CENTRAL — On a hot, dusty field at Central High School, football dreams collide like imaginary blockers and tacklers.
There were the young boys attending the Todd McClure football camp, squirming in line as they waited for the camp’s namesake to sign the back of their T-shirts with an indelible pen, dreaming of one day making it big. Then there was the camp’s big namesake himself, dreaming about an exit strategy for a proud and lengthy football career.
About a month from now, McClure reports for his 14th NFL training camp, all spent with the Atlanta Falcons. He’s leaning heavily toward it being his last, though that may depend at least in part on how well the Falcons do this season.
From where he stands, the target goal for McClure’s season is about 90 miles away: the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, site of Super Bowl XLVII in January. A win there, and the pull of retirement may be positively magnetic.
“I’ve been at it so long and I don’t have a Super Bowl ring,” McClure said. “I’ve been telling people lately it would be a storybook ending for me with the Super Bowl being in New Orleans to end it on a right note.
“Anyone can dream, right?”
It’s hard to believe McClure is 35 now, and that it’s been 18 years since he stepped off the fields at Central to become Gerry DiNardo’s very first commitment at LSU in the Class of 1995.
For some, like Todd’s wife Heidi, it’s hard to believe that this season will really, truly be his last.
“My wife said I’ve been saying that the last five years,” McClure said. “I’d say I’m about 85 percent sure, but I’m still having fun playing the game.
“I wouldn’t want to go anywhere else. My family has been in Atlanta. If I was to play another season it would have to be in Atlanta.”
For nearly a decade and a half, McClure has been as much a fixture in Atlanta as sweet tea and streets named Peachtree.
He missed three games last season with injuries — snapping a franchise record string of 148 starts from 2002-10. Despite that, McClure has been Atlanta’s iron man, starting 179 of the 182 games in which he’s played since 2000.
In the midst of that string, McClure started to think of a way to give back to the game and his hometown. So he approached coaches and friends in Central to start a free football camp, now in its second year.
In all, the three-day camp, which ran Monday through Wednesday, attracted over 200 kids a day. Each day, McClure spoke to them, a living example for them to set their goals high.
“Todd’s just a great guy,” Central coach Sid Edwards said. “It’s a free camp, which makes it unique. A lot of high schools put on camps and it’s a money maker for them. But one of Todd’s deals is, he remembers coming up and there were so many kids who couldn’t afford to go to camp. That was his thing: How can we work this so we’re not charging the kids? And we were in full agreement.”
With the New Orleans Saints having their “Bounty Gate” issues, the Falcons have emerged as the team to beat in the NFC South in many predictions, something that makes McClure cringe.
“I hate sometimes having those expectations,” he said. “The way the NFL works, the way a team that won one or two games sometimes can turn around and be the best team the following year. So you never know.
“I feel good about our chances, but it comes down to clicking and being healthy at the right time.”
If that happens, maybe it will be McClure and the Falcons time.
Anyone can dream, right?