PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin says his players are becoming angry with their five-game losing streak. Safety Ryan Clark's temper was visible during an extended rant aimed at overly critical fans and the intense scrutiny the six-time Super Bowl champions receive.
Clark said the unhappy fans don't understand how much work goes into every game, and he suggested he's no longer playing for all of them. He also said the Steelers, one of the NFL's most popular franchises, are held to a higher standard in Pittsburgh than teams in other NFL markets.
"You watch the Eagles, you watch the big plays. You watch things given up [on defense]," Clark said Wednesday. "And I started checking other media outlets. You don't hear the things about them in their media that you hear about us. So either we're held to a higher standard or the people that write about us are [expletive]."
While Clark insisted he's not becoming "depressed" by the losing streak or the fans' reaction to it, he made fun of a fan who mailed him a highly critical letter. Clark posted the unsigned letter on a team bulletin board, but a club official later removed it.
The letter cited nine reasons why the Steelers (6-7) are embarrassing themselves during a losing streak that ties for their longest in 10 seasons. Singled out was a defense that has allowed fourth-quarter leads to evaporate in all but one Steelers loss.
Last season, that Steelers led the NFL in fewest yards, passing yards and points allowed and narrowly missed giving up the fewest rushing yards. Playing at such a high level might have made fans think it's possible for the defense to perform like that every season, Clark said, rather than understanding that 2008 was "special."
Clark alternately praised fans for their loyalty and rebuked them for being too caustic.
"This year, increasingly, it's made me realize that you have to play for your organization, you have to play for your teammates, you have to play for yourself, for your family, because the people on the outside don't understand the frustration you go through," Clark said. "They don't understand the work you put in every day. A lot of people think we come in here and practice a couple of hours and then go out on Sunday and play this game. That's not how it is. This becomes your life."
The outburst was uncharacteristic for Clark, who last year received a media cooperation award that is named after Steelers founder Art Rooney Sr.
Clark, who is in the last season of his contract, initially planned to be critical once the season ended but decided to move up the timetable.
"We're working hard, man," Clark said. "None of us are going out there like you want to give up a big play. None of us are going out there like we want to lose. But the one thing I'm not going to do is be depressed. I'm not going to go home and beat my wife. You know what I mean? I'm going to get down on my knees every night and thank God for the blessings I have."
Clark did not speculate how his remarks might be perceived during difficult economic times by fans who might make one-hundredth the yearly salary of the average player, yet scrimp to spend some of their discretionary income on NFL tickets.
"It's obviously frustrating, but there's not going to be despair," Clark said. "You get hate mail from fans, they tell you that you [expletive] and all that. And that's fine, because there's a reason they watch the game."