17 September 2009
A good man and a solid NFL assistant and head coach, who never really had a chance of truly succeeding with the Lions, passed away Wednesday.
Monte Clark, credited with building the dominant offensive lines on the Super Bowl winning Dolphins teams of the early 70's, and was the head man on Detroit's sidelines from 1978 to 1984, has died at age 72 after an extended illness.
Clark led the Lions to a pair of playoff appearances, in '82 and '83, their first since 1970, despite being handcuffed by penny pinching GM and Ford lackey Russ Thomas. That alone earned Clark my endless respect.
But Lions fans of a certain age will most fondly remember Clark for his actions in San Francisco on New Years Eve 1983. I remember it like it was yesterday...
Led by the great Billy Sims' 114 yards rushing and 2 TD's, and despite QB Gary Danielson throwing 5 interceptions, the Lions found themselves in position to win the divisional playoff game on the road against the then up and coming San Francisco 49er's. The Lions were 43 yards away from their first playoff game victory since 1957, and the 9-7 NFC Central winners would move on to the league championship game.
With 11 seconds left, kicker Eddie Murray (arguably the best place kicker in the NFL at the time), who had nailed 3 of 4 field goals earlier in the game (including a then NFL playoff record FG from 54 yards), lined up for the game winning 43 yard attempt.
CBS cameras caught Clark, who had been through Hell and back with the Lions, including a 2-14 season in '79, with his eyes closed, his hands together in prayer, just before the snap. It's something I'll NEVER forget.
I'm not a religious man, but I was praying too, Monte...
The kick was plenty long, but was just wide right. Clark's prayer was in vain.
Murray's words after the game summed up the feelings of all Lions fans: "If I had had a hara-kiri knife, I would've committed it right there."
The '83 playoff loss may have been the toughest I've ever had to deal with as a life-long Lions fan. I'm sure Clark felt the same way. Unfortunately, his coaching career never recovered.
It was all downhill for Clark after that crushing loss. The Lions started the '84 season 1-5, and Sims suffered a career-ending knee injury in the 8th game. He was fired a few days after the end of season, only to be replaced by college refugee Darryl "What does a coach have to do around here to get fired?" Rogers. Clark had the Lions pointed in the right direction after their awful 70's, but Rogers, a bad fit from the start in the NFL, drove the team directly and deep into the ground.
Any progress made during the Clark years was lost, and the Lions stumbled through the remainder of the 80's a league bottom feeder.
As I said, Monte Clark never had a chance. Save for spending the last year of Don Shula's career as a Dolphins assistant, Clark never coached in the NFL again. But he was not out of football, as he was a Lions special consultant for the past several years.
Wherever you may be now, Monte, may all your last second field goals be straight through the uprights.
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