Mark Clayton makes a catch before he is knocked out of bounds… (LLOYD FOX, Baltimore Sun )
Forty-five yards from paydirt, trailing by two points and with time running out, the Ravens seemed doomed. Twenty seconds remained when quarterback Kyle Boller took the snap, eluded a Houston Texans' blitz and fired 10 yards downfield.
The rookie caught it, chest-high. Then Mark Clayton reversed course and, hugging the sideline, raced toward the end zone before being bumped out of bounds at the 10. Matt Stover kicked the field goal and the Ravens won, 16-15.
That 2005 victory still resonates with Clayton, who had seven receptions — none bigger than the last.
"The pass hit me right in the numbers. I cradled it and just kept running," said Clayton, who'd dropped two passes earlier that day. "It was sweet, coming off the field to the helmet hits and back slaps.To have moments like that, in your first NFL year, is awesome."
Clayton, a No. 1 draft pick from Oklahoma, played five years in Baltimore and caught 234 passes, 12 for touchdowns. In 2010, flush with receivers, the Ravens dealt him to St. Louis for a sixth-round choice. There, knee injuries plagued him until, last year, the Rams released the onetime All-American.
Now 30, and recovering from multiple surgeries on both legs, Clayton said he hasn't quit on football.
"I'm not finished," he said from his home in Miami, between workouts of running and lifting weights. "This time next year, I hope to be with a team that's making a run at the (Super) Bowl. That would be ideal."
Which team, Clayton, a free agent, can't say.
"Right now, I belong to no one except the Lord," he said.
In 2009, while playing for the Ravens, Clayton founded MyChristianT, a clothing line of inspirational T-shirts with spiritual mantras.
"One shirt, for girls, reads, 'Jesus Is My Boyfriend,' " he said. "Another, for alpha males, reads, 'King Of Kings.' Then there's a cross-gender shirt that says, 'Team Jesus.'
"Me, I've always loved T-shirts, though sometimes that caused trouble. On road trips, I'd wear a T-shirt with a sport coat over it. (Former Ravens coach) Brian Billick was cool with that, but Coach (John) Harbaugh was, well, a little different."
That same year, Clayton co-founded an organization called Pros For Africa, a non-profit relief group that sends food and medical supplies to victims of civil war and violence there. Clayton visited Uganda, where he helped villagers dig water wells and set up schools for children "in buildings that still had bullet holes."
In 2010, during the off-season, Clayton returned to Oklahoma and finished college, earning a degree in communications.
He left Baltimore that year with mixed emotions. Clayton had a career-high 67 receptions in 2006, helping the Ravens to a 13-3 record and the AFC North Division title. But his numbers tailed off thereafter.
"I knew I could catch the ball, but not having as many opportunities as I would have liked was frustrating at times," Clayton said. "But football is a business and players are commodities.
"I was excited to move on (to St. Louis), but I was leaving one classy organization. The Ravens have one of the most family-oriented locker rooms in the NFL."
Clayton recalled home games at M&T Bank Stadium and the crowds that went nuts there.
"The fans in Baltimore are amazing, like those at Oklahoma," he said. "They have an appreciation for the sport and the physicality of it. And the stadium has a Greek warrior-type feel. It's one of the best places that represents the real grit and grime of football."
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