Pantheon Of Titans: Bruce Matthews

USA TODAY Sports

A Two-Toned Blue Omnibus

Preface

Our Titans Anthology continues with a man who needs no introduction, a Hall Of Famer with a resume that leaves most all in it's shadow, a pillar of the Oilers and Tennessee Titans organization that defies the confines of NFL career convention. He stands among the greatest to ever play the game of football; displaying the qualities of a true Tennessee Titan; strength, leadership, and unmatched longevity. This is his story.

Bruce Matthews

By Jordan Churchill

I.

Early Days

II.

The NFL's Iron Man

III.

Bloodlines

IV.

A Football Love Affair

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I.

Early Days

"The biggest thing was, you never quit anything...Once you commit to doing something, you finish it"

- Bruce Matthews

Bruce Matthews was born on August 8th, 1961, the son of Clay Matthews Sr, who was in the NFL as a player in the 1950's. From the shores of Chicago, then to Los Angeles, Matthews was an immediate standout on the offensive and defensive line, along with highschool wrestling. It was in these early days that Bruce's father instilled a mantra in his son that he recalls to this day, "Once you commit to doing something, you finish it." The young Bruce Matthews did just that, singling out success in football as his primary goal alongside his studies.

This desire as well as his impressive performance throughout high school earned his a position on the offense line of the USC Trojans. Almost as a precursor of things to come, Bruce played all positions on the offensive line while in college, at one time or another.

Matthews earned All-America Honors his senior season at USC, and took home the Morris Trophy to boot, an award given annually to the best offensive or defensive lineman in the Pac-12.

The USC star offensive lineman shunned attention he received, a habit he took with him throughout his future, but it was slowly becoming impossible to ignore him, especially among NFL scouting circles. His titanic figure and relentless playing style was going to get him drafted, and high at that.

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II.

The NFL's Iron Man


The Houston Oilers drafted Bruce Matthews with the 9th overall pick in the 1983 NFL Draft. The Chicago native now joined the boisterous ranks of the Texas outfit, littered with characters and southern flavor. In the beginning, he was reluctant, but before long, Matthews himself was one of them.

"We played together on the offensive line for the Houston Oilers for more than a decade...His work ethic, his competitiveness, his passion for the game, were contagious. I know that he motivated me to become a better player. Many of his former teammates...would say the same. He raised the standard for all of us."

"Competitiveness is the word that best described Bruce. His desire to be the best is unmatched. He wants to win at anything he does..."

- Mike Munchak

Matthews was an immediate impact player for the Oilers, earning a starting spot by his second career game at Guard, and helping to open holes for the Tyler Rose himself, Earl Campbell, and protecting the likes of Warren Moon. After building a bevy of talent on the offensive line, with Matthews at its core, the Oilers slowly build into a powerhouse. After starting his career with a pair of 2-14 seasons, Matthews helped the Oilers reach the playoffs seven consecutive times.

"Bruce was kind of a laid back, quiet guy, but he was very very competitive. In the run and shoot offense, Bruce got the job done. Just a great athlete for a guy that huge."

- Oilers QB, Warren Moon

Even in the gritty trenches of the NFL, Bruce Matthews' imposing figure stood out. His strength and power overwhelmed defenders, and his constant effort proved devastatingly effective as games wore on. In the heyday of physical NFL running backs, Matthews was a perfect fit, a key to opening lanes and battering forward for the precious yards. But it was more than simply his brute strength and impressive stature that set him apart.
"The thing that always impressed me, for a guy his size, was his feet...Very, very nimble feet. Never got knocked out of technique, always balanced, always square."

- Warren Moon
"Bruce Matthews wasn't only agile, he was dependable."

- Steve Sabol

When the team relocated to Tennessee in 1997, Matthews remained an integral part of the new franchise, anchoring the line for Steve McNair and paving pathways for Eddie George. Along with teammates like Mike Munchak, Matthews helped form the best offensive line in the league, a group that could plow away at the best defenses and grind out a victory on the ground or through the air. In Tennessee, Matthews added two more playoff years to his resume, most notably in the Titans close loss to the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXIV.

"When the team moved in 1997, it was a big shock to me, but it really turned out to be a blessing. I want to thank the fans of Tennessee for the five great years that I spent in Nashville."

- Bruce Matthews

Matthews cemented his place on the Titans team, becoming more of an institution than merely a player. He was a guy the rest of the team knew they could depend on, and his consistent drive and effort provide the perfect microcosm of the glory days of the blue-collar American worker.

"He'll always have Titans blood in his veins..."

- Carrie Matthews, Bruce's wife.

Many were left marveling at Bruce's incredible longevity and durability. The Pro never missed a game through injury, and his 19 seasons are the most ever by an offensive lineman.

"You wonder how a guy can play 19 years...After being around him, it's not surprising...He loves this. You can tell. You can tell if he could, he'd be in pads right now and go play. He just loves the game, and it really shows."

- Eric Winston

Bruce ended up playing every position on the Oilers/Titans offensive line, with 99 starts at Left Guard, 67 at Right Guard, 87 at Center, 22 at Right Tackle, 17 at Left Tackle. Beyond this, his 296 games played ranked, at the time of his retirement, the most of all time by any player who wasn't a kicker or punter, the only one to surpass it since being Packers legend, Brett Favre.

Matthews decided to hang up his cleats in 2001, after an astonishing 19 years of stellar play. His playing career spanned such a massive period in the sport, that his former college teammate, Jeff Fisher, ended up becoming his head coach for several seasons. Matthews racked up an unheard of 14 pro-bowls, including 9 All-Pro selections, and was awarded offensive lineman of the year on three separate occasions. Such was his dominance, that his inclusion into the 1990's All-Decade team was a given.

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III.

Bloodlines

"As long as this guy continued to play at this level and be a solid figure, not just someone filling out a jersey, but someone actually out there doing it as long as he's doing it, it's a great thing."

- Tennessee Titans Tackle, Brad Hopkins, 1999

In 2007, the first year of Bruce's eligibility, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall Of Fame, the only individual whose ever worn a Titans jersey to have been so.

In the backdrop of his playing career, a massively successful NFL family stands tall. Bruce's brother Clay Matthews, Jr, also played an incredible 19 seasons in the NFL, as a linebacker for both the Cleveland Browns and Green Bay Packers. Clay's son's, Clay Matthews III (Green Bay Packers), Casey Matthews (Oregon), and Kyle Matthews (USC) also have to be accounted for.

"I guess once we get going on something, we're hard-headed enough to keep doing it...Maybe there's something wrong with us."

- Clay Matthews Jr, Bruce's brother.

Bruce's sons also have ties to the league. Kevin Matthews is currently a backup guard for the Washington Redskins after several years in Tennessee, and Jake Matthews is a top offensive tackle prospect in this coming NFL Draft.

Bruce's father, the afore-mentioned Clay Matthews Sr has little explanation of his family's ongoing proclivity for NFL stardom.

"Are you asking me if it's something I did?...No, it's nothing I did. I'm just thankful to have them."

- Clay Matthews Sr, Bruce's father.

All said and done, the Matthews clan are the most successful family in NFL history in terms of how many generations and players they have generated. Most pro football players don't need to have a conversation of who's the best athlete in the family at their dinner table. That said, I would place Bruce on the top of the pinnacle. Not just of his own family, but among the greatest offensive linemen, and greatest players to ever play the game of football.

In the end, Bruce's father said it best, and his words carried the efforts that succeeded him for generations.

"'Once you start something, you don't quit it.' He goes; 'If you ever go out there and half-step or give less than you're best effort, I'll come and yank you out.'"

- Bruce Matthews, on his father, Clay Matthews Sr.

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IV.

A Football Love Affair

Bruce Matthews, if nothing else, is a lover of the game of football. His incredible loyalty to the sport, and to the Oilers/Titans in particular attest to that. Alongside his iron-men resume (that seems more and more ridiculous the more you look at it), and his unwavering football spirit, Bruce Matthews stands as a Tennessee institution, a pillar of the both the community and the team he helped bring along to the state.

His continued coaching exploits to this day are no surprise when you consider what kind of player, and what kind of man Bruce Matthews is. Matthews coached for both the Houston Texans and the Titans (2011-2013), bringing to both teams and their players, the attitude and work ethic that made him such an effective player in his day.

To some, and certainly to this writer, Bruce Matthews stands at the pinnacle of professional football, and deserves every bit of his Canton HOF Enshrinement. There is a special quality about him, a notable pride that goes hand in hand with his name when watching those vintage baby blue Oiler uniforms, watching him carve a path through the noise for Eddie George or Earl Campbell...greatness. That is what it stands as today; a player of such quality that his efforts and accomplishments transcend time.

"He played during three different decades. He played over 300 games, including playoffs. He didn't miss one game because of injury. You knew somehow he was going to be able to line up om Sunday, and he always did. I think he's the kind of guy that could have played in any era. For 19 years, he was as good as anyone that's ever played the game. His accomplishments speak for themselves. I don't know if there's ever been another player like Bruce Matthews in the NFL, and I don't know if there will ever be another one again."

- Mike Munchak

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Credit:

ProFootballHOF.com

Chron.com/Sports

TitansOnline.com

NYtimes.com

Articles.LATimes.com

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