Before there was Clay Matthews III, his long, blond hair and his flex-filled sack celebrations, there was his father, Clay Matthews Jr.
They’ll both be in Cleveland on Sunday night, and they’ll both have the spotlight trained on them at FirstEnergy Stadium.
The elder Matthews is set to be inducted into the Browns’ Ring of Honor during halftime of Sunday night’s Browns-Rams game, a contest in which his son, Clay, will be playing. Consider it fortunate scheduling — unless you’re the one deciding whom Matthews will cheer for.
“Well, I thought about that and realized (laughter) there is some pull each way and I think I found a solution,” Matthews said during a conference call with Browns media Friday. “We will get after it on Sunday night and then how about we meet again in Miami next, what is it January, early February and work it out then. We will go best out of two.”
Fair enough, but only one of those contests is guaranteed, and it comes in front of a national television audience this weekend. It’s also one of the rare opportunities for Matthews to be able to get back to Cleveland and receive the collective support of a fan base that came to adore him during his 16 seasons spent as a Brown.
Matthews will be honored during halftime of Cleveland’s Week 3, Sunday Night Football matchup vs. Rams
It’s not that he hasn’t wanted to return to a place he called home for nearly two decades. It’s that he’s been busy following the football pursuits of his offspring. Matthews’ sons Clay and Casey both reached the NFL via Pac-12 schools (Clay via USC, and Casey via Oregon), his oldest son Kyle played at USC from 2000-2003, and his brother, Bruce, played for the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans through the 2001 season. Bruce’s sons Kevin and Jake also made the NFL, with Jake serving as Atlanta’s left tackle since 2014, while another of Bruce’s sons, Mike, has spent time on offseason NFL rosters. His youngest son, Luke, is a sophomore guard at Texas A&M.
Simply, there’s been a lot of football not played in Cleveland for Matthews to monitor.
Unsurprisingly, the two times he has been back to Cleveland for a Browns game prior to this weekend have been to watch either his brother or his son play against the Browns. He’ll do it a third time Sunday.
“In person, to go down to the lakefront again, that is a magical experience and I have not been able to do that as much as I would like, but I have had other things to watch,” Matthews explained.
Fortunately for Matthews, he has a new source of Browns information: his son Brian, who moved with his wife to Cleveland for his career. And no matter who is involved, Matthews says the Browns are still ingrained in the family bloodlines.
“Here is the one thing that we have identified in our family; we have these players now everywhere,” Matthews said. “Even the Texas Matthews, invariably, the Browns always come up. We have so many different programs and I think that is a testimony to the magic of the Browns.”
They’ll have an excellent new reason to talk about the Browns after this weekend, in which Matthews becomes the first non-Pro Football Hall of Famer to enter the Browns’ Ring of Honor. His induction isn’t without reason: Matthews was the defensive lynchpin of successful Browns teams at both the start of the 1980s and later in the decades, when they came painfully close to the Super Bowl on more than one occasion. While Browns fans don’t have a Lombardi to admire while reflecting on the fun times of the past, they do have their heroes from that era. Matthews is at the front of that pack, alongside Bernie Kosar, Ozzie Newsome and others.
Still, he didn’t have a clue that he’d see his name on the interior facade of FirstEnergy Stadium.
“I was completely surprised,” Matthews said of when he received the news. “There are some powerful figures in that Ring of Honor – figures that we as Browns of the 70s, 80s and 90s tried to match. We got close, but we never got the Super Bowl, which they had World Championships. Those were always incredible figures that we could not quite match up to but we were aware of them and their names and what they had done. When you look at that and the company, I am again just so humbled.”
Matthews emphasized that while he indeed had an excellent career — one his daughter, Jennifer, has been pushing for consideration for the Hall of Fame — he couldn’t have done it without his teammates. It’s something he’s come to realize more as the time has passed since his retirement from football, and his relationships with those teammates stand out more in his memory than the wins and losses.
He’ll be able to revisit those memories and relationships alongside nearly 20 family members. And one will be on the opposite sideline, likely as happy as anyone for his old man.