Here’s the message Ryan Clark wrote on Twitter last month, when it became clear that his time was up in Pittsburgh.
Made a decision: when I sign I will call 25 Steelers fans to say goodbye & 25 fans of my new team to say hello!! Sound good?!— Ryan Clark (@Realrclark25) March 14, 2014
Evidently it did sound good. Pittsburgh fans began sending the popular safety their phone numbers in great droves, hoping to receive a farewell call. He told them he was waiting to find a new team before beginning his one-man phone-a-thon.
On the last day of March, news broke that Clark would be coming back to Washington.
Looks like I have some phone calls to make tomorrow!! Steeler fan good byes and Redskins fan hellos!! Should be fun!!— Ryan Clark (@Realrclark25) April 1, 2014
And on April 1, he began.
So I snuck in two calls. I figured they put their number out there so I why not call. One Steeler, one skin fan down! 24 more .— Ryan Clark (@Realrclark25) April 1, 2014
Now that it was real, fans of both teams bombarded him with their phone numbers. One of those fans was Nikki Brown. The 31-year-old phys-ed teacher at Upper Marlboro’s James Madison Middle School was born and raised in Maryland, but she comes from a family of Steelers fans, and “came out of the womb only knowing one team.”
Six hours after she tweeted a phone number at Clark, near the end of a school day, her cell phone vibrated. Her students were spending the first 15 minutes of class on a reading initiative, and the incoming call had no caller ID, so she ducked into the school’s locker room to field the call.
Sure enough, it was Ryan Clark, calling to thank Brown for being a fan. She told him that she was in class, and that most of her students happened to be Redskins fans, and asked if he would talk to them.
“Not a problem,” he said. “I’d love to.”
So Brown put her phone on speaker, and told her class that the Redskins’ new safety was on the phone. This being April 1, many of them didn’t believe her. But the man on the phone told the middle schoolers that he had played in Washington when they were little kids, that he was awfully excited to be back, and that he was looking forward to the season.
Some of the kids didn’t know what to say. Others starting singing “Hail to the Redskins.” Clark laughed, wished every well and said good-bye.
“They were just excited, amazed,” Brown said. “I was just on cloud 9, almost in tears.”
Just called @Steelertarheel7 to say thanks and good bye & got to say hello to a room full of Redskins fans! Who knew she taught in Maryland— Ryan Clark (@Realrclark25) April 1, 2014
Now, obviously NFL players regularly visit schools and talk to students as part of community service initiatives. But to Brown, this was different. Clark decided to make these phone calls on his own. He solicited the many phone numbers on his own, and called during his spare time.
“No, they don’t have to reach out to fans. Yes, we’re going to be there anyhow,” she said. “He has to train, he’s on ESPN, he has a family. And with all that business, to take the time and call and say thank-you to his fans, to someone who’s invested time and money into the organization, that means a lot.”
Brown will remain a Steelers fan, of course. But she’s already told her boyfriend, a Washington fan, that she’s considering the unthinkable.
“I really might get a Redskins Ryan Clark jersey because of this experience,” she said, adding that she would still wear a Steelers T-shirt underneath. “This will be the first time I’m rooting for a Redskin. Anybody who knows me know I am diehard Steelers. I’ll probably get buried in a Steelers jeresy. But the fact that he did that was just amazing to me.”