CANTON, Ohio — Bruce Matthews took his place alongside football’s greatest icons Saturday, being enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in the same humble way he approached his 19-year NFL career.
Matthews received pro football’s highest individual honor here Saturday at Fawcett Stadium along with Charlie Sanders, Roger Wehrli, Michael Irvin, Gene Hickerson and Thurman Thomas.
Matthews, the second of six new enshrines to speak on Saturday, both opened and closed his approximately 13-minute speech by affirming his Christian values and offering thanks for his many blessings in football, friendship and family.
“I want to thank the Lord Jesus Christ for blessing me and my family so much,” Matthews said in the opening of his speech. “As much as I’d like to take credit for everything that’s happened in my career, I know it was only because of how the Lord blessed me that I was able to accomplish what I did. My part was the easy part. Just go out and use the talents and abilities God gave me.”
Those talents and abilities were numerous for Matthews, as were the accolades and accomplishments leading up to his enshrinement.
Matthews, the first-round draft pick of the Houston Oilers in 1983, played 19 years in the NFL and never missed a game because of injury. Matthews played in a record 296 games, the most ever by a non-kicker. Matthews made 14 consecutive Pro Bowls (nine at guard, five at center) and spent time at all five positions on the offensive line at various points of his career.
Teammate, coach and Matthews’ best friend of 24 years, Mike Munchak, presented Matthews to the Hall of Fame and helped him unveil his bronze bust a full six years to the day that Matthews had presented him for enshrinement into Canton in 2001.
Munchak said in the presentation speech that it was Matthews’ competitiveness that helped make him such a great player.
“Competitive is the word that best describes Bruce,” Munchak said of his best friend, a competitiveness that extends far beyond the football field.
“His desire to be the best is unmatched,” Munchak added. “He wants to win at everything he does — a sport, a video game, even an argument. He can claim an opinion he doesn’t even believe in just to see if he can still win the argument.
“Classic Bruce, though, is when you’re in the car with him and a song comes on the radio. He immediately yells out the name of the song and the artist. He would say, ‘Springsteen. Glory Days. Bam.’ Even though no one else is playing this game, he’s still competing."
Matthews, the only 2007 inductee to be elected in his first year of eligibility, was competing and campaigning a bit during his speech on Saturday, saying he looked forward to the day when his older brother Clay, himself a 19-year player with Cleveland and Atlanta, could be enshrined into Canton, too.
“I look forward to the day when he’s standing up here getting inducted, because he is very deserving,” Matthews said. “He taught me about hard work, discipline, dedication and the mindset necessary to excel.”
Those are lessons that served Matthews well throughout his career as arguably the greatest offensive lineman of all time.
But mostly, Matthews was humbled and honored by the friendship of family, teammates, coaches and others who made the trip to Canton for his special day.
He gave thanks to his wife Carrie and their seven children, as well as to his father, Clay Sr., and late mother Daisy, his other brothers Ray and Brad (who died in 2002) and his sister Christie.
Matthews’ father, Clay Sr., was also a pro football player in the early 1950s with the San Francisco 49ers, and Bruce related the conversation he has with his father on the day in February he was elected to the Hall of Fame, calling it a favorite moment of the day.
“I finally had the chance to talk to my dad,” Matthews said. “I said, “Dad, did you hear the news?’ My dad jokingly said, “Yeah, I didn’t make it again. I guess I’m no longer eligible.’”
For Matthews it was the crowning achievement to a most outstanding career.
Perhaps Munchak said it best in summing up Matthews’ career.
“I don’t know if there’s ever been another player like Bruce Matthews in the NFL, and I don’t know if there ever will be again.”