By D. Orlando Ledbetter The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
NEWARK, N.J. — Today’s Super Bowl won’t be Seattle defensive end Chris Clemons’ first rodeo.
He’s been to the Super Bowl before.
The Griffin, Ga., native and former Georgia Bulldogs standout was in the stands when his uncle Charlie Clemons and the St. Louis Rams defeated the Tennessee Titans 23-16 at the Georgia Dome in 2000.
“I was in high school,” Clemons said. “It was an exciting week to actually get an opportunity to talk to him and actually see the game. When the final play was over and they won the game, it was like one of those special moments. I was thinking that it could be one of these days in my life.” Clemons, who’s had a rough season because of injuries, will be on the field when the Seahawks face the Denver Broncos today at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.
Through the drudgery of practicing in the cold, Clemons, a 10-year veteran, has tried to soak up all of the atmosphere.
“I’ve had my days, but to watch my uncle do the same thing with the St. Louis Rams, it was almost like I was living his dream at the same time,” Clemons said. “To be here is a blessing and is very humbling to me because you never know when you’re going to get that opportunity.”
After registering 11, 11, and 11.5 sacks the previous three seasons, Clemons’ numbers dipped in 2013. He finished with 4.5 sacks after tearing the ACL in his knee last season during a wild-card playoff game against Washington. He missed the 30-28 loss to the Falcons in the divisional round at the Georgia Dome.
“Those are things that are a part of the game,” said Clemons, who returned to play in 14 games and start 11 this season. “You can’t really control that. It was a long offseason for me to rehab and try get back to where I normally play.”
Clemons, 32, entered the NFL after his junior season at Georgia, where he started 14 of 25 games that he played for the Bulldogs. In 2000, he became the first freshman to start at linebacker at Georgia since Randall Godfrey (1992).
He went undrafted and signed with Washington, but played mostly as a reserve. After three seasons with the Redskins, he moved on to the Raiders in 2007, where he started to flash the attributes of a playmaker. He had eight sacks despite starting only two games and playing only 37 percent of the snaps.
He spent 2008 and 2009 in Philadelphia as a reserve before he was traded to Seattle, along with a fourth-round pick, for defensive end Darryl Tapp in March 2010.
Clemons wouldn’t change anything along his winding road to the Super Bowl.
“We all go through things in life,” Clemons said. “That was the road I had to take. I never looked at it and said, ‘why me?’. There are different guys that have special careers, and that road is always curvy. It’s never a straight road for anybody.
“I’ve taken a lot from it: to never take anything for granted, and I always try to stay humble through any situation, good or bad.”
Clemons is a part of Seattle’s vaunted defense that will be called on to slow the great Peyton Manning.
Seattle had the NFL’s top-ranked defense in yards (273.6) and points (231) allowed. The unit also gave up the fewest passing yards per game, at 172, and led the league in turnovers, 39. It was the first time that a defense has led the league in all four of those categories since Minnesota in 1970.
Clemons is part of the pass-rush rotation that includes defensive linemen Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril and Tony McDaniel. The Seahawks finished tied for eighth with 44 sacks.
“Because of the people that we had in the program, with Bruce (Irvin), and Clem (Clemons), and all of the guys that we had, we saw a natural rotation,” Seattle head coach Pete Carroll said. “And really (O’Brien) Schofield fits into that, too. It gave us an opportunity for a natural rotation to fit guys together.”
Clemons is not sure if he needed this trip to the Super Bowl as a player to validate his career.
“It is a team game,” Clemons said. “It’s going to take every man and every coach to get you to that point. I don’t think it’s one man above everybody else to get you to that point. I think it’s all about timing, staying healthy and your team actually being healthy and playing well through November and December.”
He would like to continue play for a few more years.
“I look at it like if God is willing,” Clemons said. “I never really think about (retiring). I’m sure that will cross my mind, but right now, I’m focused on the game.”