(EDITOR’S NOTE: To access the Bruce Matthews interview, go to 25:00 of the attached audio and connect)
There are four linebackers among the 25 semifinalists for the Pro Football Hall-of-Fame’s Class of 2019, and none has been a finalist before.
Not Sam Mills. Not Zach Thomas. Not Karl Mecklenburg. And not Clay Matthews.
But there’s one Hall of Famer who hopes that streak will be broken … and believes the time is right to make it happen now. That would be former offensive lineman Bruce Matthews, whose brother Clay is a semifinalist for only the third time in his 18 years of modern-era eligibility for Canton.
“I think for sure he definitely deserves to be in the Hall of Fame,” he said on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast.
Voters apparently agree. They made Matthews a semifinalist for the second time in three years. Now, the key is to get enough voters to agree to push Clay Matthews through to the next cut to 15. Results will be announced in early January, with the finalists discussed and decided on Feb.2, 2019, the day before Super Bowl LIII.
To help with that decision, we asked Bruce Matthews to make the Hall-of-Fame case for his brother, and he was only too happy to oblige.
“He produced for 19 years,” he said, “and he didn’t just produce one-dimensionally as a linebacker. He still ended up with eighty-something sacks … I think he had (83-1/2 unofficially, including the four years before they became an official stat). But that only tells the story of a small part of his career.”
He’s right about that. He played for 19 seasons and appeared in more games (278) than any linebacker in NFL history -- including at least 14 games in 17 years, missing only in the strike seasons of 1982 and 1987.
He spent his first 16 seasons with Cleveland and left as the club’s career leader in sacks. Then it was on to Atlanta, where he became the oldest NFL player ever to produce a sack, making one in his last season at the age of 40 years, 282 days.
Along the way he was a four-time Pro Bowler who had 16 interceptions, forced 27 fumbles, recovered 14, blocked four field goals and produced nine 100-tackle seasons – with the last at the age of 38.
In short, he could do virtually anything.
“I think his first five years he rarely got to rush the passer,” said Bruce. “And then they finally cut him loose, and he had 12-and-a-half, 13 sacks. Then, after that, he at least got more opportunities to get after the passer.
“My brother was great in coverage. He played the run very physically. And he truly was an all-around player. I think, in a lot of ways, the sack numbers kind of suffered as a result. Had he rushed the passer exclusively I think, no question, he would be in already.
“You look at his stats, at his interceptions, fumbles forced, tackles ... I mean, everything is up there. And he not only did it for a long time but he did it for 19 years. He played the most games by a linebacker.
“I know I’m biased, but I know there are a lot of guys who believe what I believe about my brother – that he should be in the Hall of Fame … I think, in a lot of ways, his versatility has kind of hurt him. Hopefully, (voters) are starting to see the light.”