When Bruce Matthews came out of USC in 1983, here's the scouting report we had on him with the Dallas Cowboys: He was a player that did not do exceptional things when you watched him, yet his man never made a play.
In other words, you rarely saw Matthews "pancake" a defensive lineman or send him flying eight yards downfield. But you never saw him get beat. He simply played his position and always graded out perfectly.
Matthews was a consensus All-America in college and would become part of perhaps the greatest first round in the history of the NFL draft. He will be the fifth player from the Class of 1983's first round to be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, joining John Elway, Eric Dickerson, Jim Kelly and Dan Marino.
And he was almost part of a draft trade that would have changed NFL history dramatically.
On the Dallas draft board, we had Matthews in a group of top-level prospects that included Northwestern offensive lineman Chris Hinton and Arkansas linebacker Billy Ray Smith. Prior to the draft, we contacted the Denver Broncos, who had the fourth overall pick, and tried to trade up so we could take Matthews. But Denver wanted too much in return.
We then talked to the Houston Oilers, who had the ninth overall pick, thinking we might still get Matthews at that spot. The Oilers were not interested in trading down - and they probably had Matthews in mind the whole time, because that's who they took.
But it's worth considering what might have been had Denver traded with us. Instead, they took Hinton with that fourth pick… and he was the key figure in the package that was traded to the colts for Elway. Dallas had expressed interest in Elway. So had we traded with the Broncos, it's entirely possible that we might have drafted Matthews and then sent him to the Colts in a deal for Elway.
Think about how much NFL history would be different had that happened!
P.S. - Having failed to trade up, we drafted Arizona State defensive end Jim Jeffcoat with the 23rd overall pick. He may not have been a Hall of Famer, but Jeffcoat enjoyed a very solid 15-year NFL career.
Matthews was a very athletic offensive lineman. While he played center and guard at USC, he reminded us a lot of Pat Donovan, who was an outstanding tackle for the Cowboys. Matthews also was the long snapper in college. That kind of versatility was critical at the pro level, since it meant you didn't have to carry an extra player just for that.
And talk about versatile: In just his second season, 1984, Matthews had one three game stretch in the middle of the season in which he started at center one week, right guard the next week and right tackle the week after that.
While it's true he could move around and play all the line positions, the real key to Matthews stellar career was consistency. He ended up playing in 296 games in the NFL - most of any non-kicker in league history. In fact, the eight games he missed in 1986 due to a contract dispute were the only games he missed in a 19-year career.
If you ask people who know Matthews, you'll hear that he is a guy who loves to compete, no matter what the competition - and he'll make up games if he has to. He loved to play stickball before practice, and even on gameday. They compared him to Cal Ripken, who used to arm wrestle with his brother just for the love of competition. Matthews would go out of his way to devise different variations of "monkey in the middle."
But football was his love. He even had fun practicing. That was no doubt something he picked up from having football in his family genes. His dad, Clay Matthews, played for legendary coach Red Hickey with the 49ers. His brother, Clay Jr., was a standout linebacker with the Browns. Clay Matthews Jr. also was among the NFL leaders in career games played (278) when he retired in 1996. Of course, true to his competitive nature, Bruce had to top that.
Did you know
… Bruce Matthews and former Vikings guard Randall McDaniel are the only players to start every game in the 1990s.