GREEN BAY – Clay Matthews has never officially stumped for his dad’s Pro Football Hall of Fame candidacy, but he does think if he can make it to the next stage of the process, the voters will have an interesting discussion about his dad’s career.
Clay Jr., a four-time Pro Bowl linebacker who played 16 of his 19 seasons with the Cleveland Browns from 1978-93 before finishing with three years in Atlanta, will find out any day now if he advances from one of 25 semifinalists to one of 15 finalists for the Hall’s Class of 2019.
Those finalists will then have presentations given by a representative on the Hall of Fame selection committee on Super Bowl weekend, with votes subsequently cast by the entire panel. A maximum of five modern-era nominees can be selected for enshrinement from the 15 finalists.
This is the third time the elder Matthews has been named a semifinalist for Canton, but his candidacy has not yet advanced to the finalist stage.
“Hopefully that’s what happens with this next paring down,” the Packers’ veteran outside linebacker said last week as Green Bay prepared to wrap up the 2018 season. “Then you have a conversation within the room and you’re not just a name on the ballot.
“You start talking about what they were able to accomplish, what they were able to do, and seeing how remarkable it was for a guy playing his position for 19 years to play at such a high level.”
Green Bay’s Matthews noted his sister Jennifer has been campaigning to a greater extent this year, using social media and other outlets to bring attention to her dad’s accomplishments. She has sought some tips from Jerry Kramer’s daughter, Alicia, who played an instrumental role in getting her father enshrined this past year after an excruciatingly long wait.
The Matthews family hopes Clay Jr. doesn’t have to wait that long. Clay III has said his dad is at peace with his career no matter what happens, but the numbers do tell an interesting story.
Over 19 seasons, he’s credited with 69½ sacks, though that total does not include the first four years of his career before sacks became an official NFL statistic. Some have pegged his actual total in the low to mid-80s, to go along with 16 interceptions and just shy of 1,600 career tackles.
Advocates for Matthews say his number of high-impact plays (sacks, INTs, forced and recovered fumbles and the like) compares favorably with other Hall of Fame linebackers such as Junior Seau and Ray Lewis. Matthews’ longevity of 19 seasons also matches that of his brother, Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews.
“When you start comparing the statistics of his career with some of the other greats around the league, some guys who are in the Hall of Fame and guys who have a little bit more notoriety simply because of the team they played for and the amount of Super Bowls they won, I think he definitely belongs in that conversation,” the younger Matthews said.
“I was too young to really appreciate his career, but to see him matched up against some of the best … my dad sometimes, he’ll look at those stats, and (say), ‘Shoot, I didn’t know I did that or compared with this guy.’ But it’s pretty cool. Hopefully he makes the cut. It would be pretty special.”
Green Bay’s Matthews now has 10 seasons in, though for the first time he’s entering an offseason with some uncertainty about his future, as his Packers contract is expiring.
He said he went into last Sunday’s finale vs. Detroit not over-emotional in any way, but aware it could be his last time walking out of the Packers’ tunnel at Lambeau Field. Matthews, a six-time Pro Bowler, is the franchise’s all-time sack leader, both in the regular season and postseason.
“Just from my tenure here, I think everybody wants to be with one team the entirety of their career, so if that’s what’s in the cards, fantastic,” he said. “If not, we’ll deal with that once it presents itself.”
Matthews has heard all the speculation, about whether or not he’ll be back and whether he should move to inside linebacker to finish his career. This past week he wasn’t getting too caught up in any of it, but was certainly aware that being a free agent would be new for him, and he’s really not sure what’s next.
“I’ve had a nice run, I’ve had 10 good years, a lot of success,” he said. “We’ll find out here pretty soon, the next several months, what the future holds for me.”