One-on-one with former Iowa tight end Dallas Clark

Daily Iowan Sports Editor Austin Hanson caught up with Clark to talk about his NFL and college careers and his memorable 2002 performance against Purdue.


Kim Kennedy

Hawkeye Dallas Clark rushes the endzone for a touchdown against the Redhawks during the third quarter of the Hawkeye’s 44-19 victory Sept. 8, 2001 at Kinnick Stadium.

Austin Hanson, Sports Editor

The Daily Iowan: For a lot of people, the run of great Iowa tight ends the last two decades kind of starts with you. Can you talk a little about the history and tradition of the position at Iowa?

Dallas Clark: I think it’s [a history] that is deep-rooted, and it goes a lot further than me. I think when I was at school, when they thought of Iowa tight ends, Marv Cook set that bar. He was kind of a role model of sorts. He was just on a different playing field. Then there’s Austin Wheatley, Zeron Flemister when I was there, on the other side, on the dark side playing defense. Watching those boys and obviously continuing it into the league and having very successful NFL careers. It’s a long list before you even get to the current ones. It’s a big, big tree with deep roots, and we have some budding stars that are obviously making a huge, huge impact at the next level which is always exciting for the Hawkeye family to see all those guys do well at the next level. That’s obviously encouraging, and [I] certainly feel good to be part of that.

DI: What has that been like for you? Watching those guys that, while they were here, said they grew up watching you play football at Iowa. You know, you were kind of their role model.

Clark: You feel old. Just like Marv, I’m sure I just made him feel like a dinosaur. Prehistoric. He was the guy that stood up. People are still trying to figure out why you would do that. There’s zero advantage. You’re just basically telling the defense, ‘Please hit me as hard as you can. I’m just going to give you my chest.’ But that’s a story for another time. You look at those guys, you got everyone from, obviously [George] Kittle is killing it, T.J. [Hockenson], Noah [Fant]. Those are three, then you’ve got Brandon Myers. It just goes on and on and on. I’m missing a lot of them, unfortunately. That three-headed monster of Fant, Kittle, and Hockenson, that’s pretty special. There’s not a college in the country that can say they have the kind of productivity at the tight end position, let alone a position. I think it’s a pretty dominating stat that we’re holding strong in that position. Kudos to those guys. Those guys are just great kids, love the game of football, do everything right, play hard, and kind of take that Iowa mentality to the next level and obviously they’re flourishing.

DI: What makes Iowa tight ends so successful in college and at the pro level? Is there something in the water in Iowa City?

Clark: It’s great water. I think the city does a great job of adding the right amount of chlorine. You know, getting that rust taste out of it. No, it’s a lot of things. I think it just goes with [head] coach [Kirk] Ferentz. It starts there, all the way down the entire coaching staff. Finding those guys, those freak athletes that could gain 60 pounds and be All-Pro or All-American tackles or their weight just kind of stays the same, they get stronger and faster, and learn how to use their leverage and block and the nuances that make the tight end position so special. You have to be in the trenches, block the big uglies and then also get open on linebackers and safeties. I think it’s just a combination of the guys that they recruit, the guys that they look for. Kind of those guys that their story hasn’t been defined yet, there’s a few chapters left to be written, and you figure that out redshirt freshman, sophomore, junior year, and then they really start defining themselves. Some kids have it, some kids don’t. It’s such a tough position. It’s so hard. For those kids to do what they’ve done, especially at such a quick start, all three of them. Obviously Kittle is on another level. I mean, that dude is just tearing it up. [Hockenson, Fant, and Kittle] have all done a really good job of that transitioning. Obviously Hockenson and Fant, they’re the younger guys getting better each year, heck each game. You know, they’re learning, learning, learning and just kind of figuring that game out. It’s a tough curve that NFL, it’s a true equalizer. There’s no redshirt freshmen. There’s no guys you can pick on. Everyone’s dudes, everyone’s really good. Week-in, week-out you got to bring your A-game. It starts in Iowa City. It starts at the Iowa football complex, putting the work in every day. Meaning, weight strength and conditioning, doing the football, obviously staying healthy. There’s so many things that go into it. So, to make a long story longer, there’s just so many things that have to go your way to be successful, and [Iowa tight ends] have done a tremendous job.

DI: Did you ever have that ‘welcome to the NFL moment?’

Clark: My NFL moment was, I was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts and the very next weekend we had where it was the rookie camp. It’s basically your minicamp. You come in and I’m in that huddle with Peyton [Manning], and Jeff Saturday, and Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, Edgerrin James. You basically get in that huddle and you’re like, ‘OK, um, I’ll run to McDonald’s. Anybody want a Big Mac? What do you want? You guys hungry? Because why am I in here?’ It’s just really one of those things, that was my NFL moment. Like, where am I? I am not in Livermore, [Iowa], anymore. It’s one of those things that you get over quickly, and you don’t want to get yelled at. So, you bust your butt and listen and try to do the best you can. Personally, it worked out pretty good, but it’s a wild ride. It’s a special family to be a part of, a special group of men. Every day is a challenge, that’s for sure.

DI: What was it like playing with Peyton Manning as your quarterback and catching passes from a future Hall-of-Famer?

Clark: He was OK. There were moments where he could’ve done a little bit better. I think he left some out there. You know, I don’t think he wanted it. He wasn’t very competitive, didn’t really care if he won or lost. Like he just kind of went through the motions. No, he’s the best. He’s absolutely the best. I think he’s one of those guys that very few times do you get to play a sport where someone makes you better. I didn’t even know what that meant until I was in that locker room around a guy like that. He’s from another planet, another caliber, another level of preparation. Perfection. In football, I always joke, kickers are the only people in the game of football that can be perfect. They’re one-for-one on field goals, two-for-two, that’s perfect. The real athletes, the guys that play the game, sorry kickers, that’s an inside joke I have with all my kicking friends, they’re just subcontractors, we’re the real athletes. So for us, it’s impossible to have a perfect game. Peyton Manning has never had a perfect game. Patrick Mahomes has never had a perfect game. You know all these guys, Tom Brady, all these legendary best-to-ever-play-the-game have never had a perfect game. That’s what makes the game so beautiful, so great, and so tough. It’s who you’re around. It’s coaches. It’s your teammates. Being around a guy like Peyton really just elevated everyone’s game. We all fed off that and we all lifted each other up at the same time in some psychedelic way if you will. It was one of those things that, it was just a beautiful, phenomenal team to be a part of. It all started with Bill Polian and his madness of getting us all together, keeping us for such a long time. I mean, what a locker room, that locker room was truly something special.

DI: I wanted to start by asking you about the 95-yard touchdown. Did you see anything pre-snap that you liked, and when you were running free with nobody in front of you, what were you thinking?

Clark: Believe me, when it’s third and seven and you call a five-yard out route, you’re basically just saying, ‘Alright, get some room for the punter so they’re not punting from like the band section in the student section there. You know, just get us some breathing room.’ That was basically what [offensive coordinator] [Ken] O’Keefe was doing, and if he tells you anything different, he’s lying. There is no way anyone draws up a five-yard out route and says, ‘Yeah this one’s going to the house.’ I’ll tell you what, I think I’m talking to you because of that play. My life changed after that play. No one knew who I was. Obviously at the next level, that [play] got my name out there. It probably made ESPN or something like that. You know, that was kind of good. And, that was a game we had no reason to win. We were getting dominated in every phase of the game. It took us to block a stupid field goal to score seven points because [the offense] couldn’t score. It took me to, I don’t know, jump over 17 dudes and score a 117-yard touchdown, and then a fake play that we drew in the sand. Just typical stuff to win a Big Ten football game. It was zero. Zero reason we should’ve won that game. But hey, that’s why we play them, baby.

DI: I was going to ask you that same question about that game-winner you caught at the end of that game. What did you see pre-snap there, and catching that ball, what were you thinking?

Clark: Well, that was a play we had in. It was just perfect to call, and I think coach [Lester] Erb, our wide receivers’ coach at the time, I think he suggested the play and O’Keefe pulled the trigger. It was just a perfect sell. I took basic acting and art of the theatre at Iowa, shout out to Tony Bingham my teacher, he taught me how to act like I was blocking. It was just a little acting gig, and [I] slipped out the back door. What’s funny about that play, I kid you not, so [I] caught the ball, obviously that was priority one, and for a split second, when I ran out of bounds – I literally thought I ran out of bounds. For a split second, I kind of forgot where I was. I was so excited that I thought I scored, and everyone went crazy, and I didn’t know if everyone went  crazy because all I had to do was go two yards to score a touchdown, and literally for a split second I had a mild heart attack because I think I thought I ran out of bounds, but then everybody kept cheering and they didn’t throw beer cans at me. So obviously then I realized I scored. It was one of those that, rarely does a play work exactly how you draw it up, and that is how we drew it up. It started with [quarterback] Brad [Banks] selling the fake, rolling out to the left and then he did the rest. It was very well-executed by everyone.

DI: Did something feel special about that game or did it just feel like any other day?

Clark: No, I don’t think we probably had the best week of preparation, which always makes coaches’ hair turn gray or lose it. And then we played like it. We played really poor. In games like that you unfortunately have to give your opponent the credit. They had [Rob] Ninkovich, I remember was the linebacker, and that dude was talking very confidently, a lot of trash talking. I mean, they knew what we were doing before we knew what we were doing. I mean, hats off to them. They played hard, played with a chip on their shoulder, and we just couldn’t answer. Unfortunately, you don’t really try to lean on big plays. But, we were able to pull out a couple dandys and obviously find ways to score, but it was just a weird game all the way through.

DI: Why do you think there are so many weird and sloppy games in the Big Ten?

Clark: Because we like to play defense? I don’t know, because there’s some good players on both sides? There’s obviously something about Big Ten football that’s different from the SEC, but obviously in bowl games it obviously shows that it’s still effective and can win. The Big Ten has represented itself very well in postseason battles and games. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea. I think it’s one of those things. You gotta love it. It’s what the game was built on, and there’s so many great things about it. Obviously, the traditions within the Big Ten. You can’t beat Ohio State and Michigan as much as you dislike both teams. You gotta respect that traditions and just kind of what that brings, what those schools represent in the Big Ten, all the things they’ve done so well in the conference. There’s just so many things to be proud of. It’s a fantastic conference and anyone that likes to argue, you just walk away. There’s better things to argue about than why Big Ten is fun football because they obviously don’t get it.

DI: Did you have one particular team you had bad blood with or one particular player you remember during your time as a Hawkeye you just couldn’t stand?

Clark: There’s nothing but love man, why do you think there’s got to be hate? That’s just rude for you to assume. Honestly, we were so bad. Really, we didn’t have time to dislike anyone. We had so many things to correct and such a big hill in front of us to climb. The opponent wasn’t even the issue that was in the way. It was our own two feet that were going the wrong direction on a wrong play or not making a tackle. We didn’t really have time to figure out why or who we don’t like. We had bigger fish to fry. In 2000 we beat Northwestern at home and they were ranked. We learned how to finish a game. We learned how, as a team, to play a complete-ish game. Then, the next year was the Alamo Bowl year. We won some games we weren’t supposed to win and lost ones we probably should’ve won. There was something about learning how to finish a game and to win a game and not to lose it. [Former Iowa assistant] coach Tom Moore always talked about, there’s five plays during a game that will decide the game, and we just never know which one its going to be. So, you got to play them all as hard as you can. We learned how to limit those five plays or to be on the right end of those plays that dictate the outcome. Everyone learned how to finish. I think that was just the coolest thing. It was like we were our own enemies. Once we figured that out, then we could literally play with anyone. That was just the cool thing to kind of evolve into that mentality and be like ‘we ain’t scared of nobody, bring them in. Let’s got to Happy Valley and just go toe-to-toe and just thump Penn State. It’s just awesome. You can’t beat it.

DI: You played a lot of big games with a lot of fans, I’m sure you’ve had some moments where you’ve got 70,000 people going crazy because of something good that you did. How does that feel?

Clark: It’s just so ingrained that you literally have, you know [former Indianapolis Colts head coach] [Tony] Dungy would always say, ‘You got tonight to enjoy it. You got twelve hours to enjoy it.’ Then literally, turn the page. It’s a new game. You have to have that philosophy because if you played bad you don’t want to dwell on that either. You only have twelve hours to think about it, then it’s back to work. So, it’s the same mentality. You got to keep that even keel, never too high, never too low. You’re never as good as you think you are and you’re never as bad you think you are. You start learning that type of mentality of the game of football. Those big plays, that’s what you’re supposed to do. That’s why you practice, that’s why you put all the hard work in. It’s just awesome that it works out and there’s just a few people that show up to watch it and that’s cool too. There’s nothing better than going against those opponents, you know the best of the best in the NFL and making those plays. They worked all week to try to stop and you said, ‘Too bad, we’re better than you.’ Sometimes they stop it too, and that’s unfortunate. That’s just kind of part of it. It’s great to make those plays, but it’s literally you got the next set of downs, next series. You gotta go out and do it again.

DI: What do you see in this current Hawkeye tight end room with Sam LaPorta and Shaun Beyer?

Clark: Those two kids are special. I think they’re great leaders for that room. They got a couple younger kids as well that have some promise but have a lot of growing and learning [to do]. It’s a special group. It’s one of those things that, playing the game, seeing the game, understanding the game, I’m never one to say, ‘Oh, he’s going to be this,’ because I’ve gotten hit too much, I’ve gotten injuries. There’s so many things that these kids can’t really control. There’s so many tangibles that have to go your way to make it work. Sam, I don’t think he even realizes how good he is which is the exciting part. He doesn’t bring any of that extra, ‘Hey, look at me.’ The kid just loves football. Beyer is the same way. He’s just a tough, tough kid. Both of those guys are just kind of bulldog-ish, and that’s the mentality you have to have. That position is not glamorous. Sometimes you might have to block all day if the running game is the way that you’re going to win. Those guys, they’re going to make some huge, huge plays. We’re going to lean on them heavily as an offense because I think it’s so tough to cover tight ends, to worry about tight ends as a defense. The more we can get those guys into the offensive mix, just more weapons that defenses have to worry about. Just easy ways to take advantage, especially with how athletic those two kids are. It’s going to be a lot of fun.

DI: What’s your prediction for Saturday’s Purdue game? How do you see that game going?

Clark: I think I would rather have a better guess on when COVID is going to end. These are a bunch of teenagers that are ingrained in routine. By this time of their first football game, heck, first Big Ten football game, they’ve had so much football thrown at them. They’ve had so many things. They’ve had training camp where all it’s been is football. Who knows? This is the most bizarre thing. I just want them to play the game. I do want [the Hawkeyes] to win, but to be honest, the fact that they’re playing might be the coolest thing ever. I’m not going to believe it until I actually see it with my own eyes. And, I’m going to check out the security at Kinnick Stadium because I’m going to try to break in. Don’t tell them. No, I’m not. It’s par for the course for the year. It’s just so bizarre, so crazy. It’s going to be crazy to see Kinnick empty [next week], all that. I’m just excited for them to play it, let alone predicting it. Literally it’s going to be one of those games that the little things are just going to be huge. Turnovers, just those little mistakes that you make. Everything is just going to be so huge in these type of games. You watch college football and it’s competitive. Those kids have done a phenomenal job of handling the situation and hats off to them. Give them all the credit. It’s such a bizarre season that it seems like they’ve handled it really well, and I don’t see Iowa or Purdue handling it any different.