Peers: Clifton among NFL's best
Kenneth Coker, Press Sports
For starters, the Green Bay Packers tackle and 1995 graduate of Westview High School in Martin was voted by his peers as one of the National Football League’s Top 100 players — No. 99 out of the over 1,600 athletes in the league, to be exact.
Then, on Saturday, area residents, friends and family turned out to say hello and give well wishes to the member of the Super Bowl champion Packers — and fellow Green Bay team member and W’view product Justin Harrell — at Festival Park for the first-ever “Family Fun Day.”
The event was put together by Mayor Randy Brundige and Lynn Harper as part of the Tennessee Downtowns program.
“We had a good turnout, especially considering the weather (it rained for nearly two hours Saturday morning),” Clifton said after signing autographs for 30 minutes past the announced 4 p.m. ending of the session. “I caught up with a lot of people that I haven’t seen in a long time and got to meet some of their children.”
Both Clifton and Harrell satisfied every fan that came through the line and asked for their “John Hancocks” or for a photo with the pair of Packers, leaving numerous locals starstruck and excited as they exited the gazebo where the autograph and photo session was taking place.
Clifton, who allowed just one sack in the final six games of Green Bay’s trek to football world championship last season, was himself elated about his most recent NFL honor. His selection to the Top 100 list was announced during a television countdown on The NFL Network. Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ coach Jon Gruden presented Clifton — who had his left knee scoped but will not require surgery this offseason — as the No. 99 player in the league.
“It was a special feeling to hear I’d been put on that list,” said Clifton, who was listed one spot ahead of Washington Redskins’ quarterback Donovan McNabb. “I actually didn’t know it was on but started getting texts that said congratulations, and I believe it was my wife’s mother who called and told us it was on.
“It was neat to watch and an honor to know my peers voted on it.”
Additionally, the Super Bowl victory was another “neat” accomplishment for Clifton, who has been selected to the Pro Bowl roster on four occasions (three times as an alternate).
With Green Bay’s 31-25 triumph over the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Super Bowl, Clifton has a championship ring from professional football’s biggest game to wear and/or display alongside his 1998 University of Tennessee championship jewelry.
“I’ve been fortunate to get both rings during my career and I think that puts me in an elite fraternity,” said Clifton. “Both moments were equally impressive to live, but I would say the Super Bowl title might be a little ahead of the national championship because it’s the pinnacle of football. It’s the reason we all play the game and it was special to finally get there and win it.”
Getting back could be problematic for the Packers — and it has little to do with the personnel on the field — in 2012 as the NFL season remains in limbo with the players locked out during a labor dispute with the league’s owners.
“There’s a number of issues that I think have to be resolved,” Clifton, who is set to begin the second year of a three-year, $20 million contract in the fall, said when asked about the league’s current status. “I think it’s gonna work out and there will be a season.”
Even if it doesn’t, Saturday proved that Clifton will always have a place to come home to.