(EDITOR’S NOTE: To access the Clay Matthews interview, go to 27:23 of the following attachment: Ep 14: NFL League Awards; John Turney Discusses 15 Finalists; Clay Matthews Joins the Show | The Eye Test for Two | Spreaker)
Of the 15 modern-era finalists for the Pro Football Hall-of-Fame’s Class of 2021, none is more intriguing than former linebacker Clay Matthews Jr.
The reason? Simple. He shouldn’t be here.
I don’t mean that he’s not worthy. Of course, he is. He was a star linebacker for the Cleveland Browns and Atlanta Falcons who was a starter … starter … for 19 seasons… played in 278 games … made over 1,500 tackles … was named to multiple All-Pro and Pro Bowl teams … and was named to the Browns’ Ring of Honor.
But this is his first year as a Hall-of-Fame finalist. Granted, that doesn’t make him unique. There are five others in this Hall-of-Fame class who share that distinction. But not like Matthews. Because this is his 20th … or last … year of eligibility as a Hall-of-Fame candidate, and making it as a first-time finalist in the last year of eligibility is rare.
I know, it happened in 2018 with defensive back Everson Walls, and it happened a year earlier with former Cowboys’ Cliff Harris and Rayfield Wright, too. But they’re the exceptions. And so is Matthews, who called the choice “overwhelming” and “humbling” when he joined the “Eye Test for Two” podcast on fullpressradio.com.
“David Baker, the head of the NFL Hall of Fame, had left a message on my phone,” Matthews said, “and I heard it, and my temperature starting going up in the sense of ‘Wait, what’s going on here?’ I was just delighted to hear that. Just amazing.
“I’m a big fan of the game. I’m a big fan of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And for me to be in these final 15 is just delightful. I’m enjoying it.”
The odds of Matthews reaching Canton as a first-time finalist in his 20th year of eligibility are long. It didn’t happen for Walls, and it didn’t happen for Harris or Wright – though both were later elected as senior candidates.
But that’s not the point.
This is: He has a chance to be heard, with his case discussed Jan. 19 in a virtual call with the Hall’s 48-member board of selectors. Finalists are presented by voters, usually by selectors from the city where they played, and presentations last no longer than five or six minutes. Then the floor is opened for discussion.
So what, Matthews was asked, would he like voters to know about his career?
“I think that is a little uncomfortable (for me to address),” he said.
Nevertheless, he did.
“I think if you look at the breath of the work that I did,” he said, “I came in at a time when outside linebackers were not used to rush the passer. I can remember covering backs who were coming out of the backfield … specifically, I remember Don McCauley from the Colts was a tremendous talent coming out of the backfield … and I did that for about 11, 12 years.
“Then I moved out and became an edge rusher. Then, let me see, I was a right outside linebacker. Then they moved me to left outside linebacker. Then, later on in my career, I played inside linebacker. Down on the goal line I was a cornerback. So, over 19 years, if you had a need, they could move me in there. And, generally, I’d like to think I held my own … or more than held my own … with all those different jobs.”
“Here’s a guy,” Turney said of Matthews, “(who) in 19 seasons … in all the views they looked at … was never below (grade) red. In other words, he never had a bad game. So how amazing is that? Never a bad view.”