Hall of Famer Bower is a Chris Clark fan

Peyton Manning stands as the NFL’s gold standard, the highest paid player in football who just completed the best season of one of the greatest careers in the history of the sport.

Chris Clark, his teammate, is a walking, talking definition of an NFL journeyman. He wasn’t highly recruited out of high school, wasn’t drafted out of college and was cut by his first two NFL teams without ever playing a snap in a real game.

So imagine this: Sunday, on sports’ biggest stage, Clark will protect Manning’s blind side against the NFL’s best defense in the Super Bowl.

You couldn’t make up a story like this one.

On the other hand, Mississippi Sports Hall of Famer Jeff Bower , the USM coaching legend, could have imagined it.

In a phone conversation Friday morning, Bower told me why.

I was crazy about Chris Clark from the first day I met him,” Bower said. “He had all the intangibles and he was so smart. I knew I wanted him the first day I saw him.”

Bower was almost alone in that regard. Clark played his high school football at McDonough 35 High School in the now-famous Treme neighborhood of New Orleans. His one other Division I scholarship offer besides USM: Louisiana-Lafayette.

Said Bower, “New Orleans was like a gold mine for us back then. We got so many great players from there, guys like Pat Surtain, Michael Tobias and Chris and a lot of others. We worked New Orleans hard.”

Clark was an under-sized offensive guard who might have been better in the classroom than on the field at the time. Bower met with him at McDonough 35 and was immediately intrigued by his demeanor. He then went to meet Clark’s mother where she worked in maintenance at Delgado. Said Bower, “I was sold.

He was 6-4 or 6-5 but he didn’t weigh more than 225 pounds when we recruited him,” Bower said. “He had the frame to carry a whole lot more weight and he had great feet. He could really move.”

In other words, Chris Clark was what coaches call “a project.” You sign him, get him on the training table and in the weight room and three or four years down the road you have a player. Bower made a living on players such as Chris Clark at USM.

What I loved most about him was his character,” Bower said. “He always worked hard, he never got in trouble. He was a great student.”

Clark was first a guard at USM but eventually moved out to tackle.

Once he got his body right, he was outstanding for us,” Bower said. “I thought somebody would draft him.”

Nobody did. He signed first with Tampa Bay, was cut and then signed with Minnesota, who eventually cut him. Clark persevered. He never gave up.

Said Bower, “That’s Chris Clark in a nutshell. He’s a workaholic.”

Clark signed with Denver in 2010 and started only six games over his first three seasons before All Pro left tackle Ryan Clady went down with an injury last September. Clark stepped in for Clady and the Broncos have never looked back, producing the best offensive season in the history of the NFL.

I’ve watched every Broncos game because of Chris,” Bower said. “I haven’t seen him give up a sack. He’s gotten a couple holding calls, but who doesn’t?”

Yes, Bower answered, he will be watching Sunday when Clark tries to help the NFL’s best offense defeat the team with the NFL’s best defense.

I am so happy for Chris,” Bower said. “You love to see great things happen for great people.”

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