Faith, longevity paid off for Matthews
“It doesn’t really remind me of my high school, except for the (earlier) announcement about picking up trash at lunchtime,” Matthews quipped, gazing at hundreds of students assembled in the Eckburg Center gymnasium.
Matthews, an offensive lineman for 19 years with the NFL‘s Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans franchise, came to the school’s midday chapel service to give testament to his faith as a representative of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
His speech followed a video montage detailing some of his many accomplishments, including his 2007 induction in the Hall, his record-tying 14 Pro Bowl selections and his mark of 296 regular-season games, the most by a position player in NFL history.
Matthews, who showed versatility by playing all five offensive line positions and snapping on punts and field goals, also was on the team’s depth chart as a quarterback and punter.
“I was an emergency quarterback for the Oilers,” recalled the 6-foot-5¼ Matthews, who weighed from 270 to 305 pounds during his lengthy career. “What that means is if four or five or 10 guys got hurt, I was going in.”
A football family
The franchise knew what it had in Matthews, a highly competitive, talented yet humble and sturdy anchor to the line who did not miss a game to injury in 19 seasons (1983-2001). The youngest of five children, he was much like his father, Clay Matthews Sr., who suited up for the San Francisco 49ers in the 1950s; and even more like his brother Clay Jr., who set the record for longevity at linebacker by playing 19 seasons for the Cleveland Browns and Atlanta Falcons.
“I think one of my best accomplishments is I played so long that guys were starting to be nice to me,” Bruce Matthews said.
The manner in which Matthews’ NFL days ended were what he called “an eye-opening experience.”
He had played for only one franchise, but considered putting off retirement to play in his hometown for the new Houston Texans expansion franchise in 2002. Instead of being put immediately on the roster, the Texans sent word that they’ll call if they need him.
“It was God’s way of showing me that my worth as a person did not come from who I was, what I had, the things that I did,” he said.
Matthews talked about how an “If I could just …” mind-set had driven him through life. As in, “If I could just graduate high school, everything will be all right.” The same for getting a football scholarship, starting for Southern California, getting drafted by the NFL and making the Pro Bowl. And then another Pro Bowl.
“We all have that burning desire in us for significance,” said Matthews, who “became a Christian” during his rookie season. “It’s been likened to a God-shaped hole in our hearts.”
He hoped his message would ring true not only for former pro athletes, but for the teenagers.
“I enjoyed it a lot,” said SCPS senior Allyson Faircloth, a three-sport athlete. “Usually people come in and talk about being Christian in your life. He actually showed firsthand how (Jesus Christ) can change your life. That was good to hear.”