DALLAS -- When the Packers were deciding on whether to draft USC linebacker Clay Matthews in 2009, there were a lot of arguments made as to why to make the pick, but none was more persuasive than this: He will perform because he doesn't know any better than to succeed. He's been raised and surrounded by football lifers whose DNA is comprised of competing, sustaining and outworking everyone else.
"It did to a certain degree," Packers general manager Ted Thompson said of the Matthews pedigree playing a role into drafting Clay. "I played with his uncle (Bruce) in Houston, and I know his uncle and dad played a long time. His physical ability, you can see the genetics that he has, you can see some similarities in his play and his dad's play."
Matthews had a choice of what he wanted to do in life. But like military families and kids raised in families of lifelong cops who tend to carry tradition through generations, whatever options there were would be fallback plans in case football didn't work out. Think about it, just about everywhere he looked growing up, there were football men -- with long hair, like him and his brother, Casey, don.
His father, Clay Jr., played 19 years in the NFL, all but three with Cleveland. Bruce, a Hall of Famer, played 19 seasons with the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans. His grandfather, Clay, spent four seasons with the San Francisco 49ers. The Packers' Matthews is two years in, and the Pro Bowler has set the table for his younger brother Casey, a linebacker at Oregon, who will be drafted in April.
"I'm sure it would mean a great deal," the runner-up for the 2010 Defensive Player of the Year award said. "We don't let a game determine our careers or how successful we are. I think it would mean a great deal. We've played this game for so many years. It goes to show you how unique this opportunity is and how rare it is to get to a Super Bowl and win one. So, it would be nice to get a win not only for myself and the organization, but for the Matthews family as well."
The Matthews legacy is deep, but so is individual pride. Like the Mannings (Archie, Peyton, Eli) or Ryans (Buddy, Rex, Rob) and other pedigree-rich families, everyone wants to make his own mark. That's why Matthews tries so hard to be great. He knows he's had advantages by being born into the family, but there are also doubters who think he, in part, got to where he is because of this DNA. Part of that is true, in terms of his genetic makeup and his character traits.
However, his father, grandfather, uncle, and brother have never helped him beat a tackle to get a sack. Like us, they can only watch and appreciate how he goes about handling himself on and off the field.
"I knew that Clay desperately wanted to be his own man," Thompson said about his pre-draft due diligence regarding Matthews. "While he loves his family and is appreciative of his genetics, he's his own man and wants to make his own place in life."
Said Matthews: "Obviously, I was very privileged as a youth to have a father who played in the league and have such a family history and be blessed with all that I have been given in this life. I've had to work to kind of get out of the shadow of my family, and I've been doing a good job of that. But it's a good shadow to be in, because they excelled in this league for many, many years. If I can have half the career they had, I'll be in good company."