For Green Bay Packers rookie outside linebacker Clay Matthews, this weekend’s game against the Browns in Cleveland will be more than the cakewalk it will be for the rest of the Packers. It will be a homecoming of sorts.
Matthews’ father, Clay Jr., played linebacker for 16 seasons with the Browns (1978-93) after being drafted by Cleveland in the first round of the NFL draft out of USC. He earned Pro Bowl honors four times in Cleveland, and played in more games than any other player in Browns history.
Clay III was only 7 the last time his father suited up in a Browns uniform. He doesn’t remember much about living there during the football season, but he understands the extra meaning of Sunday’s game.
“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.”
Clay Jr. won’t be at Sunday’s game because he’s traveling to Washington state to watch Clay’s brother, Casey, play linebacker for the University of Oregon as they take on the Washington Huskies.
It’s too bad, because his son is starting to emerge as a leader of the Packers‘ 3-4 defense. He got his first start last Sunday, when the Packers blanked the Detroit Lions 26-0, and made the most of his biggest opportunity to date.
Matthews led the defense with two sacks, becoming the first Packers rookie with a multi-sack game since Vonnie Holiday in 1998. He also stopped Lions’ running back Kevin Smith for a 4-yard loss.
That performance followed a big game at Minnesota in Week 4, when Matthews stripped the ball from Pro Bowl running back Adrian Peterson and ran it back 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 good thing about Matthews is, despite his obvious talent and early NFL success, he remains humble and remembers his roots.
Matthews said he spent a lot of time watching his dad’s game film growing up, trying to glean anything that would help him as a player. He also still keeps a No. 57 Browns jersey, the number his dad wore, in his closet back home in California.
“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.”
A true winner, Matthews, like his father, will be one to watch in years to come.