INDIANAPOLIS – Following the 2009 season, Dallas Clark was one of seven Colts selected to the Pro Bowl.
For the first time ever, the Pro Bowl was being played before the NFL's championship game, and the Pro Bowl was being held in Miami. It was the first time since the 1979 season the Pro Bowl was not being held in Hawaii.
The Colts were the AFC Champions and would be playing New Orleans in Super Bowl XLIV in Miami one week after the Pro Bowl.
The NFL asked the Colts to fly down their Pro Bowlers ahead of the team so they could be introduced to the all-star game crowd since they were unable to participate.
After performing the duty, Clark, Jeff Saturday and Peyton Manning squeezed in a Monday workout at the Miami Dolphins training facility, the site the team would use in Super Bowl preparations.
Hearing the three Colts were working out, Dolphins executive Bill Parcells stopped his work to chat up the Indianapolis trio.
A grizzled veteran of NFL years, Parcells eyed Clark, 6-3, 252, head-to-toe. "You're causing me to re-think the tight end position," Clark remembered Parcells saying during the conversation.
Clark had just finished his seventh season and had snared 100 passes for 1,106 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Parcells had gotten an eyeful of Clark in that season's second game when Clark hauled in a deep post pattern toss from Manning, broke a tackle and completed an 80-yard scoring play 12 seconds into the game.
It was only the second game-opening 80-yard scoring reception by a tight end in Colts history. It was the type of quick-strike play executed by John Unitas and John Mackey in an earlier Colts era.
As the game evolved through the years, the role of a tight end changed in NFL offenses. Clark was moving past Mackey in key positional statistics.
His receptions and yards in 2009 snapped previous seasonal standards set by Mackey, a Hall-of-Famer. Clark's 11 touchdowns in 2007 also achieved the same feat.
Clark joined Tony Gonzalez as only the second NFL tight end with 100 seasonal receptions, while becoming the 15th to post a 1,000-yard year.
Twice Clark topped 10 receptions in a game, and his 14 against Houston in 2009 fell one shy of the league mark for a tight end. He joined Gonzalez and Todd Christensen as the only players at the position to notch a season with 90-plus receptions, 1,000-plus yards and 10-plus touchdowns.
Dan Orlovsky played only a few games with Clark in 2011, a year when Clark missed time with injuries. Orlovsky appreciated the talents Clark brought when healthy.
"I told him he has a sneaky range to the football," said Orlovsky. "I threw a ball and I said, 'I missed him,' and he got to it. I threw another one and said, 'I missed him again,' and he got to it. I told him it's an adjustment for me to feel that range of his and know he can go get some balls that I don't normally know if I would throw. (He's) a great player."
Orlovsky found out what Manning already knew. Manning and Clark teamed on 44 touchdown connections, coming up one short of the NFL QB-TE league record set by Drew Bledsoe and Ben Coates.
A number of those Manning-to-Clark hookups spelled victory, and a good measure of them came when games counted the most.
By the end of his Colts career, Clark had set the NFL post-season records for a tight end with 64 receptions and 847 yards. His four-game playoff total of 317 yards in 2006 was the best single-playoff performance by an NFL tight end since 1970, while his 21 receptions were one shy of the mark.
As the Colts played in Super Bowl XLIV, Clark caught seven passes for 86 yards, moving into the top career post-season spot ever for tight end production. He passed yardage and reception marks previously set by Keith Jackson, Jay Novacek, Shannon Sharpe and Brent Jones.
Current Colts tight end Coby Fleener has observed the evolution of the position he plays, and he saw Clark's fingerprints on the process.
"I said before the (2012) draft, I'm thankful for the guys, the (Rob) Gronkowski's, the Jimmy Graham's, the Dallas Clark's, Tony Gonzalez, Todd Heap, the list goes on and on," said Fleener. "I can't be more thankful for what they've done for the game, the tight end position and everything it's evolved into.
"There's a variety of tight ends, Dallas included, that I've watched and liked to pick up different pointers as far as their pros and cons of how the play the game that I can use in mine."
Clark played nine seasons with the Colts, starting 111-of-115 games and having 427 receptions for 4,887 yards and 46 touchdowns. He snapped Mackey's career numbers in receptions and touchdowns, while just missing Mackey's 5,126 franchise yardage mark for a tight end.
Never did Clark lose his enthusiasm.
"Dallas (Clark) is an unusual guy. He loves football," said Jim Caldwell. "I'm not certain that you will find anyone more infatuated with the game then he is. He exudes it. He walks out on the field, he has a great time, he loves practice and does a tremendous job, it's infectious."
Said Bill Polian, "Dallas Clark, by the numbers, I think perhaps – although I'm biased – is the greatest tight end in this franchise's history. He has the best hands of any tight end I've ever been around. He was a sure-shot number one choice from Day One."
2003 (First-round pick, No. 24 overall)
Played 2003-11, GAMES STARTED/PLAYED – 111/115
*Notes: *Caught 427 passes for 4,887 yards and 46 TDs to set franchise TE records in receptions and scores and ranked second in yards and 100 games (7). Set franchise seasonal records in 2009 with 100 receptions for 1,106 yards, while 11 TDs in 2007 set standard. Was second NFL TE ever with 100-reception season. Became third NFL TE (2009) with 90 receptions, 1,000 yards and 10 TDs in a season. Was All-Pro and Pro Bowler in 2009. Had 44 TD connections with Peyton Manning, second-most by NFL QB-TE duo. Was a member of four offenses with a 4,000-yard passer and 1,000-yard rushers and receivers. Ended Colts career as NFL playoff leader for receptions (64) and yards (847).