Charleston's first family of football
As usual, Clay Matthews Sr. was busy when the cell phone rang. Active as ever at 82, he was working out at a suburban Houston health club.
"Impressing the women? No," the Charleston native said with a chuckle. "I'm just trying to stay alive, that's what I'm doing. I go to the gym every day."
Extreme endurance is required these days for any Matthews to keep up with a family that has set a modern-day NFL participation record: Five players spread over three generations, starting with Clay Matthews Sr., who learned work ethic lessons from his father, legendary Citadel boxing coach Matty Matthews.
On Sunday, relentless, long-haired linebacker Clay Matthews III and his fellow Green Bay Packers will try to get past the Chicago Bears and into the Super Bowl.
Last week, University of Oregon senior linebacker Casey Matthews forced a late Cam Newton fumble in the BCS Championship Game before Auburn edged the Ducks for the national title.
"(Clay Sr.) is having fun with this, but there is so much going on with so many Matthews playing football, it can get a little overwhelming at times," said Carolyn Matthews, Clay Sr.'s wife of 29 years. "But it's all very exciting."
Try keeping up with a football family tree planted in Charleston, and try feeding these guys.
Clay Matthews Sr., a graduate of Charleston High School and Georgia Tech, was a 6-3, 219-pound defensive lineman for the San Francisco 49ers from 1950-55.
While he pursued a career as a business executive and company president, two of his sons were on their way to football stardom at the University of Southern California and in the NFL.
Clay Jr., 54, played linebacker for the Cleveland Browns and Atlanta Falcons during a 19-year NFL career (1978 through '96). He was picked for four Pro Bowls. Clay Jr. and his wife, Leslie, live near Los Angeles and have five grown children.
Bruce, 50, was a Hall of Fame offensive lineman for the Houston Oilers and Tennessee Titans from 1983-2001. An assistant coach for the Houston Texans, he interviewed this week with the Dallas Cowboys and might jump to the staff of head coach Jason Garrett.
Bruce and his wife, Carrie, live just down the street from Clay Sr. and Carolyn in Sugar Land, Texas, and have seven children.
Clay Jr. has two prominent football-playing sons, Clay III and Casey. An older son, Kyle, lettered as a safety at Southern Cal.
One of Bruce's sons, Kevin, made the Tennessee Titans roster as a free agent and finished the season as the starting center. Another son, Jake, started during the 2010 season for Texas A&M as a 6-7, 295-pound freshman right tackle.
"We'd like to have the family over (for dinner)," Clay Sr. said. "But my wife says we couldn't afford it."
The family sense of humor touches all generations -- except on the football field.
In only his second season in the NFL, Clay Matthews III was named 2010 Defensive Player of the Year by The Sporting News, made the Pro Bowl and finished fourth in the league in sacks with 13 1/2.
The colorful Packer is easy to find on your TV screen, a whirlwind of power and spin moves preceding fist-pumping celebration.
"I would like to say I created him in my image, but I didn't," Clay Sr. said. "I was never an animal like he is. I never played like he does. I never kept my motor running so constantly. And neither did his dad. But whoever created that child really created a machine."
Casey Matthews is a probable 2011 NFL draft pick.
"Casey is a nice guy," Clay Sr. said. "At least I thought so, until I saw him knock that ball out of (Newton's) hand. I said, 'Wow. He knows how to do stuff I never knew how to do when I played.' I am just so proud of him."
'Matty' started it
It looks easy being a Matthews, but it really isn't.
There is the legacy to live up to. Clay III entered Southern Cal as a walk-on and left as a star. Clay Sr. recently asked his grandson about the tenacity known throughout pro football.
"I am a creation of my grandpa," the kid said.
"You weren't even alive to see me play," Clay Sr. shot back.
"My father told me," Clay III countered.
And Clay Sr.'s father started it all.
Howard Lynn "Matty" Matthews was a minor league baseball player and Citadel boxing coach born in Jeffersonville, Ohio, a small farm town between Cincinnati and Columbus. Matty and Elsa Matthews raised athletic children. Their daughter, Jean Matthews Freeman, is among more than a dozen family members still living in the Lowcountry.
"To him the most important thing for us was school," Freeman said of Matty Matthews. "He would say, 'You have to get your lessons done first and get good grades.' He said that a million times."
Matty produced boxing champions at The Citadel from 1929 into the 1950s.
"He put boxing gloves on me and my brothers when all of us were 3 years old," Clay Sr. recalled. "I don't know where all this athletic stuff got started, but all I know is my father said, 'Son, if you go out and do something, you don't quit.' "
That charge, with slight alterations, is passed down from Matthews to Matthews. Clay Sr. listened. Along with football and business prowess, he was an outstanding wrestler, swimmer and diver. He served as a paratrooper in the Korean War, taking two years off his NFL career.
"My brother Clay was a very good student, very likeable and a hard worker," Freeman said. "But he was also very aggressive. When he set out to do something, he set out to do it well."
There are more Matthews boys on the way. Bruce's son Mikey is a good high school football player and his youngest son is 11-year-old Luke, already 5-5 and 180 pounds.
"Luke is going to be the biggest and probably the meanest Matthews of all," Clay Matthews Sr. said with pride. "One of these days, I hope he leaves me a lot of money."