Former Cleveland Browns LB Clay Matthews, Jr. should be in Hall of Fame

CANTON, OH - AUGUST 2: Fans take a photo outside the Hall of Fame prior to the NFL Class of 2014 Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony at Fawcett Stadium on August 2, 2014 in Canton, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
CANTON, OH - AUGUST 2: Fans take a photo outside the Hall of Fame prior to the NFL Class of 2014 Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony at Fawcett Stadium on August 2, 2014 in Canton, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /

Former Cleveland Browns linebacker Clay Matthews, Jr. was put into the Browns Ring of Honor, but he should be put in the Hall of Fame in Canton next.

Former Cleveland Browns linebacker Clay Matthews, Jr. was one of the greatest football players of his generation and richly deserves to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame. The numbers speak for themselves. At the time he finally hung them up at 40-years-old, he was No. 1 in NFL history in tackles with 1,561. Jesse Tuggle later passed him with 1,640 tackles and Ray Lewis edged him by one, at 1,562. But both Tuggle and Lewis were middle linebackers. Matthews also compiled an impressive sack record with 69.5 career sacks.

Matthews was definitely a mutant, for as we all know it is impossible for a human being to play linebacker in the NFL at age 40. But Matthews did play that long, and not only that, he collected 6.5 sacks in his last year. Other evidence of his Asgardian heritage is that he was a four-time Pro Bowler for Cleveland and was the leader of the defense for 16 years. He then played another three seasons for the Atlanta Falcons.

Matthews did everything well. Early in his career, he was used as a run stopper, but was also effective in pass defense. He led the NFL in tackles in 1978, 1979, and 1981, and finished in the top-ten seven times. However, when Marty Schottenheimer took over as head coach in 1984, Clay started to become a sack-meister. That year he recorded 12.0 sacks in addition to leading the NFL in tackles again.

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It is astonishing that a player who was in the league for several years without generating sacks would suddenly become one of the best in the league, but that is exactly what happened. For his career, he actually had 13 more sacks than the late, great Junior Seau, who had 56.5 while also playing till age 40. Seau had the reputation of being a quarterback destroyer, and rightfully so. But the numbers say that Matthews was even a shade better than Seau in terms of sacks.

Stats are great, but they don’t tell the true story. Matthews was one of those guys that seemed to have the knack of always arriving where the ball is. In that way, he could be compared to Jack Ham of the Steelers, who was always around the ball even though the offense was trying to avoid him.

Matthews was drafted by the Browns with the 12th overall pick in the 1978 NFL draft after starring for the U.S.C Trojans. The most iconic moment of his career was saving a playoff win by intercepting Hall of Famer Jim Kelly at the two-yard line, allowing the Browns to squeak past the Buffalo Bills 34-30.

So why in the world would anyone not vote for Clay Matthews? If you lead the NFL in career tackles and make more sacks than Junior Seau, it is a no brainer.

One objection could be that Matthews does not own a Super Bowl ring. But that is not the criterion of the Hall of Fame. That is a made up rule. In fact, no one seems to know the exact criteria for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. There is a huge amount of guidance on eligibility and the selection process, but if there is a policy letter on criteria to actually get voted in, it is not easy to find.

An article by Robert Klemko of Sports Illustrated back in 2014 claims that Bill Belichick was told by one of the voters that the voters were not made aware of an exact criteria either and had to essentially make it up as they went along. To be sure, they were very thoughtful, careful and dedicated to the process, but did not have the actual criteria to refer to.

So, for example, does the player have to have a Super Bowl ring? For the past few years, sports talk show hosts have entertained themselves by asking whether Eli Manning should be a Hall of Famer based on his two Super Bowl rings. You can turn that logic around and make it more difficult to vote for players from the Browns who have never been to the Super Bowl. It is more or less in the hands of each voter to decide for himself/herself what the criteria should be.

This commentator takes the view that the Hall of Fame is an individual award rather than a team award. It should recognize ability, skill, sportsmanship, as well as how the player represents the game of football. It should not be a Hall of Stats where players with big offensive numbers get in, even if they were not highly regarded by their own teams. But if a player was among the best at their position for a very long time, they deserve to be voted into the Hall of Fame. That would certainly be Clay Matthews, Jr.

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Do you want to talk about contributions to the game? Clay Matthews Jr. and his lovely wife Lesley contributed six-time Pro Bowler Clay Matthews III and Casey Matthews to the NFL. If that isn’t a contribution to the game, what is? Heck, put the entire family in the Hall of Fame, to join offensive lineman Bruce Matthews! They are rightly regarded as the NFL’s First Family because of the stars that they have produced.

Clay Matthews, Jr. is one of the greatest football players of all time and deserves to be recognized.