Frank Clark has played two flu games in two years
By Matt Conner
If you thought Frank Clark was a beast for playing (and dominating) through the flu on Sunday, just know he’s done it twice in two years.
Frank Clark is aware of his doubters.
It’s nearly impossible for any athlete to tune out his or her detractors these days via social media, but when you’ve been imported as a defensive cornerstone—one being paid an average of $20 million per year—the feedback is on another level entirely. Given that Clark didn’t exactly start out his Kansas City Chiefs career with a bang, the criticism was immediate. Brett Veach had assumedly made a mistake.
For the bulk of the season, Clark has been working hard to reverse the negative narrative that instantly attached itself due to the cost of bringing him in. It wasn’t just the $100 million contract (although that’s a major part of it). It wasn’t just the cost of major draft picks (although that’s another serious slice of the pie). It’s also the fact that the Chiefs had options already in house—names like Justin Houston, Dee Ford, Allen Bailey.
Instead of current players being given a chance to thrive in a new system, Veach invested an over-the-top amount of franchise assets in order to install Frank Clark on one side of the line.
When Clark had a single sack through six games to start the year, the narrative was already written. In the face of overwhelming expectations, while cashing a gargantuan check, Clark wasn’t putting up the presumed statistics (as if the box score tells the story accurately).
Here’s what we’ve learned, however: Frank Clark hasn’t been healthy all season long. He was on the Chiefs injury report as early as Week 2 with a neck issue. He’s had a pinched nerve that’s only gotten worse and forced him to miss Weeks 8 and 9 after he lost feeling in his fingers. Even after he’s returned, he developed the flu and was forced to miss practice leading up to the recent win over the New England Patriots.
What’s incredible in all of this is how Clark has come alive despite feeling ill. He’s had 5 sacks in his last 5 games and numerous other hits and pressures. He sets the edge well as a run defender despite his pass rushing prowess, proving himself to be the well-rounded cornerstone Brett Veach envisioned. On Sunday, he began to carve out a new narrative—his legend—here in Kansas City. It begins with the flu.
Clark played only 31 snaps on Sunday due to his illness (that’s 46% of all possible defensive snaps). In that limited time, Clark had 4 tackles, 3 pressures, 2 quarterback hits, and 1 sack. He was a game-changing force at key times and the entire defensive front fed off of his presence.
This performance came at the end of a week in which he’d lost 12 pounds due to, y’know, flu-like symptoms. (No need for details here.) That’s incredible!
Yet if you’ve wondered at any point why Brett Veach paid what he did to get Clark in the first place, check this out. This was not Frank Clark’s first flu game. No, he actually had one just last year. Yes, I mean that in 2018, while playing for the Seattle Seahawks, Clark suffered a round of food poisoning before facing the L.A. Rams in early October. He was even hospitalized twice that week and lost another 12 pounds.
The end result: an interception, a forced fumble and key stops. Check out this play in particular:
The Rams, as you know, represented the NFC in the Super Bowl last year. Chiefs general manager Brett Veach watched Frank Clark singlehandedly alter the game after losing 12 pounds (the first time) due to food poisoning from eating a Butterball turkey burger. There are good reasons why he moved heaven (or money) and earth (or draft picks) to retain his services (and why the Seahawks required so much to trade him).
Clark is still likely earning his way into the good graces of Chiefs fans who still see him as a massive reach on the part of the Chiefs front office. That’s fine. If he’s got two flu games in him in the last two years, there are plenty more heroics to come. That’s good news because Veach has locked up him through the 2023 season.