It’s hard to believe that Clay Matthews Jr. is still in the modern era classification for when voters look at great players to put in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Just think about it. Matthews was a rookie in 1978 with the Cleveland Browns. That was 41 years ago. But when a player, especially a linebacker like Matthews, who played 19 years in the NFL and had such a amazing run of consistency and productivity, it’s truly astonishing.
Matthews played 278 games in the NFL throughout his career. No. 57 played with the Browns for 16 years and then finished the last three years of his career with the Atlanta Falcons.
Those 278 games are 22nd all time in the annals of the NFL. 12 of the players above him in terms of games played were either kickers or punters. George Blanda, who is fifth all time with 340 games played, played quarterback and also kicked.
Blanda is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. As are position players like wide receiver Jerry Rice (303 games played), quarterback Brett Favre (302 games played), offensive lineman Bruce Matthews (296 games played), cornerback Darrell Green (295 games played) and defensive end Bruce Smith (279 games played).
You will note that Clay’s brother Bruce’s name above. Yes, Bruce has a bust in Canton and so should his brother Clay.
Clay went to four Pro Bowls and was named to be on the Pro Football Reference All-Decade Team of the 1980s.
Just look at the stats Matthews put up over 19 seasons. No. 57 had 1,561 tackles, 83.5 sacks, 16 interceptions, 27 forced fumbles, 14 fumble recoveries and 140.5 impact plays.
Let’s compare those stats to other linebackers who are currently in the Hall of Fame.
To me, there is no question that Clay Jr. belongs among the best of the best in Canton. I felt the same way when I was part of the crusade to get Jerry Kramer his rightful place among the greats at the Hall of Fame for several years.
In 2020, because of it’s centennial year of the NFL, there will be 20 new members to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. There will be five modern era players, 10 seniors, three contributors and two coaches.
Besides Matthews, I’m also promoting LeRoy Butler to be named among the five modern era players going into the Hall of Fame.
As people also know, I’m also promoting a number of senior nominees in 2020 as well, which includes Boyd Dowler, who was NFL All-Decade in the 1960s, plus was on the NFL 50th Anniversary Team, as well as Lavvie Dilweg, who was NFL All-Decade in the 1920s.
I listed three Green Bay Packers above to be part of the Class of 2020. I also believe Jack Vainisi, who was the primary scout of the Packers in the 1950s, also should go in as a contributor.
Clay Jr. has a Green Bay connection as well. I’m talking about his son Clay III, who played with the Packers for nine great seasons. Clay III is the all-time leader in sacks for the Packers with 83.5 and was also named to six Pro Bowl squads.
Clay III currently plays with the Los Angeles Rams, after leaving the Packers via free agency after the 2018 season. Matthews wanted to continue his career in Green Bay, but was never given that opportunity. He also has eight sacks so far this year for the Rams and that has happened with Matthews missing over a month of the season due to a broken jaw.
No. 52 was a big reason why the Packers won Super Bowl XLV over the Pittsburgh Steelers, when he helped to force a fumble by Rashard Medenhall with the Steelers driving into Green Bay territory at the start of the fourth quarter.
Pittsburgh was driving for the go-ahead score when Matthews forced that huge fumble. Eight plays later, Aaron Rodgers threw a touchdown pass to Greg Jennings, as the Packers went up by 11 and never looked back.
The Matthews family has set a large net over the NFL over the years, starting with Clay Matthews Sr., who played with the San Francisco 49ers for four years. Clay Sr. started his career with the Niners in 1950, then served two years as a paratrooper during the Korean War for the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, and then came back and played with the 49ers from 1953 through 1955.
After that, his son’s Bruce and Clay Jr. both had terrific careers in the NFL.
Bruce was inducted into the Hall of Fame after a great career with the Houston Oilers for 14 years and then with the Tennessee Titans for five years after the team moved to Nashville.
Clay Jr. certainly deserves the same honor after 19 years with the Browns and Falcons.
Plus there are Clay Sr.’s grandsons. We talked about Clay III, who may end up in Canton himself, plus there is his brother Casey, who played with the Philadelphia Eagles and Minnesota Vikings. Then there are Bruce’s sons, who are Kevin, who played with the Tennessee Titans, Washington Redskins and Carolina Panthers and Jake, who still plays with the Atlanta Falcons.
When I was helping to promote Jerry Kramer to get his rightful place in Canton, I forged a great friendship with Jerry’s daughter Alicia, who worked very hard to get her dad the honor he richly received.
I wrote about that endeavor in the 2018 Green Bay Packers Yearbook.
In an apropos manner, I have also become friends with Jennifer Matthews, who like Alicia did, is working hard behind the scenes to help get her father the distinction he truly warrants for what he did in his NFL career.
Clay Jr. is also getting endorsements from players now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, just like Kramer did.
When you put up the excellent production that No. 57 put out on the field, people are bound to notice.
Especially the great players who he competed against and who eventually ended up in Canton. Take a look at two of those endorsements.
Plus there were his teammates who knew how great Clay Jr. was. The same held true for Kramer, when teammates and Hall of Famers like Paul Hornung, Willie Davis and Bart Starr heartily endorsed No. 64.
The same thing holds true with a Hall of Fame teammate of Matthews with the Browns.
The bottom line is that Clay Matthews Jr. deserves to be inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2020.
In two years, Matthews will fall into the seniors category for the Hall of Fame, which has become an abyss for so many worthy players who deserve a bust in Canton.
That is why Rick Gosselin of the Seniors Committee proposed getting 10 worthy seniors in as part of the Class of 2020, which was approved by David Baker, who is the President/Executive Director of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
That will definitely help, but there will still be a number of worthy seniors who will still be waiting for a place among the best players in pro football history. Players who have fallen through the cracks throughout the years and decades.
That’s why it’s important to induct a great player like Clay Matthews Jr. while he is still a modern era nominee.
That, and because of his steady and prolific play in the NFL for close to two decades, which definitely deserves a place among the best of the best in Canton.