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Cowboys' first big-play man is now the 'cosmic nanny'

Frank Clarke once cradled touchdown passes for the Original Cowboys.

Now he cradles children and touches lives.

Clarke, 74, is a live-in nanny. He works for a Durham, N.C., family.

It's not his first nanny job, either. He’s had a few of them since 1977.

He divorced after 21 years of marriage in ’77, abandoned most of his worldly possessions (except what fit into his car), then drove 2,000 miles from his home in San Francisco Bay to Kentucky.

It was a journey to follow his heart and answer a calling.

Clarke, who had been out of the NFL for 10 years by then, found an "alternative consciousness growth" program in Blue Grass country. He signed on.

And from that point forward, he channeled his love toward kids.

Earlier, Clarke had helped raise three children of his own — all grown now. His youngest daughter is 47. So, he did have some advanced training with this nanny thing.

But it had been quite awhile since he read Dr. Seuss to a 5-year-old.

The Cosmic Nanny

If you think Clarke would rather be off fishing than changing diapers, you're dead wrong.

A typical day for him is finding activities, creating desk-top projects and fixing meals for a pre-schooler named Quinn and his 11-month-old brother, Macallen.

Here's a former NFL star who spent 11 seasons playing for Paul Brown and Tom Landry. He was an All-Pro. He played in the Ice Bowl. He once caught 10 passes for 241 yards against the Washington Redskins.

But he never felt the "miracles and blessings" that come his way now, on a daily basis, caring for small children.

"I'm a live-in nanny. I’m the whole shebang, man," said Clarke, whose robust voice sounds like a man half his age. "I'm affectionately known by my friends as The Cosmic Nanny."

"Cosmic Nanny?" I replied. "I like that."

"I do, too," Clarke said. "It's true ... in the spirit of Mary Poppins, it's all true."

But he doesn't scream or mandate change like the woman in the reality TV show. In other words, he isn't Nanny 911 pushy.

"What I try to do is find the rhythm of the family," Clarke said. "I want to nurture whatever mom and dad are setting forth. To me, that's the most wholesome thing I can do for the children."

He has a way of connecting with people on a spiritual level, without sounding preachy.

Just ask the mother of Quinn and Macallen what he means to a family of four with two working parents: Everything.

"Frank sure is a nice guy," said Jennifer Weaver, a Durham lawyer. "We are very blessed."

Cowboys’ deep threat

Born Franklin Delano Clarke in February 1934, Frank was named after the 32nd president of the United States.

His parents were like most Americans in the 1930s who revered Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who felt that he was owed a debt of gratitude for his compassion for people from all walks of life.

Clarke joked that if FDR were alive and in office today, "he'd probably offer me a Cabinet position."

Ironically, this boundless energy and enormous passion that Clarke exhibits at age 74 eluded him as a player in the NFL.

"If I have the slightest lament, that was it," Clarke said. "I can never remember going into a Cowboys game where it mattered to me whether we won or lost."

It just wasn't a part of his personality or athletic DNA.

Yet, he turned out to be the Cowboys' first bona fide home-run threat -- before "Bullet" Bob Hayes, before Drew Pearson, before Michael Irvin, before Terrell Owens.

He became a favorite target of Eddie LeBaron and Don Meredith through most of the '60s.

Clarke's arrival in Dallas via the 1960 expansion draft (from Cleveland) was overshadowed by a dearth of quality players on one NFL roster.

He quickly separated himself from the pack, whether Clarke wants to give himself credit or not.

In the team's first-ever taste of victory (a 14-3 preseason win over the New York Giants at Louisville), he scored both touchdowns -- a 73-yarder from LeBaron and a 60-yarder from Meredith.

"Turn on the burners, Frank," either one would say in the huddle. "Get past somebody ... and I’ll get the ball to you."

In 1962, Clarke racked up 14 TD catches (in a 14-game season). This stood as a team record for 45 years until Terrell Owens (15 TDs in 16 games) broke it last season.

'I'm Don Meredith, SMU'

Just as Clarke would embark on a blind-faith trip across the country in 1977, he had no idea what to expect in Dallas in the summer of ’60.

He bore a strong resemblance to both Harry Belafonte and Johnny Mathis, a pair of entertainers of the day. Passers-by told him that.

The Browns had kept him around for three seasons (1957-59), even though he stood on the sideline for the equivalent of two.

"I’d show up in [Cleveland] training camp and run as fast as Jim Brown, Bobby Mitchell or Ray Renfro, then I'd never play," Clarke recalled. "It was really strange."

Dallas provided something new -- opportunity.

"I thought, 'Oh my God, these guys actually want me.' Yeah, I was excited," Clarke recalled.

Cowboys first QB LeBaron and Clarke immediately clicked. They would stay after practice to work on pass routes.

"We did that a lot," LeBaron said. "Frank had a reputation with Cleveland of dropping balls occasionally ... but he never dropped balls with us. He was a neat guy ... a great receiver."

Clarke first met Meredith outside the team dormitory in the Cowboys’ first training camp.

Clarke stepped out of an airport cab and immediately encountered this Adonis-like figure standing before him.

They shook hands.

"Don Meredith, SMU," Meredith said.

"Frank Clarke, Colorado," Clarke replied.

All these years later, they re-enact this exchange whenever they see each other, which isn’t often enough. Then, they laugh.

Roll the highlights

As soon as "The Cosmic Nanny" is identified as a former NFL player, he's often asked for his autograph. He obliges, although with uncertainty.

Clarke clings gently to his football fame.

"I always saw other athletes in a higher light than I saw myself -- and it makes sense to me," Clarke said. "The day I was drafted [fifth round], I was walking across campus when a friend of mine ran up and told me ... well, I thought it was a joke.

"Pro football had never crossed my mind."

Clarke's best NFL game, statistically, occurred in a 35-35 tie against the Redskins in the '62 season-opener. His 241-yard receiving day (on 10 receptions) remains second best in team history.

His most memorable catch came with the '66 Cowboys: A 68-yard touchdown against Green Bay in the NFL championship game at the Cotton Bowl.

The Cowboys had spotted the Packers a 14-0 lead in the first five minutes of that New Year's Day game.

"The audacity. How dare us?" Clarke asks himself four decades later.

The Meredith-to-Clarke connection came in the final 5½ minutes and cut the Packers' lead to 34-27 (the final score). It began with Meredith sandwiched by Willie Davis and Lionel Aldridge as he unloaded the ball from his own end zone.

Hayes ran a perfect route on the other side. Safety Tom Brown stumbled. Clarke blew past cornerback Bob Jeter.

The stars were aligned.

"It was one of those rare moments for a receiver when the ball comes at you like it wants you to catch it," Clarke recalled. "I can still remember Dandy Don calling, 'Red. Right. Motion. X-Post' in the huddle. I knew right then it was going to be a touchdown.

"I’d never had that experience before in my life."

He gathered in the ball at the Green Bay 29. Jeter attempted a diving tackle that merely clipped Clarke’s heels inside the 5 ... touchdown.

Epilogue

Clarke was raised in the Catholic Church by loving parents who taught him right from wrong.

In the '50s, he enjoyed college life. In the '60s, he enjoyed the Landry mystique and being a part of his NFL vision in Dallas.

But in the late '70s, Clarke suddenly was missing a purpose in life, and just couldn't ignore it.

"The alternative consciousness growth program was a completely new start for me," he said. "I began doing something with my precious mind and my loving heart rather than just using my body."

The ex-jock met a friend of a friend while in Kentucky. Long story short, he now works for that woman's daughter, Jennifer Weaver.

Small world? Perhaps. But Clarke can't help but think that life is more than just a series of random coincidences.

"It has been a marvelous crescendo," he said.

As for being "The Cosmic Nanny," he's quite accepting of that label.

"For me, the whole cosmos is a rhythm," Clarke said. "There's timing. There's movement. There's this spirit going on that you fit into. And if you try not to fit into it, you’re going to have a hard time."

His own mortality came into sharper focus recently with the death of an older brother.

Yet, Clarke can't afford to be maudlin. He has kids to watch, children to nurture.

"I play it out in my mind and laugh about it," Clarke said. "Someday, it's going to happen to me. People are going to say, 'Hey, did you guys hear Frank Clarke died?' And somebody will say, 'He did?'

"Somebody will then say, 'Yeah, man, he was clutching a picture of some kids he was taking care of. And he had a big smile on his face.'"

Busy-yet-blissful, that’s Frank Clarke.

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