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Hard-working, hard-hitting safeties Clark and Wilson hunt for big plays

TAMPA, Fla. -- Super Bowl XLIII has no shortage of dominating safeties, players who in their skill, range, tenacity and intelligence might not only impact the game -- but, literally, win it.

Pittsburgh safety Troy Polamalu is the game's headliner. But Arizona safety Adrian Wilson and Pittsburgh's Ryan Clark are also head-hunting, big-play specialists who have a knack for getting to the football and making decisive plays once there.

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Wilson is an eight-year pro who has endured the Cardinals' worst in order to arrive here for the best.

"There is always hope, and it starts with hard work," Wilson said. "If you continue to work hard and keep your head down, good things will happen. You always have doubts. Doubts will always stick into your mind. But being the leader that I am on this team, there is always a better way. The better way is working hard and not worrying about what other people are saying and improving."

Clark knows all about that.

He has survived being discarded by the Giants and Redskins and spleen surgery to find a home in Pittsburgh. He entered the national discussion after his riveting hit on Baltimore's Willis McGahee in the AFC Championship Game.

But Clark is not a one-hit wonder.

"I did some real hard work to get back, so hard that I think I made myself more explosive," Clark said. "And this year, I had more opportunities. It's hard to do something if you first aren't on the field, and second if you are not getting a chance to get your hands on the ball by people coming at you. Both of those things happened this year, and I tried to find a way to answer."

Clark is 5-11, 205 pounds.

Wilson is 6-3, 230 pounds.

Wilson is the longtime prototype size for safety, reminiscent of some the game's greats in length and power, in mobility and punch. But the hardest-hitting safeties come not from size as much as from mental attitude. From a willingness to make that hit, crack that ball carrier.

Polamalu summed it up nicely when he said big hitters, no matter their size, have a willingness to go through a brick wall; but those who are not reach the wall and simply nudge it.

Wilson and Clark fit the big-hitter profile.

The game will feature other capable safeties, including Pittsburgh's Tyrone Carter and Arizona's Antrel Rolle. Most of the Super Bowl XLIII safeties fit the new breed at the position, offering a versatility that makes them more of a focal point for defenses.

"Safeties in the game today can no longer be plodding ones who just stop the run or light ones who roam against the pass," Clark said. "Guys at the position nowadays can do so many different things that they have become more valuable than cornerbacks. Cornerbacks are on the edge and cover a certain amount of field. But when you have an athlete who is a hitter in at safety, he is in the middle of the field, he can get anywhere and he can make things happen."

Not only are safeties providing more, they are increasingly awarded more responsibility in on-field defensive calls and in general leadership. Pittsburgh defensive backfield coach Ray Horton said that his trio of safeties -- Polamalu, Clark and Tyrone Carter -- in the AFC Championship Game against Baltimore played "the smartest at the position as a group in one game that I have ever seen in my NFL experience." That experience spans 14 years as an NFL coach and 10 years as an NFL player.

Because the Cardinals struggled for so long, this game will be a prime showcase for Wilson. He knows it.

"No one has given us a chance through any of the playoffs, not only the defense but with our team," Wilson said. "We've taken that to heart, and it will be no different on Sunday."

What is different is that in one game, this Super Bowl, Wilson can change that permanently. The safety position in Super Bowl XLIII is so strong that it is among the favorite spots to produce the game's most valuable player.

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