Friday, August 3, 2007
Matthews represents all that is good about the NFL
By Floyd Reese ESPN.com
Seated on the flight that will bring me from Cleveland to Canton to see the class of 2007 inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I notice legendary receiver Raymond Berry four rows in front of me. Raymond represents all that is good about the NFL. We've coached together and have known each other for about 30 years. My first instinct is to jump up, walk over to him and say hello, but the boarding process for the flight is almost complete and to do that would cause a bit of a scene. Knowing that Raymond was never one to call attention to himself, I realize this is the last thing he would want me to do, so I stay seated.
I am on my way to Canton to see Bruce Matthews inducted into the Hall of Fame. There is no question in my mind that Bruce, like Raymond, also represents all that is good about the NFL. After several weeks of news about indictments, arrests, suspensions and appeals, it is easy to forget that the bulk of NFL football players are good men.
Bruce retired just five years ago after 19 seasons with the Oilers/Titans franchise. I had the pleasure and privilege of working with him for nearly that same amount of time. The list of accomplishments following Bruce's name is long and distinguished, but let me share with you my favorites:
• I never saw Bruce in a bad mood, much less in a fight. If you got to him he would make you pay, but he waited until the next play.
• Bruce came to work every single day upbeat, positive, eager and with an almost childlike vigor.
• At a time when players work their entire careers to make a single Pro Bowl, Bruce made the Pro Bowl 14 times consecutively and at two different positions.
• Bruce played 296 consecutive games at a time when everyone in football will tell you injuries determine the success of a specific player or team. He never missed a game due to injury. This record is similar to the one that Cal Ripken Jr. holds in baseball, except Ripken didn't have to hit a 300-pound defensive lineman on every snap he played in every game.
• I have seen Bruce injure an MCL on Sunday, walk on crutches Monday through Wednesday, participate in limited practices on Thursday and Friday, and play at an All-Pro level on Sunday.
• Bruce kept the game in perspective. He knew he was blessed to be in his position and he was humble and thankful. A strong Christian and a hall of fame dad, Bruce was able to keep the game fun for himself and those around him.
• As the leader of the offensive linemen, Bruce felt it was his duty to create a new pre-practice or locker room game every year. There was always a championship of whatever game he chose, and the design was always for Bruce to end up champion.
• The team respectfully addressed Bruce as "Mr. Matthews."
It is pretty hard to find anything negative about Bruce, or for that matter, Raymond. They were joys not only to work with, but also to simply be around. Both gentlemen certainly deserve their rightful spots in this great fraternity.
Bruce and Raymond help remind me that on the same roster containing Pacman Jones, you also have Kevin Mawae, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Keith Bulluck, Vince Young and David Thornton. There are many more who are a credit to the NFL and its product. The good old days and the type of player who played back then are not all gone. Because there is no negative press or coaches' criticism about these players, or because they choose to pass on the well-choreographed dance following a routine play, some of them may be hard to identify. But I assure you, they do exist.
Just look on stage on Saturday and find Bruce Matthews and Raymond Berry, among others. They are players who spent their entire careers conducting themselves with class and honor and that's something we should be thankful for and always remember.
Former Tennessee Titans general manager Floyd Reese contributes frequently to ESPN.com.