LB Clay Matthews has waited a long time to get his due. After 20 years, the legendary linebacker finally received word that he was a Hall of Fame finalist. Previously, the furthest Matthews reached was the semi-final round of The Hall’s voting (done on multiple occasions). Unfortunately, the odds of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s 48-person selection committee voting Matthews in is quite low. Typically, when a former player gets towards the end of his eligibility, he does not receive the requisite amount of votes. After failing to enter The Hall through the selection committee, a player’s only hope of reaching Canton is through the Senior Committee. In order for the senior committee to consider a former player, his active career needs to have ended 25 years previously. For Clay Matthews, this is his most likely route to football immortality, but this should not have been the case. He deserved election much sooner.
The numbers are eye-popping. Clay Matthews played in 278 career games (from 1978-1996), starting in 248 (a record for a linebacker). His 1,561 tackles would rank him near the top of all-time tackle leaders, however, tackles did not become an official stat until 2001, though they were consistently kept from 1994-2001. Therefore, his name often does not appear on the all-time ranks. Matthews had 83.5 sacks, which is incredible considering he played multiple positions and schemes where he was not featured as a pass rusher. On a side note, some indicate that he only had 69.5 sacks (e.g., pro-football-reference.com) because sacks did not become an official statistic until 1982. The additional 14 sacks come courtesy of the Browns who provided the sack totals prior to 1982. One has to wonder if the fluidity of these numbers has hurt Matthews in previous rounds of voting.
These numbers do not stop there. He had 16 interceptions, 27 forced fumbles and 14 fumble recoveries. Adding all those numbers along with the previously mentioned sack total yields 140.5 impact plays (a composite stat used to show a player’s effect over the course of a season or career). Looking at the number of impact plays by linebackers already enshrined in Canton shows Matthews’s quality. Over the course of the careers of Derrick Brooks, Junior Seau and Brian Urlacher, those players amassed 66.5, 103.5 and 91.5 impact plays respectively.¹ Of course, there is more to becoming a hall of famer than simple stats, but these go a long way to bolstering Clay Matthews’s case.
In addition to some questions of how and when stats were measured, another argument made against Matthews’s admission into the Hall has been the fact that he only made four Pro Bowls. This is a weak argument at best. Oftentimes, the voting of all-stars boils down to popularity among fans and media while also giving way to both confirmation and recency biases. Further, many players in the Hall of Fame have only a few Pro Bowl appearances to their names. Ozzie Newsome, Art Monk, Charlie Joiner and Lynn Swann all appeared in three Pro Bowls only. Richard Dent, Tony Dorsett, Russ Grimm and Jim Kelly were selected to four Pro Bowls like Matthews. In fact, there are at least 31 players in Canton who made four or fewer Pro Bowls. (I did not count those who played any part of their career prior to the creation of the Pro Bowl). Consequently, this argument is not as strong as Matthews’s detractors think it is.
Matthews produced everywhere he played. Coaches played him inside, outside and in the middle. He could rush the quarterback on one play and then the next drop into coverage on the opposing tight end or running back. Simply put, Matthews was a three-down player. His coaches did not have to take him off the field no matter the down or distance. He excelled in the 4-3 and the 3-4. One has to wonder if this versatility and willingness to help his team wherever the need was is now hurting him among Hall voters.
Let us leave the final word with frequent Matthews’s opponent and Hall of Famer, Warren Moon.
“I have played and competed against Clay Matthews since I was a Junior in College. At USC he was a middle linebacker, but with Cleveland, he was primarily an outside backer. Wherever he played, he was always around the football. Clay…was one of the smartest and most instinctive players I ever played against. We always game-[planned] around where Clay was going to be lined up. His stats as a linebacker compare to the best LBs to have ever played the game. I played against a lot of those great LBs. He most definitely deserves to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame with them! It’s long overdue…”
be-among-the-best-of-the-best-at-the-pro-football-hall-of-fame/, accessed 2/5/21