Bruce Matthews Team: Houston Oilers
Career: No regrets.
In the 1983 draft, the Oilers passed on future Hall of Famers John Elway, Eric Dickerson, Jim Kelly and Dan Marino and yet, it’s hard to find fault in their eventual first round selection. That’s because the team landed arguably the best, certainly the most versatile and unquestionably the most durable offensive lineman in league history, Bruce Matthews.
Like we said, no regrets.
But fans were not immediately sold on Matthews and the former Trojan didn’t help matters by holding out his rookie season. But once in uniform, he teamed with 1982’s top pick, Mike Munchak, to help anchor one of football’s best offensive lines which, in turn, became the foundation of Houston’s seven-year playoff run during the late 80’s/early 90’s.
During his career as an Oiler, Matthews played — actually, he thrived at every single position on the offensive line, earning Pro Bowl honors as a center four times, as a right guard three times, as a left guard twice and was an alternate at both right and left tackle. Matthews was even the team’s long snapper for the majority of his career.
In 1987, Matthews missed three starts due to another prolonged holdout and, as a result, was not named to the Pro Bowl at season’s end. Never again would he miss a start or fail to earn a trip to Hawaii during his storied career.
Amazingly, Matthews would start the next 224 consecutive games and earn 14 straight trips to the Pro Bowl, tying him for the most-ever in league history. His 296 games played is an NFL record among non-kickers and yet, during his 20-year career, which ended this past season, Matthews never missed a single game due to injury and only missed four total. To put his career longevity in perspective: his head coach last year, Jeff Fisher, was a teammate of Matthews’ at USC. And because of those accomplishments, Matthews will enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007, the first year year’s he’s eligible. (Update: Which he did on August 4, 2007; the last "Oiler" to earn such recognition.)
But Matthews was more than just an accomplished blocker; he was also a devout family man and one of the NFL’s genuinely good guys. Former Steeler defensive lineman Oliver Gibson recounted a story of an early meeting he had with Matthews: “I’m mouthing off, doing all kinds of things. The worst thing that he ever said to me was, ‘C’mon, 98, that’s unprofessional.’"
Matthews’ work in the trenches earned a special place in the blue collar heart of Oiler fans, becoming a fan favorite in spite of his less-than-high profile position along the offensive line. The feeling was mutual.
When the team began packing their bags for Tennessee, Matthews was one of the few about-to-be-Titans who expressed remorse over having to leave Houston. When the franchise finally won their first AFC Championship in 2001, even the most cynical former Oiler fans expressed satisfaction that Matthews’ hard work and extraordinary effort had, at long last, paid off.
But like a lot of Houstonians, Matthews had mixed emotions about the experience and took time to look back upon his playing days in Houston during the week leading up to the biggest game of his career.
"They talk about it being loud at Adelphia. But man, back in the ’90s when we were on our run, the Dome was a wreck to play in if you had to play against us there. I’m thinking well, maybe my hearing is impaired because I’m older. But in the Dome when it was loud, you could feel it in your spine."
Matthews, his wife and their six children still call Houston home and many fans would love to see him play a role in Houston’s new franchise. Matthews would as well; but if not, he’s content to watch his children grow up and have a life beyond the NFL.
Houston Highlight: On a dreary December day in Pittsburgh in 1993, after a week that had seen one Oiler teammate die from his own hand, Warren Moon and the Oilers got right to work.
On their opening drive. Moon sensed the blitz and called for a screen to Gary Brown. Bruce Matthews had slipped his man at the line and pulled in front of Brown to provide a convoy. Brown used the blocks from Matthews and a couple of wideouts to scamper 39 yards for the touchdown as Matthews covered 30 yards downfield on the play. The Oilers went on to win, 26-17, and claim their second AFC Central title.
by Ric Sweeney
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