Commentary: Clifton a true pro

His knee aches and his pelvic area is still hurting but Chad Clifton is on a mission. The offensive tackle not only wants to return to his starting position at left tackle for the Green Bay Packers but is determined to erase his name affiliation with Warren Sapp. Who wouldn't, eh?<p>

The guy that was leveled by Sapp with an unnecessary blindsided hit during an interception return and hospitalized for a week as a result is walking, talking and rehabbing. Clifton is still feeling the pain of an unprecedented football injury that doctors compared to a high-speed automobile accident, but the pain is slowly giving way to his determination.

When Clifton received the green light last December from team physician Dr. Patrick McKenzie that he would eventually be able to play football again, Clifton put his foot on the gas to make a return to prove that he's not going to let a cheap shot by a big mouth end his promising career.

"All I've heard from that time was 'You'll never be able to play again,' by friends, family ... they've all called and expressed their concerns," said Clifton. "Yeah, I can't wait to get out there and show everybody that it's fine and put this behind me."

Reeling in instant pain after torquing his hip upon impact to the Raymond James Stadium turf last Nov. 24, Clifton was helpless. As he was carted off the field, his career was in serious doubt.

Bitter? Ready to retaliate against Sapp when the two teams meet again this season in Tampa? If you're looking for an XFL-like screaming match between the two prior to the game, keep looking.

"I'm sure we'll shake hands before the game and all that," Clifton said. "It's going to be an emotional game, but there will be no personal vendetta from me or any of our other players. The game is too big for that. You have to go out and concentrate on winning the game. You can't worry about settling the score with someone."

The best thing for Clifton is to be in the starting lineup when the season begins and pick up where he left off as Brett Favre's 320-pound blind side protector. To retaliate against Sapp in any way would only lower Clifton to Sapp's level, and Clifton is too much of pro to lay a cheap shot another player.

Will he 'cut block' Sapp? Possibly, but a cut block (blocking a defensive lineman from behind and below the knees within 3 yards of the line of scrimmage) is a legal block. Though, players have been injured because of cut blocks. That's part of the game, just like legal, blindsided hits.

"I never felt, 'Why me?' because you assume the risk when you go out there and play football," Clifton said. "It has gone through my mind a thousand times, 'Man, I wish I could have seen him, so this wouldn't have happened. Or I wish I hadn't gotten hurt because if I hadn't gotten hurt, let's be honest, we wouldn't be doing this (interview) right now."

Clifton happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time when he was flattened by Sapp. But there is nothing in the rules that say Clifton will not be able to block back, and if Sapp happens to be at the other end, Packer fans will never cheer harder for a good, clean block.

In the meantime, Clifton says he is "feeling great" and making progress with his rehabilitation from the pelvic and recent arthroscopic knee surgery. That's all Packer fans could have hoped for from a classy pro who is focused on erasing a painful memory.

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