Clifton Doesn't Begrudge Sapp


Clifton said doctors have told him he's made a remarkable recovery so far.

Chad Clifton vows to return to the Green Bay Packers and insists he doesn't hold a grudge against Warren Sapp.

Still, he wishes Sapp had called on him in the hospital after delivering the blind-side hit that left Clifton with a career-threatening hip injury.

"I'm not bitter toward him. You assume the risks when you play this game," Clifton said in his first extensive interview since he was hurt in November. "It was a perfectly legal hit. I honestly don't think he went out trying to hurt me purposely."

Sapp's hit came after Tampa Bay's Brian Kelly intercepted a pass and headed for the goal line. After the game, Packers coach Mike Sherman confronted Sapp on the field after the game, saying it was unnecessarily rough.

The league later ruled the hit legal and Sapp was not disciplined.

Clifton spent four days in a Tampa hospital before returning home with a sprained pelvis, a sprained back, swelling and internal bleeding but never heard from Sapp.

"I know this: If I had injured someone and they were in a Green Bay hospital for four days, I would definitely go to see him," Clifton said.

Reached by phone Thursday, Sapp said: "I wish him all the health and success in his life and I'll see him next year."

But they haven't spoken since the hit. Sapp has said he wouldn't call Clifton until he knew if Clifton considers him a dirty player.

Clifton said he doesn't.

"It was a freak accident, the way I landed on my hip," he said.

Clifton said he was heartened by Sherman's post-game confrontation.

"I was in the hospital room and I was watching that on TV and it made me really proud that I have him as my head coach, someone who would stand up, even though he caught a lot of flak for what he did," Clifton said.

Clifton was bedridden for nearly a month and had a hospital bed delivered to his Green Bay home after he was transported via air ambulance from Florida.

Eventually, he was able to inch his way around with the aid of a walker.

"I never thought I'd be 26 and using a walker," Clifton said.

Now he walks without so much as a limp.

Clifton said doctors have told him he's made a remarkable recovery so far. His next test comes later this month when he runs for the first time.

"I'm confident that I can come back and do it, but just like any other injury, you have to go out and test it," Clifton said. "We'll definitely find out in a couple months."

Clifton's injury was particularly devastating because offensive linemen use their hips for leverage. The injury is commonly seen in auto accident victims but has never been seen before in the NFL, Packers trainer Pepper Burruss said.

Clifton said he caught a glimpse of Sapp just before impact but he doesn't know if Sapp stood over him to taunt, as some teammates suggested.

"When I landed, I was in so much pain as soon as I hit the ground. That's all my focus was on," Clifton said.

Clifton did wonder if his career was over.

"I didn't know if I would be able to play again, especially for that first week," Clifton said. "It was definitely a gray period."

Clifton said there was no lesson to be learned -- he already knew to have his head on a swivel during an interception return.

"That's pretty much the first thing that goes through your mind is: All right, where are the defensive players? And you try to navigate your way to the ball without getting your clock cleaned," Clifton said.

Clifton has regained five of the 20 pounds he lost and is back up to 312.

"I still have a little pain in my lower abdomen, in my right groin. But that's going to go away over time," Clifton said. "I definitely will be back this year."

Unlike many Packers fans, Clifton didn't hate watching Sapp win a championship.

"I think the better team won the Super Bowl," Clifton said. "I picked Tampa to win because of their strengths on defense."

Which he knows all too well.

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