x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Feat of Clay: first in sacks

The Green Bay Packers will turn the young linebacker loose on the Viking's quarterback Brett Favre today.

Clay Matthews, the Green Bay linebacker, leads the league with 10.5 sacks.
Clay Matthews, the Green Bay linebacker, leads the league with 10.5 sacks.

Clay Matthews III was too small to earn a starting role on his high school team. So it was no surprise that college football teams showed little interest in recruiting him. He simply turned up to play at the University of Southern California and needed all four years of college to break into the line-up.

Anyone familiar with the Matthews family tree would not have dismissed his chances in the NFL. Still, it was a far-fetched notion that voters would be writing the Green Bay Packers linebacker's name on NFL Defensive Player of the Year ballots two years after he left USC.

The Matthews boys are better-known for longevity than for near-instant stardom, though they have accumulated multiple all-star honours.

Matthews's father, Clay Jr, also a linebacker, lasted 19 NFL seasons. So did his uncle Bruce, a lineman. In today's league of high-speed collisions, it is nearly unfathomable that any player - aside from a kicker, punter or quarterback - would endure for nearly two decades. Young Clay, 24, is performing as if the clock is already ticking.

He leads all quarterback-chasers with 10.5 sacks, a gaudy statistic accompanied by a 62-yard interception return for a touchdown.

In high school, Matthews could go home after practice and complain directly to the guy keeping him off the field; Clay Jr was the team's defensive co-ordinator.

The younger Matthews harbours no ill will; in fact, he credits his father for not insisting on a continuation of the family's football legacy, dating to grandfather Clay Sr, who played four seasons in the NFL in the late 1940s.

As sparingly as Clay III played in college, the Packers saw enough to trade into the first round of the college draft and make him the 26th selection. The price included a draft pick that Green Bay acquired in a trade with Minnesota for the quarterback Brett Favre, who can appreciate the Matthews longevity genes.

Favre, in his 20th and final season (or so he insists), will be ducking and dodging Matthews today when the Packers play Minnesota. Fifteen years ago, Clay Jr recorded the final sack of his career by dumping Favre in the play-offs.

Clay III, who is likely to be joined in the NFL next season by little brother Casey, an All-America linebacker at the University of Oregon, has a simple explanation for why football excellence has been passed from one generation to the next. "It just so happens," he said, "we like ramming our heads into other guys out there."