Oregon middle linebacker Casey Matthews is interviewed by ESPN reporter… (Chris Morrison / US Presswire )
From Paradise Valley, Ariz. — Casey Matthews, the middle linebacker of Oregon's unbeaten football team, has a huge task Monday night in the BCS title game against Auburn.
No, not trying to tackle Cam Newton, the bullet train who plays quarterback for the Tigers. This is bigger, more difficult.
Casey has to live up to being a Matthews.
"One of my goals is to be seen in the same light as them," he says.
And the "them" becomes the story, because so many of "them" represent so much excellence in football that it is hard to believe the gene pool can stay so productive. The NFL, control freak that it is, could simply clone its future by using all Matthews DNA.
First there was William Clay Matthews Sr., who played at Georgia Tech in the 1940s and for four years in the '50s with the NFL's 49ers. Among his five children were William Clay Matthews Jr. and Bruce Matthews, both of whom starred at USC. Clay Jr. went on to a 19-year career in the NFL as a linebacker, making the Pro Bowl four times and ranking among the league's top 20 in games played with 278. Bruce had a 19-year career as an offensive lineman, made the Pro Bowl 14 times, is in the Hall of Fame, and he held the league record in games played at 296 until Brett Favre kept coming back, and back, and back.
Bruce, an offensive line coach with the NFL's Texans, has seven children, including five boys. Steve played football at Baylor; Kevin just became a starting center for the NFL's Tennessee Titans late this season; Jake is a freshman at Texas A&M and was scheduled to play in Friday night's Cotton Bowl; Mikey is a highly recruited high school player in Houston; and fifth-grader Luke weighs 150 pounds and may be the best of them all someday.
Clay Jr., an assistant coach at Oaks Christian High School in Agoura Hills, has five children, four of them boys, three of them football players. Kyle played at USC and got a national championship ring on the 2003 team; William Clay III walked on at USC and worked his way up to starting linebacker and to a 2009 first-round draft choice of the Green Bay Packers, for whom he will play a key role Sunday in the playoffs against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Then there is Casey, about to stand on college football's biggest stage.
"He's a good football player," says the man who will spend much time trying to block him, Auburn center Ryan Pugh. "He flies around, he has that reckless abandon. He disrupts a lot of plays."
Clay Jr. says his son Casey, the baby in the family at 21, (and at 6 feet 2 and 235 now) is quieter than the rest.
"He's not as fiery as Kyle and Clay," he says, "but he has been a nice surprise.
"I got to coach him when Oaks Christian was a brand new school. We were playing our first game against Muir High, and I thought we'd get killed. But Casey made a lot of plays, he showed good instincts right away."
Even after Clay III had shown what a great thing a late-developing Matthews can be to a major football program, USC passed on Casey. It was Clay Jr.'s school, as well as Bruce's, but Clay Jr. says there are no hard feelings.
"Those were the days of Pete Carroll getting the top one or two players in the country at every position," he says. "Oregon turned out to be a great fit for Casey."
A senior season of 73 tackles, a first-team all- Pac-10 selection, some All-American mentions and a spot in the title game with an unbeaten record, is a good fit, indeed.
"My parents fell in love with Oregon on our visit," Casey says. "But when I went up there, they were coming off a 7-6 season and a blow-out loss in the Las Vegas Bowl. So did I envision this? No way."
Clay Jr. and wife Leslie had a tough decision to make this weekend. Clay III plays in Philadelphia late Sunday afternoon and Casey on Monday night in the Phoenix suburb of Glendale. They have had their share of cross-country dashes this season and Clay Jr. jokes that, "I'm in the real estate business, and if you are familiar with that, you know I have some time."
But he says he and his wife saw Clay's last two games in Green Bay — battery-warmed socks and hunting gear in full use — so they'll head directly to Casey's game this weekend.
"Those away games in the NFL get pretty hostile," he says.
Auburn won't be a walk in the park, either. But it is a neutral site.
Plus, these Matthews boys seem to handle themselves well on any field, anywhere, as long as it has yardage stripes and a pair of goal posts.