Clifton Begins Comeback

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Clifton's rehab sessions last 2-3 hours, five days a week.

When doctors told Chad Clifton that his injuries more closely resembled those of an auto accident than a football hit, Clifton wasn't surprised.

"It felt like one," he said Friday, remembering the pain he experienced when lying on the field at Raymond James Stadium last November.

Tampa Bay's Brian Kelly had been returning an interception when Clifton's 6-foot-5, 327-pound frame was leveled by 6-foot-2, 303-pound Warren Sapp.

It was like two SUVs jackknifing on the highway. And Clifton hadn't seen the accident coming until it was too late.

In the weeks that followed, as he watched replays of the event from a hospital bed, he deemed the debilitating hit "legal," if "unnecessary." The kind of hit that happens in football "every week."

But most hits don't leave one player bedridden for over a month, or requiring the use of a walker at the age of 26. Most hits don't cause fractures and tears in a player's pelvis. Most hits don't cause internal bleeding.

And yet that was the result for Chad Clifton.

As he told the Associated Press in a story released Thursday, he doesn't blame Sapp for the injuries sustained, doesn't think it was Sapp's intent to hurt him and won't hold a grudge over it.

In fact, Clifton said Friday that it was the way he landed -- more than the contact of the hit -- that wreaked havoc on his body.

Still, the hit was what it was, and it's going to take time for the effects to wear off.

Three months later, Clifton spends five days a week in the training room and four days a week in the weight room at Lambeau Field.

Rehab sessions can last two to three hours, filled with stretching and lifting exercises.

He's yet to run since the injury, and is probably at least three weeks away from trying. But ask him how he feels, and he'll say: "great." Ask him if he'll be on the field for the 2003 season opener, and he'll say: "absolutely."

"I know what I have to do to get back on the field, and that's my main concern right now," Clifton said. "For a few months I couldn't really do anything, so it's kind of refreshing right now to be able to get in the training room, in the weight room."

As far as Clifton has to go before he's football-ready, he's already been down a long and difficult road.

He credits the Tampa Bay medical staff for his initial treatment after the injury. He credits the Packers' medical staff for helping him through his rehab. And he's grateful to his wife, Candy, for being there every step of the way. Especially when he couldn't take steps on his own.

"She was a huge help," Clifton said. "That first month, I couldn't lift my legs on my own, so she would have to come literally lift me out of the bed -- my legs -- and then I'd have to pull myself up and get on the walker ...

"If I needed something to drink, something to eat, she was the person that had to do that. It was definitely a tough period for her, too. It's different, definitely, waiting on someone hand and foot, 24-7."

At first, the bedridden Chad and the always-available Candy kept in contact via walkie-talkies. But not for long.

"That only lasted about a week," Clifton said. "They just happened to get misplaced and lost (after that)."

Because of the rarity of Clifton's injury, predicting exactly when he'll be ready to play again is difficult. For now he takes it day by day, doing what he can, getting stronger.

After losing 20 pounds due to the injury, Clifton is up to almost 315 pounds now, working toward his ideal playing weight of 320-325.

He thinks he'll be ready for at least partial participation by the beginning of training camp, and has no doubt that he'll make a complete recovery in time for the season.

"Not in my mind," he said. "Then again, you never know until you go out and test it. We haven't done that, obviously. To me, and I think to my doctors, there's no reason I shouldn't be 100 percent."

Through it all, Clifton said he never stopped to think, 'Why me?'

"You assume that risk when you go out there and play football," he said. "It has gone through my mind 1,000 times: 'I wish I would have seen (Sapp), so this wouldn't have happened.'"

He'll see Sapp again this season, at the site of the accident, and looks forward to the meeting.

"I'm sure we'll probably shake hands before the game," Clifton said. "It's going to be an emotional game, but there's going to be no personal vendettas against Sapp; not from me, or I'm sure from any of our other players.

"The game is too big for that. You have to come out and concentrate on winning the game. You can't worry about settling a score with someone."

Clifton isn't out for revenge, just ready to put this behind him. The last thing he wants is to be remembered as 'The Guy Who Got Hit.'

"I think there's a great chance, especially if I come back and play well this year and really don't have any side effects of this, I think people will drop it," he said. "I think it will be a dead issue with people."

In the midst of rehab, the guy who got hit, is finally able to walk away.

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