January 6, 2002 — Atlanta Falcons starting center Todd McClure felt something pop. Something didn’t feel right in his left foot last Sunday. Just like that, the second to last play of the first half in Miami became the last play of Todd’s 2001 season.
Today, he will watch from the sidelines in St. Louis, his streak of consecutive starts snapped after 15 games.
“I knew something was wrong right away,” Todd said of the freak injury. “You’d like for it to not happen at all, but it’s better to have it happen now than have it happen at the beginning of the season and have to deal with it the whole year.”
Todd is now hobbled by an orthopedic boot, and the grass on the practice fields at the Falcons training complex in Flowery Branch is brown and partially covered with snow. So ends another non-winning season for the NFL team from Atlanta.
“It was basically like a roller-coaster ride this year,” said Todd, in his third season with Atlanta (7-8). “There were times when we thought we were doing really well and that we were going to have a great season. And then those few games get thrown in the mix and just kill us.”
Todd still gets upset when he thinks about the Falcons’ two overtime losses to San Francisco. And every time he takes a step, he feels the pain of last week’s 21-14 loss to the Dolphins, which eliminated Atlanta from playoff contention.
“Just two or three plays and our record is 10-and-whatever and we’re in the playoffs,” Todd said. “It does frustrate you when you think about it like that. But I try not to think about it too much because it just makes it even worse.”
The Falcons hit bottom, in Todd’s estimation, after their worse-than-the-score-indicates 24-10 loss to New England on Nov. 4.
“They came out and put it to us,” Todd said of the Patriots. “I know if I had a game that I’d want to do over, and I think it’s the same feeling for most of the players on the team, it would be that New England game.”
For better or worse — probably worse — the team’s performance that day was overshadowed by the unfortunate behavior of a small group of spectators seated in the “friends and family” section of the Georgia Dome. Insults were hurled. So were cans.
But things got better. Atlanta rebounded to win its next three games, including a 23-20 stunner at Green Bay.
“That was a big win for us,” Todd said. “I don’t think many people gave us a chance of winning that game. I think that was the high point of the season.”
Todd’s foot injury would be a low point, although pain is part of the NFL job description. Todd played 15 regular-season games this season, and he still feels every one of them.
“Everything hurts,” Todd said. “You just have little things that nag you and stay with you the rest of the season. Both my thumbs are jacked up. I’m constantly jamming them. My knees have been a little sore just from playing on the turf. My neck has gotten better but it still bothers me. My lower back. You name it.”
Completing an entire season is a badge of honor for a lineman, especially one who sat out his rookie season with a knee injury and didn’t get his first career start until the ninth week of last season.
“You feel good about yourself when you make it through a whole season,” Todd said. “When you get an injury, you feel like you’re letting people down.”
Especially when you have a local newspaper following your every move week after week. Offensive linemen usually anticipate anonymity each season. They don’t worry about dealing with the press — unless they happen to give up a sack or two.
So when Falcons director of communications Aaron Salkin approached Todd about my idea for the weekly “On the Line” column, Todd wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. Was this some sort of joke?
“I was kind of shocked at first,” Todd remembered. “And then I thought it would be a neat deal to have this guy following me around every week and pestering me and asking questions and writing embarrassing things about me in the paper — which, by the way, you didn’t have to tell Roberto about.”
Ah yes, the embarrassing things. Somehow, rookie lineman Roberto Garza got his hands on a copy of last week’s paper, in which I, with the help of Todd’s mother, painted quite a domesticated portrait of Todd as a young boy.
“I walked in the meeting room and everybody’s eyes went on me,” Todd said. “They’re all laughing and Roberto starts asking about sewing and baking and all kinds of stuff. It was really embarrassing, you know.”
But, Todd admitted, he learned to like reading about himself every week. So did his parents and the rest of his relatives back in Baton Rouge, La.
“I’ve saved all the stories,” Todd said. “And (my wife) Heidi is going to put them in a scrapbook. I was really excited about it and I thought it came out really well.
“I just think we need to get a new writer next year.”
After The Season
• Healing: Doctors say Todd needs about a month for his sprained foot to heal. The rest of his body may take longer. “Once the offseason gets here, things start to heal up,” Todd said. “If you have something that starts bothering you in the first week of the season — say you have a jammed thumb or something — it’s still going to be bothering you all the way to the last week of the season because you don’t have time to rest it.”
• Hunting: Todd and wife Heidi are heading to Baton Rouge, La., later this week and will stay there for a month. Later in January, Falcons players Keith Brooking and Doug Johnson are heading to Louisiana for a hunting trip with Todd.
• Hoping: Todd will be a restricted free agent after the season. Atlanta has the right to match any offer Todd gets from another team. “I’d like to think that I would be their guy,” Todd said of the Falcons. “I’d like to sign a contract and stay here because I really like it here. The Lord’s got a plan and whatever happens, happens.” Last week, it was reported that Atlanta officials notified Todd’s agent that they’re interested in having him back next year.