SAN JOSE, Calif. – Carolina Panthers defensive back Robert McClain had his NFL breakthrough against the Denver Broncos when he played for the Falcons back in 2012.
Now, after being signed late in the season, McClain is getting ready to face Manning again in Super Bowl 50 on Sunday at Levi Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.
In the Falcons 27-21 victory on Monday Night Football on Sept. 17, 2012, the defense intercepted Manning three times in the first quarter.
“I was the third one against Denver that night,” McClain said. “Asante (Samuel) went down or he was tired after a play or something. I went in there for two plays and he gave me a layup that play.”
McClain had to take some ribbing from Samuel.
“He was upset that I picked off one of his passes that drive,” McClain said. “Like I said, I was thankful for that opportunity, too. You have to take advantage of them.”
McClain played in 47 games and made 15 starts for the Falcons from 2012-14, mostly as the team’s nickel back.
He was signed by New England last season, but was cut in Sept. He worked out for 10 teams during the season and was signed by the Panthers on Dec. 15 after cornerback Bene Benwikere suffered a broken bone in his leg against the Falcons on Dec. 13.
“Things like that happen in the NFL," McClain said. "Guys move to different teams. It’s part of the business. You have to be prepared for whatever happens. I had some good years in Atlanta. I still call it home there. It’s part of the business. You have to be able to move. You have to be able to adapt.”
McClain, who was drafted by the Panthers in 2010, was familiar with their defensive scheme. He played 16 games and made two starts as a rookie for the Panthers in 2010.
“There are a lot of players that are still here from when I was here in 2010,” McClain said. “That helped also. (Ryan) Kalil came over to me and said ‘welcome back.’ I was talking to Kalil yesterday about how time flies and it’s crazy how things work and how they happen in life. You just have to trust in the plan and control what you can control like continuing to work hard in life.”
McClain was on the Falcons team that reached the NFC championship game after the 2012 regular season.
“I do reflect on that year,” McClain said. “I talk to Asante Samuel and Brent Grimes a lot. I reflect on those games and being that close to the Super Bowl to now where I’m actually going to be in the Super Bowl.”
The Panthers have been kind to McClain.
“It’s been good,” McClain said. “They welcomed me like I’ve been here the entire season. I jumped in and started to prepare myself for the games. Injuries happen. I’ve just been working hard to go out there and play on the field.”
While waiting to get back in the league, McClain would work out at Gary Pirkle Park in Sugar Hill in the morning and then, the artist, worked on his drawings and paintings in the afternoon.
Finally, the affable McClain got the call he wanted.
“It’s exciting,” McClain said. “I couldn’t have painted a better picture than this. We’re here to win on Sunday.”