Behind The ScenesNFL

Pittsburgh Steelers star safety, ESPN ‘intern’ Ryan Clark reflects upon his four days as rookie NFL analyst

Ryan Clark on the set of NFL Live (Joe Faraoni / ESPN Images)
Ryan Clark on the set of NFL Live (Joe Faraoni / ESPN Images)

Pittsburgh Steelers safety Ryan Clark has been on TV many times, but this week was different.

Appearing in a suit and tie instead of a uniform, Clark was invited to ESPN’s Bristol, Conn. campus for a four-day “internship” as a guest NFL analyst. In between appearances on SportsCenter, NFL Live and NFL32, Clark spoke to Front Row and discussed his experience as an analyst-in-training.

What has your week been like at ESPN?
My internship is a little more glorified than most. I haven’t gotten any coffee. I haven’t had to buy any lunch, any pizzas. . . It was exciting to get a chance to go into different rooms, talk to different people and give my opinion of ESPN and also receive their opinions of me.

Ryan Clark of the Pittsburgh Steelers (Credit: Getty Images)
Ryan Clark of the Pittsburgh Steelers (Credit: Getty Images)

How do you view ESPN as a current NFL player?
It’s our source of news. If I want to find out what’s going on in Carolina or what’s going on in Washington with the Redskins, I turn on ESPN. Also, if I want to see what’s going on in basketball, in baseball, I mean, this is the channel for us to get our sports — all encompassing — in 30 minutes if you need it. I’ve also seen the responsibility that these guys have now being on this side of it. I know that they are giving their opinion, but those opinions need to be backed up with facts and stats . . .That’s how you get respected.

ESPN’s NFL analyst team includes former Pittsburgh Steeler Merril Hoge (’87-’93) and a fellow safety in [former Dallas Cowboy] Darren Woodson. What have you learned from watching them?
The first thing you pick up on is that they love their jobs. You look at Darren. I remember walking into the green room and he beat me here because he had an earlier show and [he was] on the computer researching. You talk to Merril and he always talks about the film he watches and the way he disseminates information from the film he gets… It’s a job to get the information — but even more important — to get it out in a way that’s understandable.

I’ve also learned what different people bring to the table. This morning I was on [ESPN’s First Take] with Skip [Bayless] and Stephen A. [Smith]. You get loads of information from those guys, and you’re also entertained. The way that they express themselves, you have a good time watching.

Then you’re on with [ESPN NFL analyst] Eric Mangini and he is so intelligent as the X’s and O’s go. Scheming. So I’ve learned that you have to adapt to the different analysts that you’re working with that day. It’s been fun for me to try to become a chameleon of sorts and adapt to each situation.

Looking ahead to this fall, the Steelers are on ESPN’s Monday Night Football in Week 2 (at Cincinnati, Sept. 16). What does playing on MNF mean to you?
Monday Night is the game that everybody watches. Sundays your peers are maybe coming from their game, or on a plane . . . Monday Night is the one game where nobody else has anything to do with football. So it’s the most exciting time to play.

If you play well, everybody’s going to see it. Guys at home are going to say, ‘I like the way Ryan Clark plays,’ or ‘This guy hits like a truck,’ or ‘This quarterback plays so well.’ And, if you don’t play well, you know the negative thoughts and comments you may get from those guys, but that’s what the pressure’s about and that’s what football is, and it’s exciting. You love it when you hear the music come on and you get [ESPN NFL commentators] Chris Berman and Tom Jackson and those guys get to talk about you a little bit so it’s exciting for us players.

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