HomeSportsNFLRyan Clark reveals he almost died during 2007 Steelers game in Denver

Ryan Clark reveals he almost died during 2007 Steelers game in Denver

by Kaiden Smith
Ryan Clark during a Steelers preseason game
(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

In the professional sports world, there aren’t cities whose teams benefit from home-field advantage like Denver. Whether you’re playing the Nuggets in basketball or the Broncos in football, competing 5,280 feet above sea level is always a tall task.

On ESPN’s ‘First Take’, Denver’s elevation arose in a discussion between Ryan Clark, JJ Redick, Stephen A. Smith, and host Molly Qerim, as the crew was previewing the Los Angeles Lakers Western Conference Finals matchup versus the Denver Nuggets.

Lakers forward LeBron James called the challenge of playing in Denver’s high altitude “real” ahead of his first playoff series versus the Nuggets. A statement that Clark cosigned, speaking from a harrow experience from his NFL playing days with the Pittsburgh Steelers when they took on the Denver Broncos in 2007.

“I can agree with LeBron that Denver sucks. It’s like the worst place to play,” Clark said. Afterward, Qerim asked if it was really a big difference, to which Clark replied, “Molly, you do know I almost died there, right? So yeah, I would think it’s a big difference. I’m not sure who else on that team has sickle cell trait, though. But yeah, I mean, I played there, and I lost my spleen, my gall bladder, a decent part of my liver, so I agree with LeBron.”

Clark’s sickle cell trait led to him suffering from a splenic infarction due to the elevation in Denver, resulting in his spleen and gallbladder being removed and him missing the remainder of the season and games in Denver for the rest of his career.

Clark’s experience was a rare and frightening one, and one that hopefully no Laker players have to come close to endure during their playoff series.

Nuggets hang on to win Game 1

The altitude may have played a factor in Game one, as the Nuggets outlasted the Lakers 132-126 on their home court. The Nuggets at one point boasted a 21-point lead over the Lakers, but a second-half surge by Los Angeles brought the game within three points in the fourth quarter.

Two-time league MVP Nikola Jokic had an outstanding performance, recording his sixth triple-double of the postseason with 34 points, 21 rebounds, and 14 assists, and will look to keep that same momentum going in Game 2 on Thursday.