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Hanging Onto The NFL Dream


If Brandon Stokley wasn't called by the Ravens last week, he'd be coaching his son's youth football team right now. That was his plan for 2013.

But as is the case for many NFL veterans, it's hard to shake the bug.

At 37 years old, Stokley has done it all in the NFL. He's played 14 seasons, won a Super Bowl in Baltimore in 2000 and another in Indianapolis in 2006, and caught passes from one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, Peyton Manning.

Tight end Dallas Clark, 34, has played 10 seasons, won a Super Bowl in Indianapolis in 2006, went to the Pro Bowl in 2009 and became Manning's go-to guy.

They're both coming back for another go at it. At this point of their careers, playing is a year-to-year proposition, and they're not ready to exit.

"I love competing. I love playing football," Stokley said. "This is about the only thing I'm good at in life. I'm going to keep going until everybody closes the door on me or my wife tells me, 'No more.'"

Clark was home playing with his two boys last week. It was something he had never done in the month of August because he was usually sweating his way through training camp.

"They make a good distraction," Clark said of his kids. "But when you start thinking about football, you just start getting excited and you want to be in that environment."

He said he was trying not to think about the fact that after catching 474 passes for 5,322 yards and 50 touchdowns over his career, no team was ready to pull the trigger and bring him into camp. Clark and his agent were in discussions with other teams, but nothing materialized.

Sitting on the free-agent market until mid-August is new for Clark. The former-first round pick who spent nine years in Indianapolis was scooped up by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in mid-May last year.

But Clark didn't take sitting unclaimed as a blow to his ego.

"I've been around long enough to understand," he said. "As our old defensive coordinator from Iowa said, 'We're just a brick in the wall.' In a couple of years, you're going to be forgotten anyway."

Clark and Stokley are hoping it's at least one more year before they're just another NFL memory. They each signed one-year contracts in Baltimore, so it could be their final stop.

Other veterans came to Baltimore in similar circumstances and had success. Fullback Lorenzo Neal ended his career as a Raven in the 2008 AFC championship after 17 seasons. Tackle Willie Anderson did the same, capping his 13 NFL* *years in Baltimore in 2008.

Stokley and Clark may not be the players that they used to be, but they can still hold up their end of a bargain. The Ravens got proven players with veteran leadership. Stokley and Clark get to play for a winner at the ends of their careers.

"I don't know if I'm as fast, but I still feel like I can play football and help my team win games," Stokley said. "As you get older, you have to know your role. I know my role and what the team expects."

Stokley and Clark get another chance to prove they can still hang with the rest of the league.

"You always want another chance," Clark said. "But like I said before, you don't get to make that call. So, it was just kind of the process, where you're at this stage of your career."

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