Wise Or Weak?: Ryan Clark Unlikely To Play On Monday Night In Denver

Jonathan CyprowskiCorrespondent INovember 6, 2009

TAMPA, FL - FEBRUARY 01:  Ryan Clark #25 of the Pittsburgh Steelers lies on the field as he celebrates their 27-23 win against the Arizona Cardinals during Super Bowl XLIII on February 1, 2009 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
Chris McGrath/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers are preparing to play the Denver Broncos this Monday night. In order to do so, they will be making a trip to the mile high city.

Therein lies the problem. The city of Denver is a mile above sea level.

Average players often deal with the transition to playing in the high altitude conditions with little effort. Once they get their breathing under control the game typically plays out the way it normally would, but not so for Steelers’ safety Ryan Clark.

The last time Clark played in Denver it almost cost him his life.

Back in 2007, Clark was rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery in order to remove his spleen and gall bladder, losing over 30 pounds in the process. This coming after serious health issues arose during a 2005 game while Clark was with the Redskins.

All of these complications were a result of a rare sickle-cell trait that can pose life-threatening physical issues at high altitudes when the person engages in strenuous exercise. The possibility of kidney failure and rhabdomyolysis (Something that I have personally experienced on the football field in college) are the realest possibilities for Clark if he chooses to play.

Doctors have cleared Clark to play in the game, citing that the likelihood of Clark experiencing additional life threatening complications are lower than before, having experienced previous issues.  However, the possibilities of life-threatening health complications continue to be real.

While Clark has been cleared to play he is understandably considering not playing in the game. Sources close to the team have said that Clark is over 95 percent unlikely to play in the game regardless of the doctor’s prognosis. Something his teammates and Coach Tomlin support him in.

“Whatever he decides we’re going to back him,” said Hines Ward. “If it was me personally, life is more precious than football.”

Coach Tomlin has mentioned the possibility of overruling Clark if he decided to play, but really it comes down to making a decision with his family, career and quality of life in mind.

Clark’s commitment, courage and toughness have been questioned in recent days because of his concern over playing.  Some have even gone as far as to say that Clark’s decision to sit out the game against the 6-1 Broncos shows a lack of dedication and loyalty to his team.

Is Clark’s decision wise or weak? 

The fact that Clark thought about playing in the game on Monday night speaks volumes toward his dedication and commitment to the Steelers organization and his teammates.     

To expect a man to put his life in jeopardy in order to play in one regular season game is not only foolish it is downright unfair. With capable backup options in Tyrone Carter and Ryan Mundy on the roster the wisest decision Clark could make would be to sit out the game, and come ready to play next week.

The upcoming game against the Broncos is one of the biggest left on the schedule this season. Since division rival Baltimore handed Denver their first loss last week, the divisional race has begun to take shape. The Steelers are not in a must win situation, but a win this week would make a huge difference down the stretch.

The Steelers will have to play Baltimore twice after Denver, but the rest of the schedule is pretty bland in comparison to what the Ravens have coming when they face the Colts.

While Clark’s presence will be missed Monday night in the Steelers’ secondary against a team that runs a short and intermediate passing system that has allowed Kyle Orton to thrive, the bigger picture is one that cannot be overlooked. The Risk is far greater than the reward, and Clark’s health is far more important than a single game.

The Steelers should be fine in his absence as long as they can continue to put pressure on the quarterback, and keep the Broncos from picking them apart along the sidelines.  Look for the inverted cover two to insure that Brandon Marshall and company do not get easy opportunities outside where Orton likes to throw the ball best. This should eliminate some of the mismatches that losing Clark presents as well.