I am sickened by the injury suffered by Chad Clifton. While not a "star" player, he has been a big part of our success since his arrival as a second round pick. We are extremely fortunate that he turned out to be as good as he is. His loss hurts; I do not believe any other lineman on the team possesses his raw athleticism.
What I cannot understand is why players, coaches and fans are blaming Warren Sapp for what happened. The Packers were playing in the biggest game of the season thus far, a contest that will likely determine home-field advantage through the playoffs. What I want to know is: Why did Clifton let up on the play? You go on the road, into the other team's house, and you let up while playing against one o the most maniacally intense players in football? And you're surprised to get knocked on you're a_ _?
As far as Sapp celebrating, I think he was caught up in the euphoria of a game-turning interception-the block on Clifton was only icing on the cake. There was no way Sapp could have known how badly Clifton was hurt. It was a tremendous lick he laid on Clifton, but it was clearly not delivered with the intent of causing the kind of damage it inflicted. As Sapp was making his approach for the block, Brian Kelly could very easily have tried to cut back inside to score the touchdown. Sapp had no way of knowing Kelly would be content to stick to the sidelines and go out of bounds.
If Sapp was a dirty player, why didn't he go after Favre with 8:58 left in the 4th quarter on the interception return by Dexter Jackson? I happened to tape the game and played that return several times over. It sure looked to me like Sapp purposely bypassed Favre and instead tried to put a block on Robert Ferguson, who had less chance of making the tackle than Favre did. Sure enough, Favre pushed Jackson out of bounds. So why did Sapp not go after Favre? I think it was because Sapp realized that, as a wide receiver, Ferguson was much less likely to be hurt if Sapp did get a hit on him, as opposed to Favre. I don't think Sapp wanted to see Favre carried off the field the same way Chad Clifton was.
If the Packers are serious about winning the Super Bowl, the players and coaches are going to have to adopt the attitude that they are going to give their opponent 60 minutes of hell any given Sunday. That's what makes Sapp such a dominant player-he has been blessed with tremendous physical ability, and there is no quit in him. If you want to go up against a player of that caliber, you better bring your "A" game. You've got to line up against your opponent, and you've got to have the mindset of, "I am going to wear your a_ _ out. I am going to beat on you every play until the whistle blows. I am going to go so damned hard at every snap that someone is going to have carry me off the field when that final gun sounds, because I will have nothing left." I see that attitude most prominently in Donald Driver, is it any wonder he is having such a great season?
In defense of Coach Sherman, I honestly believe I would have done the same thing in his situation. And I would have been wrong. Mike Sherman is obviously very passionate about his players, and he was trying to exact some measure of revenge by confronting Sapp. I don't blame him for that. But I do believe he owes Sapp an apology.
I cannot speak for Warren Sapp, but I believe the confrontation after the game by Coach Sherman angered him so much that there is no way he is going to back down. Heck, if Mike Sherman had not confronted him, I would like to believe that Sapp is the kind of man who would go to the hospital and apologize to Clifton for the severity of the injury. There was just no way that Sapp could have foreseen how devastating the results of that hit would be. Warren Sapp is a proud man, he might humble himself but he will never humiliate himself. For Sapp to apologize in any way, shape or form after Mike Sherman's confrontation would be humiliating, and it ain't gonna happen.
I respect and like Mike Sherman, but he blew it this time. I believe the Packer tradition would be best served if he were to come forward and make a public apology to Sapp. If Sapp does not respond in kind, so be it. One of the most difficult lessons I've learned as a military service man is that I cannot control how people will respond to me, but I must accept responsibility for how I respond to them. I have not always made the right choice in how to do that in the midst of a heated situation. But when God made possible the opportunity to make amends, I have always tried. That approach has served me well. I have a lot of pride in the Packers. They are "my" team. This whole incident is a blemish that I felt compelled to speak against.
My prayers go out to Chad Clifton. I pray the God of heaven would fix whatever havoc has been caused in your body. I want nothing more than to see you take the field as a starter in the season opener for 2003. And when you make it back, and you get in your stance for the first time, you tell the poor guy lining up opposite of you, "I am going to wear your a_ _ out. I am going to beat on you every play until the whistle blows. I am going to go so damned hard at every snap that someone is going to have carry me off the field when that final gun sounds, because I will have nothing left." Get well, Chad Clifton!
Editor's note: Mike Poplawski lives in Colorado Springs, CO. Submit your story for Voice of the Fan to Packer Report managing editor Todd Korth at firstname.lastname@example.org