For some, the NFL is a family business. While most households would be lucky to have one distant relative reach the pinnacle of pro football, these families have entire rosters of talent under the family tree. One of the best examples of this involves the Matthews family. Since the 1950s, several generations of Matthews have infiltrated the NFL, making them one of the most successful football families in history.
We’ll start with Clay Matthews Sr.
The late patriarch of the Matthews family, Clay Matthews Sr., made his name in pro football in the ’50s. He began as a right tackle for the San Francisco 49ers in 1950. His career took a three-year hiatus, however, after the U.S. found itself in another war. After serving in Korea for three years, Clay Sr. returned to the NFL for three more seasons.
Clay Sr. might not have been the most memorable player in the league. After all, he was a roleplaying defenseman. However, with every passing generation of Matthews, the NFL gets richer with his bloodline. Clay Sr. passed away in 2017, but his legacy lives on through several members of his family.
Clay Matthews Jr. and Bruce Matthews
Following in his footsteps, Clay Sr.’s sons, Bruce and Clay Jr., also lived out their NFL dreams. Clay Jr. was the 12th overall pick in the NFL draft by the Cleveland Browns. For the next 19 years, he became one of the most reliable linebackers in the NFL. In Cleveland, Clay Jr. spent 16 of those seasons before ending his career with three years in Atlanta.
Like his older brother, Bruce followed in his father’s footsteps with a long career of his own. Selected by the Houston Oilers in 1983, Bruce spent his entire 19-year career with the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans franchise. Not only did Bruce enjoy a long career, but he was also a seven-time All-Pro defender at multiple positions, including three straight selections in his last four years.
Not content with ending it there, both Clay Jr. and Bruce had sons who made it in the NFL.
The third generation of Matthews on NFL defensive lines
Bruce had three sons enter the NFL. The eldest, Kevin, played sporadically for three years between 2010 and 2014, including two years with the same Titans team his father joined.
Bruce’s middle son, Mike, has been in and out of the league’s practice squads as a lineman. Unfortunately, he hasn’t made it into an NFL game. The youngest son, Jake, has had a successful six-year career in the NFL playing tackle for the Atlanta Falcons, started every game he played in. In 2018, he became a Pro Bowler.
Clay Jr.’s sons experienced similar success in pro football. The oldest, Clay III, served as the face of the Green Bay Packers’ defense for 10 years before his 2019 season as an LA Ram. He was a six-time Pro Bowler and one-time All-Pro linebacker in his prime. Clay III is a free agent after the Rams cut him. Clay Jr.’s youngest son, Casey, spent four years as a Philadelphia Eagle from 2011-14.
It’s safe to say that football runs through the blood of the Matthews’ family in a way few can boast. It makes sense, then, that the family is so close.
Playing together, staying together
In an interview about the family with The New York Times, Clay Jr. jokingly theorized that with so many generations of the family in the NFL, it might be an indictment on them. “I guess once we get going on something, we’re hard-headed enough to keep doing it,” Clay Matthews Jr. said. “Maybe there’s something wrong with us.”
Clay Jr. also made it clear that the love of football was not forced on him. All his dad asked was that his sons play their hardest if they wanted to follow in his footsteps and play the game. “My dad was very clear,” Clay Jr. explained, ” ‘You guys can do whatever you want, and I’ll be proud of you. But whatever you’re going to do, apply yourself, be responsible, show up and do it like you mean it.’ “
That advice must have worked. With eight family members and counting following in his footsteps, don’t be surprised if another generation of Matthews storms the field in the next decade or two. Bruce had the most successful career of the bunch and has to be the best. But the things each Matthews brought to the NFL in their own right can’t be ignored.