Atlanta Falcons rookie Jake Matthews walked through the Berea facility doors and out onto the field Tuesday for an NFC rookie symposium event.
Early in the morning, he stopped simulating a blocking drill for youth campers, just for a moment. He peered at the building with the signature orange helmet emblazed next to the name Cleveland Browns.
Jake’s dad, of course, is Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews – one of the most dominant offensive linemen in NFL history. Jake’s cousin is a perennial pro bowler with the Green Bay Packers, Clay III.
But it’s Jakes uncle, Clay Matthews, Jr., who the young offensive lineman was thinking about during the rookie symposium, here in Ohio. Clay, Jr. still holds three separate Browns team records: sacks (76.5), most games played (232) and most consecutive seasons (16).
Let’s not sugarcoat it: Clay, Jr. is arguably the Browns best defensive player of all-time. Pro-FootballReference.com ranks the linebacker as the 93rd best player in NFL history. When the team was making deep runs in the AFC playoffs throughout the 1980s, it was Clay Matthews’ vicious playing style and consistently which set the tone for the gritty Cleveland defense. Although Jake was a little too young to witness his uncle’s outstanding career, he knows what the Browns franchise means to his family.
“I know he was really, really loved around here a lot,” said Jake. “He was a great player here and he did a lot of really good things.”
The astonishing thing about Clay Matthews, Jr.? He never aged on the football field. In the 1993 Cleveland Browns’ media guide, then a 37-year-old starting outside linebacker, Clay, Jr. is quoted as saying, “In my mindset, I think I’m still 22-years-old. I’m constantly surrounded by people who are between 22 and 27.”
The Browns’ legend received even higher praise from his then head coach, Bill Belichick. Clay, Jr. was one of Belichick’s favorite chess pieces of all-time. It was not uncommon to see Clay, Jr. line up at safety in goal line package or a pass rushing defensive end on third downs.
“He’s as consistent and dependable as any player I’ve ever seen,” said Belichick about Clay, Jr. in 1993. “I mean, it’s phenomenal what he’s been able to do at his position.”
Longevity, for sure, is how the previous generations of Matthews football players will be defined. Bruce was a Pro Bowler in 2001, as 40-year-old. Clay Matthews, Jr. played in 278 games, the most ever for a linebacker.
Jake Matthews is hopeful those genes will appear during his NFL career.
“I come from a pretty blessed family,” said Jake. “I’m happy to be in the situation I’m in.”