Coming off his finest performance as a pro on Sunday against Detroit, rookie outside linebacker Clay Matthews looks to continue his impressive play this weekend in the city where his father made his mark in the NFL.
Matthews' father, Clay Jr., played linebacker for 16 seasons (1978-93) with the Browns after being drafted by Cleveland in the first round of the 1978 NFL Draft out of Southern California. He went on to play in more games than any other Brown in franchise history (232), and earned Pro Bowl honors four times in Cleveland.
Clay III was only seven years old when his father played his final season in Cleveland, living there during the season and in Calfornia during the offseason, so his memories of the city are somewhat limited.
"Unfortunately I was too young to really appreciate what he was doing, not only within football, but especially in Cleveland," Matthews said. "I can't remember a whole lot. I remember going to a few games and obviously living out there.
"People have asked me if this game means a little bit more, but I'm going to approach it like any other game. At the same time, I understand what he was able to do there."
Matthews said his father will not be in attendance at Sunday's game in Cleveland because he is traveling to Washington to watch Matthews' younger brother, Casey, a junior linebacker at the University of Oregon, as they take on the Huskies.
Matthews traveled to Cleveland for a pre-draft visit this spring, which he said was his first trip back there since football seasons as a youngster. He said he still has a No. 57 Browns jersey, the number his dad wore, in his closet back home in California.
Clay Jr. went on to play three seasons (1994-96) in Atlanta before retiring with over 1,500 career tackles, and his son said he spent plenty of time over the years watching game film of his dad as he tried to glean anything that would help him as a player.
"It's funny; I watched an old interview from either the late '80s or early '90s, he did an interview after the game, and I saw an uncanny resemblance to him," Matthews said. "He always joked around saying I'm a much better athlete than he was.
"Watching him, I was definitely able to pick up some things here or there and actually adapt them into my game. It was very beneficial, not only talking to him, but watching his game film."
Only five games into his rookie campaign, the first-round pick out of Southern California got his first start at right outside linebacker in Green Bay's base defense against the Lions last Sunday, and made the most of his biggest opportunity to date.
Matthews led the defense with two sacks, becoming the first Green Bay rookie with a multi-sack game since Vonnie Holliday (at N.Y. Giants, Nov. 15, 1998). He also broke through the line to stop running back Kevin Smith for a 4-yard loss on the second play of the game, and was in on two other tackles for loss with defensive linemen Johnny Jolly and B.J. Raji.
Matthews' performance against the Lions followed up a big game at Minnesota in Week 4, one that saw him strip the ball out of Pro Bowl running back Adrian Peterson's hands and return it 42 yards for a touchdown.
"I've always had confidence in my abilities," said Matthews, who leads the team and ranks second among NFL rookies with three sacks. "I take the opportunities they give me, whether that be rushing on third down or being an every-play starter, and run with it.
"It definitely adds confidence, just being able to make plays and really get after it. It's something that I'm going to continue to look to improve upon."
The Browns were hit hard by the flu on Wednesday, with 11 players not practicing due to the illness.
Head coach Eric Mangini said he did not know if it was the H1N1 virus, but that the team would be testing the players.
"I'm going to scale (practice) back some and slow it some and maybe eliminate the afternoon meetings just to try to get the guys a little more rest," Mangini said. "It's that time of year, and we're really being proactive with if there is any signs of it, trying to send those guys home so that it minimizes the risk to the player and it minimizes the risk to the group."
Cleveland's players that were sick and did not participate in practice were running back Jerome Harrison, offensive lineman Alex Mack, defensive backs Anthony Madison and Brodney Pool, defensive linemen Shaun Rogers and Corey Williams, tight end Robert Royal, wide receiver Chansi Stuckey, linebackers Jason Trusnik and Kamerion Wimbley, and fullback Lawrence Vickers.
Gridiron Greats benefit
Packers President/CEO Mark Murphy and former NFL player/coach Mike Ditka will be the featured guests at the Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund Dinner on Wednesday, Nov. 11, at the Milwaukee Athletic Club.
The dinner is being held to benefit and raise funds for retired NFL players who have faced hardships following their playing careers. The GGAF's services include medical assistance, financial assistance for utilities, medication, food, utilities, car payments and child care. The organization has provided over $1.5 million in financial aid and medical assistance to retired players.
The event, which will run from 5:30 p.m. until 9 p.m., is open to members of the Milwaukee Athletic Club and non-members as well, and will include a silent auction. Tickets are $85, and Brad Schendel can be contacted at (414) 274-0622 to make reservations.
Packers radio play-by-play announcer Wayne Larrivee will emcee the event.
Running back DeShawn Wynn had surgery on his knee Wednesday morning at Bellin Hospital and was placed on season-ending injured reserve.
Fullback Korey Hall (calf) and wide receiver Jordy Nelson (knee) are out for Sunday.
Tackle Chad Clifton (ankle), fullback Quinn Johnson (ankle), center/guard Jason Spitz (back) and defensive end Jarius Wynn (hamstring) did not participate in practice.
McCarthy didn't rule Clifton out for Sunday, but rookie T.J. Lang is expected to get the start if Clifton cannot play.
"(Chad) feels he's a lot further ahead than he was last time that he injured it," McCarthy said. "We'll see how he is in the morning and maybe shoot for Friday."
Tackle Mark Tauscher (knee) was a limited participant, and quarterback Aaron Rodgers (foot) and Raji (ankle) participated fully.
Rodgers said his foot began bothering him a little toward the end of Sunday's game against Detroit, but said he would be fine.
"It's not an issue," Rodgers said. "You guys will have nothing to write about that. I practiced today. It's not going to be an issue."
In addition to the Browns sidelined due to illness, wide receiver Joshua Cribbs (knee), kicker Phil Dawson (right calf) and tight end Steve Heiden (knee) did not participate on Wednesday.
Rogers (foot) and Royal (hamstring and finger) were listed for both illness and injury.
Linebacker David Bowens (knee), defensive lineman Kenyon Coleman (groin), offensive lineman Rex Hadnot (knee) and defensive back Brandon McDonald (shoulder) were all limited in practice.
Quarterback Derek Anderson (ankle), linebacker Eric Barton (shoulder), defensive lineman Robaire Smith (calf), offensive lineman Floyd Womack (ankle) and punter Dave Zastudil (right knee) participated fully.