State Your Case: Clay Matthews

Started and played more games than any LB in NFL history

(Published March 2015)

His brother Bruce is in the Hall of Fame. His son Clay III is in the Pro Bowl.

So it’s easy for Clay Matthews II to get lost in the shuffle of football’s most famous family. And he has been. But he shouldn’t be.

The Matthews family has produced seven NFLers who have played a combined 808 games, including four first-round draft picks.

Clay II was the 12th pick of the 1978 NFL draft by the Cleveland Browns, Bruce the ninth overall pick of the 1983 draft by the Houston Oilers, Clay III the 26th overall pick of the 2009 draft by the Green Bay Packers and Bruce’s son, Jake, the sixth overall pick of the 2014 draft by the Atlanta Falcons.

Bruce started at all five offensive line positions during a 19-year career. He was voted to 14 consecutive Pro Bowls (3 at right guard, 4 at center and 7 at left guard) and was elected to the 1990s’ NFL all-decade team. Clay III has the only Super Bowl ring in the family, winning in 2010 when he led the Packers with 13 ½ sacks. He has been voted to five Pro Bowls in his six seasons.

Clay II lacks a bust in Canton and a championship ring. He never made any all-decade teams, and Clay III already has been to more Pro Bowls than his dad.

Clay II may not be the best player in his family – but he deserves stronger consideration as one of the best linebackers in NFL history. But that consideration hasn’t come his way. He has been eligible for the Hall of Fame for 14 years now but has never been a finalist and has reached the semifinals just once.

Clay II played more games than any linebacker in NFL history – 278. He started more games than any linebacker in NFL history – 248. Only five position players logged more seasons than the 19 of Matthews. And he played those games and those seasons at a high level. Four times, in fact, he played them at a Pro Bowl level.

Matthews spent his first 16 seasons with the Browns and left Cleveland as the franchise’s all-time leading sacker with 76 ½. He played his final three seasons in Atlanta, starting at strongside backer in 1995 at the age of 39. The Falcons used him as a pass-rush specialist in his 19th and final season in 1996, and he produced 6 ½ sacks. In the process, he became the oldest player ever to record a sack in NFL history at 40 years, 282 days.

Along the way, Matthews intercepted 16 passes, forced 27 fumbles and recovered 14. He also blocked four field goals and posted nine 100-tackle seasons, the final one coming in 1994 with the Falcons at the age of 38. He was a four-down linebacker who played the run, rushed the passer and covered both receivers and kicks. At the age of 39, he made three special-teams tackles.

Matthews didn’t go to his first Pro Bowl until he was 29 and then went three more times in his 30s. He played in three AFC championship games but lost all three to John Elway and the Denver Broncos. The absence of a Super Bowl appearance has probably worked against him in his bid for the Hall of Fame.

Does Clay deserve a bust in Canton alongside his brother Bruce? Only the Hall of Fame selection committee can decide that – but Clay does merit a turn in the room as a finalist so that his candidacy can be discussed. No one played the position longer, and few played it as well as Clay Matthews. His case deserves to be heard.


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