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Old man McClure still rolling along for Atlanta Falcons
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FLOWERY BRANCH, — Todd McClure gets more than a bit uncomfortable when asked about a campaign by his fellow linemen to get him selected to the Pro Bowl for the first time.
He relishes the anonymity of life as an NFL center, though those closest to him know how important he is to the Atlanta Falcons.
“Todd McClure is one of the cornerstones not only of this team but of this entire organization,” Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan said. “He’s been around a long time. He’s an incredible leader. His work ethic is second to no one on this football team. For me, personally, he’s been huge in my development.”
McClure took over as Atlanta’s starting center midway through the 2000 season. He’s been there ever since, including a streak of 144 consecutive starts — the longest in franchise history — that finally ended this season when he missed the first two games recovering from a knee injury.
His knee feels fine now and, at age 34, McClure feels like he can play another two or three years.
“I love being around the guys,” he said Wednesday. “And I want to get a ring. I think we’ve got makings of it around here. I’d like to get a shot at it this year.”
The Falcons (7-5) head into Sunday’s game at Carolina tied for the NFC wild-card lead with Detroit and Chicago.
McClure isn’t ready for the rocking chair just yet, but he knows he’s running out of chances to win a championship.
“Everybody,” he said, “would like to have a ring before they’re done.”
Tyson Clabo said it’s about time McClure got some personal recognition as well. The Falcons’ right tackle made up red caps for everyone on the line that say “McClure for Pro Bowl,” along with his number, 62.
Make no mistake, Clabo initially started the campaign as a bit of a joke, because he knew it would get under McClure’s skin. That part has worked out perfectly.
“I think it’s ridiculous,” McClure said. “Just Clabo being Clabo, I guess.”
His teammate said there’s a serious side to the effort as well.
“It’s tongue in cheek, but it’s also legitimate,” Clabo said. “Under his reign at center, we’ve sent multiple quarterbacks to the Pro Bowl, multiple running backs to the Pro Bowl, tight ends, receivers, other linemen. Well, he initiates every bit of it. I just think he gets overlooked a little bit.”
McClure’s importance to the team was apparent at the beginning of the season. He went down with an injured right knee during the preseason and missed the first two games. With Joe Hawley filling in, Ryan was sacked a total of nine times.
In the nine games McClure started since then (he had to sit out against Green Bay after his knee flared up), the Falcons have given up just 19 sacks.
“Todd is an integral part of our team,” coach Mike Smith said. “We really missed Todd. When he got back in there, you saw the calming effect he had in terms of the number of sacks.”
Coming out of LSU as a seventh-round pick in 1999, McClure certainly didn’t have the look of someone who’d stick around this long. In fact, he struggled to make it to his first game with the Falcons.
On the second day of his very first training camp, McClure tore up his right knee blocking during a counter play. A rushing lineman fell into him, tearing the ACL. The rookie was done for the year and feared that he’d never get another chance.
“I thought it was over before my career even got started,” McClure recalled. “Luckily, they put me on (injured reserve). I didn’t know if they would just ... settle with me or what, but they put me on IR. It all worked out from there.”

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