On the surface, Colts veteran tight end Dallas Clark’s background may be as bland as his name. Born in South Dakota and raised in Iowa, he was a small-town kid who loved sports—particularly baseball and football. But adversity struck when he was 18. His mother unexpectedly passed away days before his high-school graduation. (It’s a loss that still resonated with Clark in a 2009 profile at ESPN.com.)
His time as a student-athlete at the University of Iowa was plagued by injuries, thus limiting his playing time, and then involved a fortuitous change of position. Having long played middle linebacker in high school, Clark was too slow to play the position in the collegiate ranks. But his speed, size, soft hands, and sharp route-running capabilities made him a versatile tight end. In just two years as a Hawkeye, Clark amassed 1,281 receiving yards and 8 touchdowns.
His nine-year tenure with the Colts was historic: His 427 career receptions, 4,887 receiving yards, and 46 touchdowns are all franchise records at the tight end position. Clark played pro pigskin in Tampa and Baltimore after being cut from the Colts roster in 2012 but returned home today to retire from the pros sporting Indy’s trademark horseshoe:
— Indianapolis Colts (@Colts) June 18, 2014
To commemorate his career, we’re recalling his best moments below.
October 5, 2002: Clark scores a 95-yard touchdown en route to Iowa’s 31-28 win over Purdue. He would go on to become an honorary Hoosier, but first he breaks Boilermaker fans’ hearts with this long-distance score. Notice the graceful sprinting gait, as agile as a corn-fed Tyrannosaurus.
April 26, 2003: Clark is selected No. 23 overall by the Colts in the NFL Draft. Though clearly a wise draft choice in retrospect, Clark’s selection is questionable at the time. The school of prevailing thought had it that the Colts already owned enough offense, instead needing to make defensive stops. At least in Clark’s case, it was nonsense. Disregard defense, acquire touchdowns.
September 7, 2003: Clark makes his Colts debut in Cleveland. Though he would pile on the numbers later in his career, his beginnings were rather meager. He caught a lone reception for 18 yards in the team’s 9-6 win over the Browns that looked like a baseball score.
September 28, 2003: Clark scores his first touchdown in the NFL on an 11-yard pass from Peyton Manning in the Superdome in New Orleans. The score put Indy up 48-13 over the Saints, and the Horse would go on to win, 55-21.
November 16, 2003: No. 44’s first breakout game for the Colts comes in a 38-31 win over the Jets. Clark hauls in five receptions for 100 yards. By the end of his rookie campaign, Clark gains 340 yards through the air and is selected to the All-Rookie First Team.
February 4, 2007: Clark’s stat line in his first Super Bowl is unassuming. He gains just 36 yards on four catches. But, as the saying goes, “Win, baby, win!” And the Colts do just that, defeating the Chicago Bears 29-17.
The 2007–08 season: Clark’s breakthrough season is the best ever for a Colts tight end. He sets franchise-best marks in receptions (58), yards (616), and touchdowns (11) in that role.
February 20, 2008: Clark becomes the highest-paid tight end in NFL history when he signs a six-year, $36 million contract.
September 21, 2009: It’s a banner year for Clark. He racks up 1,106 receiving yards on 100 catches, each career highs. His performance in a 27-23 win over Miami on Monday Night Football comes as an individual high point, as he posts a career-best 183 receiving yards on seven receptions, scoring one touchdown.
November 22, 2009: Clark’s only catch in the Colts’ 17-15 win over the Baltimore Ravens is a doozy. Having been overthrown in the back of the endzone by Peyton Manning, Clark seamlessly extends his right arm and brings in a beautiful one-handed catch for a three-yard score. So impressive is the catch, it prompts CBS commentator Dan Dierdorf to cry “Stop it! Stop it!” Nay, Mr. Dierdorf. The Big D does as he pleases.
April 13, 2011: Clark puts on his thespian hat for a brief cameo as a cub detective on TV’s Criminal Minds, proving that it’s a great thing his make-lots-of-money-footballing plan worked out. His acting skills are the antithesis of his gridiron abilities.
Draft photo via USA Today