FORT WORTH, Texas -- Ryan Clark thought he was on his death bed. He looked up at the doctor. The doctor looked away, focusing on Clark's Bible.
"Let's pray together," the doctor told him.
When a doctor talks religion, it's usually not a positive sign. Clark, the Pittsburgh Steelers safety not named Troy Polamalu, laughed about the memory, saying he told the doctor, "Man, let me pray; you go research."
That was December 2007, when Clark, who got his NFL start with the New York Giants, was stricken with anemia during an ordeal that led to his spleen and gall bladder being removed. His nightmare started Oct. 21, 2007, after a game in Denver, where the high altitude triggered an assault on his body. It was due to complications from a sickle cell trait, and soon his spleen was infected.
The near-death experience occurred back at his home in Pittsburgh, where he was overcome with a massive bout of the cold sweats. Clark was shivering so much that his bed was shaking. His wife and mother put every blanket in the house on him, and that didn't work. His wife stuck a blow dryer under the covers, hoping to create warmth. It was no use.
Clark prayed. He remembers what he told God.
"I was like, 'If it's time, let me go now; I'm tired of this,'" said Clark, who dropped 40 pounds during the ordeal.
Clark's reflection came as he was surrounded by reporters at a Super Bowl XLV media session. He's incredibly lucky. Not only does he have his health, but he's in the Super Bowl for the second time in three years.
He has vivid memories of that magical night in Tampa, Fla., two years ago, when the Steelers beat the Arizona Cardinals on Santonio Holmes' acrobatic catch in the final seconds. During the postgame celebration, Clark was on the field, lying in the confetti and soaking up the moment.
"Now," he said, "every game is like the Super Bowl."
Clark has been beating the odds since he arrived in New York in 2002. Despite a solid career at LSU, he was ignored in the draft, signing with the Giants as a free agent. He made the team and played in 22 games over two seasons, starting in four games under Jim Fassel.
He was released in 2004 and spent two seasons with the Washington Redskins before finding a home in Pittsburgh, where he has established himself as the steady sidekick to the spectacular Polamalu. Clark said he'll be forever grateful to the Giants for giving him his first shot.
"I was an undrafted free agent and I didn't have a lot of teams give me a chance to come in and compete, and they did that," he said. "So without them, I don't get that start. ... [They] helped me a great deal to get to this point."
Clark will be a key Sunday, facing the Green Bay Packers' high-powered passing attack. Aaron Rodgers & Co. know how to put pressure on a secondary, attacking the entire field, but the prospect of facing that kind of offense doesn't faze Clark. He prefers to look at the big picture.
"I almost died," he said. "So what's the stress in this?"