton said.
Sapp, by the way, was correct in his points. Few probably knew of Clifton before the hit. And, yes, Clifton has re-upped with the Pack on two contract extensions for upwards of $50 million.
As for Clifton, the player?
"Next question," Sapp said.
As for Clifton, the story? He really doesn't like to talk about it, but teammates are all too happy to speak about him.
"There were a lot of people who thought Chad wasn't going to be able to come back and play after that hit ... but he did," Driver said. "I'm just glad he's on my side."
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