A middle-aged man charged down the Millard South football field. He wore no helmet, no shoulder pads, no cleats. He wore the look of a madman and sprinted to score something far more valuable than six points.
“I'm gonna win!” Dan Clark thought giddily as he pulled ahead. I'm faster than him! I'm way faster than him! I'm finally going to beat him!
Wait, what the ...?
Suddenly the barrel-chested ex-cop grunted and churned his legs even faster, pumped his arms even harder, willed himself toward the 30-yard line, the 25-, the 20-, as only a little brother could.
Because out of the corner of Dan's left eye, here came Dennis Clark, his older brother. Here came Dennis [--] also a barrel-chested ex-cop like someone or something had fired him from a cannon.
Dan leaned to cross the goal line, leaned to win this 100-yard grudge match a decade ago and settle the argument that had begun across the street, in Dennis' living room. He leaned to snatch momentary bragging rights in a lifelong war to be faster, stronger, tougher, better. He leaned to beat his big brother by a single step.
He leaned, and he looked left again, and what the ...??
Unless you live beneath a rock or, worse, in a house with no cable television, you know that today is the Harbaugh Bowl, the first time that two brothers have faced each other as coaches in a football game so big that even the beer commercials matter.
You probably know that John and Jim used to share a bedroom, and that by day's end, one will get a Gatorade baptism and the other will look as if he sucked an entire tree's worth of lemons.
But only brothers really understand. Brothers know that while the Harbaugh boys will battle in front of more than 100 million people tonight, brothers can just as easily battle in backyards and boardrooms and for five bucks on the 18th green.
Brothers know that only one other person is really required in order to have a Super Bowl.
The other brother. Everything else is just a beer commercial.
“It is just different when it's Dennis,” says Dan Clark. “I don't know how to explain it. It just is.”
This began in the basement, back when Dennis was learning fractions and Dan, three years younger, was adding with his fingers.
Put on those gloves, the ones we wear in the winter, Dennis said.
They established ground rules: No shots to the face. No telling mom.
Then they boxed. Bouts started at 7 a.m. They punched each other in the chest until it was time to go to school.
As a teenager, Dennis picked up tae kwon do, and by his second year, he started winning trophies almost as tall as his 5-foot-6 frame.
“I bet you think you are tough now,” 14-year-old Dan sneered when Dennis brought home a comically tall trophy.
Secretly, he thought, I want some tall trophies, too. So Dan picked up taekwondo, and he started winning his own tall trophies, and he got good enough that he could hold his own against his big brother.
Three times a week they squared off in the upstairs bedroom they shared. The matches grew so intense [--] and so entertaining that neighborhood kids gathered on the sidewalk. They stared up at the window. They watched the brothers fight.
Dennis graduated from Millard South and then college, saw an ad for the Omaha Police Department and joined the force. Three years later, Dan joined, too.
By 1987, the year the crack cocaine trade boomed in Omaha, Dennis walked the beat in the Logan Fontenelle public housing projects. Dan was just west of him, in the Hilltop projects.
“If I would've ever lost a foot chase, I never would've heard the end of it,” Dan says.
Dennis nods his head. “Because I never lost a foot chase,” he says.
Today, Dennis is 51 and a mortgage broker in west Omaha. He looks like Chuck Hagel, if Chuck Hagel pumped serious iron.
Dan is 48 and runs Clark International, a private security firm that protects the rich and famous. He looks a bit like Dennis, if Dennis had red hair.
Together they run TAC Force Training, teaching classes in martial arts for children, women's self-defense and weapons training.
Every Friday, they go to the gym. Every Friday, it is on.
They battle to see who can do more pull-ups. They battle to see who can do more handstand pushups.
Dennis gets steamed because Dan can dead lift nearly 500 pounds. Dan gets steamed because Dennis can bench press more than he can. They push themselves harder and harder, and go longer and longer, to a point that only brothers could understand.
I understand. I tell the Clark brothers about childhood Nerf hoops contests with my little brother.
I was Bird. Cole was Magic. Nobody was referee. Bruises were many. Bird always won.
Now, when I lead him on the back nine, Cole starts to remind me that he's a better golfer than I am. Then I can practically feel my muscles tighten, my nerves jangle, because I want to win ... so ... badly.
Cole always wins.
|FROM THE NOTEBOOK|
|Columnists Michael Kelly, Erin Grace and Matthew Hansen write about people, places and events around Omaha in their new blog, From the Notebook.|
The Clark brothers smile and nod their heads at this. They understand.
Then they tell me about their end of their foot race, the one they had on the Millard South football field a decade ago.
Dan leaned and looked left and what the ...?
Dennis dove. He dove toward the goal line. He dove like you dive when you forget that your body is muscle and bone, when all that matters to an older brother is victory.
Dennis crashed and landed hard too hard. He rolled over onto his back. He looked at the grass stains on his chest. He started to laugh.
He won by the tip of his outstretched fingers.
“Dude, you have some mental issues,” little brother Dan said as he slowed up and put his heads on his knees.
Then he said this: “We're racing again.”
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