Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Bill Dwyre

Former NFL lineman earns title of role model

July 24, 2007|Bill Dwyre

Sometimes, we chase the villains so hard, we run right past the heroes.

Last week in sports was defined by the NFL's Michael Vick facing dogfighting charges and NBA referee Tim Donaghy, who allegedly bet on games he worked. Forests of trees were wiped out so newspapers could tell all about both. The Internet typed up a storm and TV and radio showed and told.

Correctly, the media were the messenger, and the message was loud and clear. Also frequent.

On a quiet morning in the middle of all this, a tall man with square shoulders and a scar on his right knee walked into a high school gymnasium he hadn't seen in 24 years, looked up at a group of teammates he hadn't seen in longer than that, and made a speech to a group of high school football players who were at least 10 years from being born when he last sat in their seats.

Bruce Matthews said he isn't very good at making speeches.

"It's not my thing," he said, soon proving himself wrong.

The Arcadia High pep band had greeted him as he entered. More than 40 of his old teammates from his days as a star offensive lineman for the Apaches had shown up. They're now men in their mid-40s with square shoulders and scars on their knees. Their old Arcadia coach, Dick Salter, needed some help getting around and a comfortable chair, but he was there.

The word had gotten out and there were well-wishers, old friends, photographers and reporters. Even some bemused family members.

Clay Matthews Sr. was there from his home in Charleston, S.C. When he lived in Arcadia, he and wife Daisy, now deceased, had a family of Clay Jr., Bruce, developmentally disabled twins Raymond and Brad, and oldest daughter Kristy.

Bruce holds longevity records as a lineman in the NFL and older brother Clay is not far behind. They were big, tough and indestructible, which brought a laugh from Clay Sr.

"Kristy gets so mad when she sees her little brothers being made into big shots," he said. "She always says, 'I made those two wimps into what they are today.' "

Kristy's daughter, Ashley Nick, captain of USC's soccer team, laughed at her grandpa's story and added one of her own.

"See those names of all the Arcadia stars up there on the wall?" she said. "Well, my mom looked up there one time and said she was going to go up there, take a Magic Marker and put her name right next to Clay and Bruce's, 'cause she made them."

The most important guests were the several dozen players from Arcadia High, varsity and below. Many wore Apaches jerseys. Many also carried footballs to be signed by the only football player to have his jersey retired at Arcadia, the hometown hero standing in front of them just two weeks before he would step onto a stage in Canton, Ohio, and make his acceptance speech as a new member of pro football's Hall of Fame.

Matthews relaxed the crowd with a smile, said some nice things about Salter, and then held his hand two inches from his eyes.

"These days, we see this far from our faces," he said.

He told the young players that they owed it to themselves to work hard, be in shape and think about team more than self.

"There is too much 'ESPN SportsCenter' garbage out there," he said. "There is too much, 'Look at me, look at me.' "

He said his best memories were of his teammates and what he shared with them, teammates from Arcadia to USC to his only pro team, the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Oilers/Tennessee Titans.

"Don't be sitting on your couch, 40 years from now," Matthews said, "and wishing you had trained harder, tried harder."

The message lasted perhaps two minutes. It was certainly less scripted than what he will deliver Aug. 4 in Canton, but probably no less powerful.

Eventually, after signing nearly every scrap of paper and piece of clothing in the building, Matthews wandered off for a golf outing with his old teammates. The next night, there was a dinner attended by 355 paying customers, with the proceeds going to the Special Olympics.

The choice of charity was easy.

Matthews' brother, Raymond, lives near him in Houston. Raymond's twin, Brad, died 18 years ago from the effects of being struck by a car while crossing the street at Santa Anita Avenue and Campus Drive, no more than a long block from where Bruce spoke to the Arcadia team.

Bruce Matthews and wife Carrie had six children and decided, three years ago, to have No. 7. Carrie liked that number and Bruce agreed. Gweneth Matthews was born with Down's syndrome.

Last week, the story involving Vick enraged the public and besmirched the NFL. The story of Donaghy enraged the public and besmirched all sports.

Without even thinking about it, Matthews came to town and evened some things out.

His headlines and air time won't be nearly as big.

--

Bill Dwyre can be reached at bill.dwyre@latimes.com. To read previous columns by Dwyre, go to latimes.com/dwyre.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|