Bruce Matthews has played in more NFL games than any non-kicker in the football league’s history. His family has been ever present in the NFL. Now Bruce shares his story in a book about the Matthews family and how eight people over three generations have achieved success in the NFL with Inside the NFL’s First Family: My Life of Football, Faith, and Fatherhood.
Bruce’s father Clay played for the San Francisco 49ers and his brother Clay Jr was a four-time All-Pro for the Cleveland Browns; and nephew Clay III was a Defensive Player of the Year and Super Bowl champion with the Green Bay Packers. Bruce Matthews may be the best of them all, a fourteen-time Pro Bowler with the Houston Oilers and Tennessee Titans, holder of the all-time consecutive starts record for offensive linemen, and inductee in the NFL Hall of Fame.
The enduring success of the Matthews family is no accident. Their competitive nature, passion for excellence, never-quit attitude, compassion for the disadvantaged, and love for each other has propelled them to the peak of their abilities and professions. For Bruce, the foundation of it all is his faith in God. Inside the NFL’s First Family shows how the highs and lows of Bruce’s NFL career and expanding responsibilities as a husband and father taught him the lasting significance of his commitment to Christ.
This book is a fascinating look at professional football, featuring the insider stories that every fan craves. It also shows how Bruce and his family successfully dealt with challenges such as depression, cancer, and Down Syndrome. Inside the NFL’s First Family offers readers even more the principles and beliefs that have enabled the Matthews to excel in football and in life.
Art Eddy: Your book Inside the NFL’s First Family: My Life of Football, Faith, and Fatherhood takes a look at many aspects of your life. From your career to family to faith you explore many topics. What inspired you to write this book?
Bruce Matthews: People saying that they would enjoy reading my family’s story. I was very apprehensive about the whole process. I didn’t feel like it was such a great idea. I lot of people encouraged me. We really stepped out of our comfort zone to write this book. Now that we have gone through the process it has been a rewarding experience. I think that there are lessons not only from a fatherhood perspective, but athletically. Really more than anything I wanted to share my faith and get my testimony out there.
BM: I did. There were some things and situations in our family I had to deal sensitively with. My mother died of cancer right after my rookie year. A lot of things like that. There were things that I hadn’t revisited since the events happened. It was very therapeutic in a lot of ways to go to through these stories. I was able to rediscover my life and pick out what were the top things that you should share with people.
AE: What do you hope readers will get out of your book?
BM: I think that it is the Lord brings so many things into our lives that we perceive at the time as negative and hardships. Really I think more than anything my perspective on those trials in life have changed. The Bible talks a lot about how finding joy when we face trials of any kind. That was a really difficult lesson for me to learn, but the more I learn and reflect on my life especially while doing this book, I found those things that I thought were huge negative things in my life were really blessings. I really grew. I learned to appreciate my family and wife so much more.
AE: You and your relatives made a mark in the NFL. With all the competition that goes into making it into the league and how hard it is to make it into the NFL what did you learn from your dad to help you make it to the pro level? What advice did you give your sons and nephews when they were looking to play in the NFL?
BM: My dad was really simple in what his expectations were. If you start something you don’t quit. When you go out there you give your best effort. If the coach is looking for volunteers then you step up. You be the first in line. I think it is a lot of the things that we have heard throughout our lives is what he really impressed upon us.
The big thing that I try to emphasize to my kids is that you have been blessed with an amazing opportunity to play collegiate and for that matter high school football. The thing that I didn’t enjoy for my career was that I felt like it was such life and death. If I miss a game my career might be over. I got to play one more year. There was always this tension about it. I don’t know that I appreciated it that much as I should have. It is only in retrospect that I come to value it a lot more.
I am trying to teach my kids that. Even if they are blessed to play like their Uncle Clay, he played 19 years. I played 19 years. When we retired we were 40 years old. Good Lord willing we got a lot of time left on earth. There is so much more than just playing football. That being said when you do this football thing or whatever it is you are doing you do it the best you can. You go out there and use the best talents that you have been blessed with. You use them to honor the Lord. I think for the most part they have done that. They all have had varying degrees of success. I think that they have learned a lot of really good lessons from playing football.
BM: I have no problem with the players are getting payed. The fans come to watch the players play and not the owners own. In a lot of ways, yes I am very satisfied with the way the game has gone. I think some of the advancements in terms of the concussion protocol and taking care and being more sensitive to injuries are great. I think at the end of the day at the core value there is something to football that transcends all the years.
It doesn’t matter your salary or how much you are making. Those type of guys are always going to be successful. I think a little bit of the negative part and it has been a function of how successful it has been. Just that ESPN highlight mentality. Guys make a tackle ten yards down the field and they are getting up and celebrating. Back in the day that type of stuff didn’t happen. That wasn’t to say there weren’t showboats just like that going on back in the day, but it has become a tad more in your face. I don’t necessarily care for that. There are a lot of good players out there playing and doing it the right way. I have a lot of respect for them and the hard work that they put in.
AE: Yeah, I agree with you. Like you said, you see guys celebrate after tackling someone after a ten yard play and that team just got a first down. (Laughs.)
BM: (Laughs.) Exactly.
BM: I don’t know that I really grasped how special and how cool of a thing it was going to be. When my son, Stephen was born, the oldest it was like oh my goodness, we are responsible for this little boy. It was the most terrifying and yet the most exciting thing in my life.
My wife and I talked about it for years while dating on how excited we were going to be to have a family. Until it finally happened I think the gravity and impact of it hadn’t struck me. Just the responsibility too. I am accountable to some extent to how this kid turns out and how we are going to raise him. What are the examples that we are going to set for him and teaching him what is going to be important and how he should treat other people? It all kind of hit me when he popped out. (Laughs.) It was like alright let’s go. It rattled our cages a little bit.
AE: What are some of the core values you looked to instill in your children as they were growing up?
BM: I think the biggest thing is just being consistent. To go back to football. You can’t say I am going to be the best football player and put all the time, preparation, working out, eating right and taking care of your body and studying the playbook and then go to the classroom and half step there. That ain’t right. If your standard is going to be excellent then you be excellent in every area of your life. Whether you are going to be the best friend you can be, be the best son or daughter you can be, be the best husband or wife or most importantly be the best parent you can be.
AE: What advice do you have for new dads?
BM: There is so much that I thought I knew about parenting. I really honestly thought I had it figured out. Even to this day there is so much that I am learning from my kids. They are all so different. They teach us really cool lessons. I think the biggest thing that I learned from kids is how selfish I am. I was like this baby needs all of this attention. What about me? What about what I want? I didn’t realize how selfish I was until A: I got married and B: when we had our first child. I was like my gosh I am pretty dang selfish myself.
Just be open minded and pray a lot. It is an amazing dynamic that we are entrusted with these children. It is a pretty neat thing when you see them and they are growing up. You are like wow that is pretty cool on how my kid developed.
Life of Dad Quick Five
AE: Do you guys have a favorite family movie that you all love to watch together?
BM: Specifically holiday movies we love the Home Alone movies. We loved watching family movies like Little Giants and Back to the Future.
AE: Do you guys have a favorite song that you all like to sing to or dance to as a family?
BM: Oh my gosh. This branch of the Matthews family isn’t as quite as into it as the Matthews family on the east coast. Whenever there is a family wedding and it seems like it is coming up every offseason now, they will be out there on the dance floor cutting a rug.
BM: We did the RV thing one time only. We used to have a Suburban with three bench seats. It was only when we had six kids. So there was three in the back and three in the middle. I grew up going to the beach in South Carolina. We would drive out from Texas and really enjoy that. We did that a number of times as the kids were growing up.
AE: What was the first thought that popped into your head when you found out you were going into the Pro Football Hall of Fame?
BM: I was very proud and humbled at the same time. I was so honored to have a father play in the NFL. He played long before I was ever born. I was at home and got the call. I then took a bunch of phone calls and a bunch of camera crews came out to the house. It was probably three hours after the announcement and my dad called.
I was really excited to talk to him. I said, ‘Dad, did you hear the news?’ He said, ‘What?’ I go, ‘About the Hall of Fame.’ He then goes, ‘Did I make it?’ I told him no. He then told me that he was finally out of the eligibility and then started laughing. It was a really neat way to cap off and talk to my dad about it. We just shared that moment. I really enjoyed it.
AE: Was there a season or game that stands out the most in your great career?
BM: I would say it was a series of games. Whenever I would play against my brother, Clay. From 1983 to 1993, eleven seasons we would play the Browns twice a year. One year we played them in the playoffs. For me that was the coolest thing ever.
Make sure you pick up Inside the NFL’s First Family: My Life of Football, Faith, and Fatherhood wherever books are sold.