Falcons owner Arthur Blank said Monday that retiring center Todd McClure will have a new home in the team’s Ring of Honor.
McClure, the Falcons’ longtime center, officially announced his retirement in a ceremony attended by quarterback Matt Ryan and offensive linemen Tyson Clabo, Sam Baker and Justin Blalock.
Blank said McClure’s career merits him joining former stars as Deion Sanders, Tommy Nobis and Steve Bartkowski in the team’s Ring of Honor.
”You deserve to be in that Ring of Honor, and we will get you there as soon as we can,” Blank said while pointing out another longtime center, Jeff Van Note, also earned the team’s highest honor for a former player.
McClure was a seventh-round pick out of LSU in 1999 and went on to become one of the team’s most durable players. He set a franchise record with 148 consecutive starts and missed only four games over the last dozen seasons. He didn’t play in his 1999 rookie season but became one of the team’s most reliable starters the last 13 seasons.
McClure, 36, was emotional at times, including when he looked at his teammates and when he talked about the support from his family. He stopped and looked down several times during the news conference.
”That’s what I’m going to miss the most about this game, guys like those sitting right here,” McClure said. ”The friendships we’ve had, the conversations we’ve had, the joy we’ve had in the locker room on Sunday after a big win, the struggles we’ve gone through and gotten each other through. … I cherish every moment that we’ve spent together.”
Clabo said it was difficult watching McClure struggle with his emotions.
”How could I not come?” asked Clabo, the offensive tackle who joined McClure on the Falcons’ starting line for seven seasons.
”I can promise you I wouldn’t have the success I’ve had without him,” Clabo said. ”He’s an incredible mentor. It’s going to take several leaders to do the job he did in that respect.”
McClure also joked he would have returned for another season if offered the same deal as tight end Tony Gonzalez, who postponed his planned retirement when he agreed to return for 2013.
”My offer to the Falcons was I’d play for $10 million and no training camp and half the home games, but Tony had already taken that offer,” McClure said.
McClure played in 198 games, including 195 starts. He made every start in 2012 after missing three games in 2011 with a right knee injury. He often played through knee problems.
”I’m going to look forward to waking up on Monday morning and being able to walk,” McClure said.
Coach Mike Smith said he always relied on McClure as a leader.
”Believe me, if we don’t have mentors and guys like Todd McClure on our team, we don’t have the success we’ve had over the last five years,” Smith said.
”I could always go to Todd and really get the temperature of that room, what’s going on in that locker room. It didn’t matter if you’re a first-year player or a 10-year player, everybody wanted to talk to Todd about how we were doing things. He’s a head coach’s dream to have around.”
McClure said he was grateful he played only for the Falcons.
”To be in one place for my whole career, I definitely feel blessed,” he said. ”It will be hard for guys to do that, just with the nature of the business. I’ll cherish that forever.
”I love this franchise. I’ll be a Falcon for life.”
Among the candidates to start at center will be Peter Konz, who started 10 games at right guard as a rookie in 2012, and Joe Hawley.
Ryan, entering his sixth season, said McClure is ”just the consummate professional, the best we’ve ever had.”
Banners hang from the Georgia Dome rafters to honor former players in the Ring of Honor. Only eight players have earned the honor, including William Andrews, Jessie Tuggle, Mike Kenn, Claude Humphrey, Bartkowski, Van Note, Sanders and Nobis. Sanders was the last player to join the ring in 2010.