Steelers safety Clark OK with Tomlin holding him out in Denver

PITTSBURGH -- Steelers safety Ryan Clark planned to played in Denver last Monday night despite nearly losing his life after a game in the high-altitude city two years ago. He also said he's not unhappy that Steelers coach Mike Tomlin chose to hold him out against the Broncos.

Clark had medical clearance to play even though he lost his spleen, gall bladder and 30 pounds in 2007 after playing in Denver triggered a sickle cell-trait condition that is aggravated by exertion in thin air.

Clark suspected he wouldn't play when Tomlin reduced his practice repetitions last week. Tyrone Carter replaced Clark and had two interceptions, including a 48-yard touchdown return, in the Steelers' victory.

"That just means he (Tomlin) is smarter than I am because obviously I'm standing right here now, no ill effects at all," Clark said Wednesday before practicing for Sunday's game against the Cincinnati Bengals. "He told me, 'It won't be on you to make the decision.' That's why I said last week that even if I want to play, I might not."

When the Steelers' schedule was released last spring, Clark and his wife, Yonka, began debating what to do about the Denver game. They finally decided Clark would try to play if doctors allowed it, but Tomlin wasn't comfortable with the idea -- apparently because no doctor could assure him that the safety was risk-free.

"I wouldn't have played the whole game," Clark said. "I would have been kind of on a pitch count, maybe play third downs. But I wanted to play."

Nearly all of Clark's teammates urged him to sit out the game.

"I think it was a smart move by coach," Clark said. "I appreciated the fact that he took it out of my hands. It kind of gave me a way to breathe either way. ... I didn't feel like I chose (not to play) because coach Tomlin made the decision. Also, if I do play and I get sick, I couldn't live with that, either. So I appreciated what he did, and now it's time to move on."

During pregame drills, Clark ran wind sprints and exerted himself so the Steelers' medical staff could monitor his reaction. He reported no problems.

"Got a lot of test runs just so we could have more information how my body would react without a spleen and a gall bladder," Clark said. "I ran laps, I ran sprints, getting things tested, my oxygen level tested. They tried to simulate some form of play, but it's not the same intensity as chasing (Broncos wide receiver) Brandon Marshall on third down or the anxiety that comes along with that."

Denver is the only NFL city where Clark has had trouble playing because of his condition. He talked before the game with Broncos coach Josh McDaniels, who good-naturedly told Clark that he hoped he got to play in a playoff game in Denver later this season.

"I don't plan on us going out there anyway," Clark said. "We're just going to try to win the rest of them so I don't have to play (there)."

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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