Today's installment of Chicago Bears Countdown to Kickoff brings us 88 days until the start of the 2023 NFL season, meaning that today we will be looking at the life and career behind the most prolific player to don the number 88 in franchise history, tight end Desmond Clark.
Desmond Clark's Path to the Chicago Bears
A native of Bartow, Florida, Desmond Clark played high school football at Kathleen Senior High School, where he was a quarterback, safety, and kick returner. Also a baseball and baseball player in high school, Clark eventually accepted a scholarship from Wake Forest, where he would transition from quarterback to receiver.
In college, Clark was a standout wide receiver, totaling nearly 2,600 yards and 19 touchdowns across 32 seasons from 1995 to 1998. At Wake Forest, Clark was selected to two All-ACC teams and ended his collegiate career as the conference's all-time leader in receiving yards.
Despite his stellar collegiate season, Clark was seen somewhat as a tweener position-wise and slipped to the sixth round of the 1999 NFL Draft, where the Broncos selected the young pass catcher with the 179th overall pick.
With the Broncos, Clark started his career in more of a reserve role behind future Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe. Nonetheless, Clark had some solid seasons in Denver, accumulating 910 yards and 10 touchdowns in 42 games across three seasons. Following his third season with the Broncos, Clark signed a one-year deal with the Dolphins, where the tight end recorded just 42 yards on two receptions.
Desmond Clark Joins Chicago Bears as Free Agent
The ensuing 2003 offseason saw Clark once again a free agent, and the Chicago Bears swooped in to pick up the backup tight end to potentially be the team's new starter. In his first season, Clark was exactly that, starting in 15 of the teams' games, logging over 400 yards and two touchdowns.
The following two seasons saw a decline in production from Clark, as the tight end failed to record 300 yards and more than two touchdowns in either of the 2004 or 2005 seasons, but in 2006, Clark started to put it together on the field and was a key part of the team's deep playoff run in the subsequent playoffs. During the 2006 season, Clark recorded a career-high in both yards and touchdowns with 626 and 6, respectively. Clark finished the season as a Pro Bowl alternate, but his contributions were not done yet, as the tight end added over 100 total yards during the team's three post-season games en route to becoming NFC champions.
After starting every game in the 2005 and 2006 seasons, Clark continued to be a consistent and dependable teammate, starting all 16 games of the 2007 and 2008 seasons as well. Between these two years, Clark recorded over 900 total yards and five touchdowns, but with his production starting to drop heading into 2009, Clark would assume more of a reserve role with the team once again.
After the team selected Greg Olsen 31st overall in 2007, the writing was somewhat on the wall for Clark, who had already outperformed any realistic expectations the Bears could have had. With Olsen waiting for his opportunity to truly take over the position, 2009 was the first season of the changing of the guards, with the young player taking reps and time away from Clark.
Playing in 11 games and making just seven starts, Clark managed only 145 yards and 2 touchdowns in 2009. The following season, Clark logged time in just five games, recording just one reception for 12 yards. Clark would retire from the NFL the following season, ending his career with 3591 yards and 27 touchdowns.
Desmond Clark All-Time Rankings with Chicago Bears
Out of his totals, 2,639 yards and 18 touchdowns came with the Bears, making him the franchise's 25th all-time leader in yards and 21st all-time leader in touchdowns. A Chicago Bear for eight seasons, Clark was a full-time starter for four seasons in the middle of his tenure, starting in 64 straight regular season games from 2005 to 2008, as well as helping the team win the NFC in 2006.
Today, Clark serves as the president for Bear Down Logistics, a "premier carrier specializing in final mile delivery". Outside of work, Clark also serves as a motivational speaker and helps instruct professionals on the importance of leadership and teamwork, skills that Clark certainly refined and perfected in the NFL and with the Chicago Bears.