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Old 02-01-2009, 03:45 PM   #1
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Default Clint Kriewaldt

It was all good until Jan. 18. There had been no signs of withdrawal, no uncontrollable shaking, no waking up in the middle of the night to sneak downstairs and break down film.

"It didn't faze me in the beginning," said Clint Kriewaldt, 2006 Super Bowl champion, Pittsburgh Steelers.

But then came Jan. 18, and the Steelers were on television playing for a berth in Super Bowl 43, or XLIII for all you Caesar fans.

That was the day he realized he missed it, really missed it. That was the day he wished he could turn back the clock, the day he wished he were in some other place. Like Pittsburgh.

Instead, Kriewaldt was alone in the basement of his Combined Locks home. Just him and the big screen, feeling a little bit ornery, a little bit anxious, a little bit wistful. The team he had been a part of just 11 months earlier was playing for a trip to The Game and, knowing what he knew, he wished he were in uniform, not blue jeans.

"That one killed me," Kriewaldt said. "That was the first day I really struggled with it. I had a rough day that day. You know I'm happy for my friends, but it's still tough to see that. It's going to be tough to watch the Super Bowl."

But watch he will, comforted by the knowledge that his is a remarkable story, coming from tiny Shiocton High School enrollment 226 to Division III UW-Stevens Point, to the NFL, where he managed to escape from Detroit after four years and land in Pittsburgh, that hefty ring on his finger with all those diamonds forever serving as a reminder to what that meant.

"When you're done, you realize how special and what a big deal it was," he said.

Kriewaldt didn't leave the game completely on his terms, but left in a way that would not haunt him, only slightly gnaw at him as it did Jan. 18.

Late in 2007, he came flying down on the kickoff coverage team, hair on fire, just as he always had. He threw himself into the wedge and when he got up, his neck wasn't right. Two surgeries later, it still wasn't right.

Married and with three children, he knew, deep down, playing was no longer his right.

"The doctor told me you could play with it," said Kriewaldt, "but if you're feeling this much discomfort with it right now and with what you have going on, it's probably not the smartest thing.

"I actually think it helped that I left injured. In my mind, it's a good way to leave. I think it's a lot easier than for me thinking I could still play and trying to hang on and trying to fight and make a team and I don't realize I'm used up. I've seen a lot of guys who have been down that road, just hanging on and their bodies are shot. They think they can play, but you can see that they're done."

He could have retired. Kind of wanted to, if nothing else for appearances sake. But the Steelers, being the class organization they are, agreed that it would be in his best interests financially to be released injured.

So on Feb. 22, they did.

He played in the NFL nine years longer than anyone ever would have imagined. He was a two-time special teams co-captain with the Steelers and a reserve linebacker. He played in 74 games with Pittsburgh, starting two and recording 23 tackles. On special teams, where he made his living, he made 77 tackles, including the very first tackle in Super Bowl XL in Detroit.

"Running down on that first kickoff, it felt like everything was in slow motion," he said. "There was no sound coming up. It was pretty neat."

He is one of the few who knows what this day is like from a player's perspective. The feelings, the emotions, the angst and anxiousness. And he will tell you it was better than he imagined.

"For me, it surpassed expectations," he said. "I made the opening tackle on the kickoff, the first tackle of Super Bowl XL. I never would have dreamt of saying that I got to be a part of that. My mom and dad and brothers and family and friends were there. It was awesome. I will never forget any of it."

That, or the all-night celebration afterward, the parade in downtown Pittsburgh and having fans call him names, like Super Bowl champion.

The past several months have flown by, occupied with building a house and realizing he has the passion for putting his interior architecture degree to use. He'd like to find work in that industry, and would also like to help out coaching at the high school level, as working with kids is another passion of his.

But today, he will sit and watch many of his friends play in the Super Bowl, and it will be hard. But he knows at any time during the game he can lean over and ask his kids who their favorite player is and in unison they'll respond: "No. 57!"

"I've got 'em brainwashed," said No. 57.

He can also look down on his right hand and see all kinds of memories amid all kinds of glitter.

"It brings back a lot of memories, how special a time it was," he said of his Super Bowl ring. "Every year everyone's fighting to get one. I got one in my seventh year and there have been guys who've played for 15 years and don't have one.

"I definitely feel blessed."
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