For Matthews Clan, N.F.L. Is All in the Family

“We’re going to try to get him something a little more noble than running into somebody for a living,” said his grandfather, Clay Matthews Jr.

No family has infiltrated the league the way the Matthewses have. They might be considered the Mannings for the head-knocking set. For now, five Matthews men have played in the N.F.L., bridging three generations and including the current linebacker , whose (11-6) will take the field against the Falcons (13-3) on Saturday in an N.F.C. divisional playoff game. More may be on the way shortly. Odds are decent that Brodie will join them in 2033 or so.

“You know, there’s a Lord in the world that blesses you sometimes,” said , a defensive lineman for the in the 1950s.

The patriarch cannot quite explain how it is that four of his progeny followed him to the N.F.L., but he believes the numbers will grow. When Matthews Sr. was born 82 years ago, he weighed 10 pounds 4 ounces, he said, same as his newly arrived great-grandson.

“Are you asking me if it’s something I did?” he said. “No, it’s nothing I did. I’m just thankful to have them.”

Matthews Sr. and his late wife, Daisy, had five children. Among them were and , who each played 19 seasons in the N.F.L. and combined to reach 18 Pro Bowls. Clay Jr. played linebacker, mostly for the . Bruce was an offensive lineman for the Houston Oilers and . He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007.

Each of those sons spawned another N.F.L. player roughly in his own mold. Clay Matthews III is in his second year with the Packers. One of the game’s best players — on Thursday he was named the N.F.L.’s defensive player of the year by Sporting News — Matthews III is recognized for his tirelessness on the field and the stringy hair that hangs from his helmet.

On the other side of the family, Bruce Matthews’s burly batch of Texas linemen includes Kevin, an undrafted rookie this season who made the Titans and started their last game at center.

According to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, only two other families have had three generations of N.F.L. players, but neither had five family members play in the league. Only the Nessers had more family members in the league than the Matthews family, with six brothers playing in the early 1920s — five for the Columbus Panhandles in 1921, the year before the American Professional Football Association was renamed the N.F.L.

Reinforcements could be on the way. Clay Matthews III’s brother Casey was a starting linebacker for Oregon in this week’s title game against Auburn, and is expected to be chosen in April’s N.F.L. draft. Casey Matthews forced the fumble by quarterback Cam Newton that allowed Oregon to tie the score with two and a half minutes left.

Among their cousins, Kevin Matthews’s brother Jake started most of last season at right tackle as a true freshman at Texas AM. Another brother, Mike, is in high school and is being heavily recruited. The youngest boy, 11-year-old Luke, “is probably going to be the biggest one,” his father said.

It seems that at this rate, in five or six generations, every N.F.L. team might have a few Matthewses on the roster.

“I guess once we get going on something, we’re hard-headed enough to keep doing it,” Clay Matthews Jr. said. “Maybe there’s something wrong with us.”

About a year ago, Casey Matthews told his father that he wanted to pursue an N.F.L. career when he finished at Oregon.

“I said, ‘You realize all that entails and the odds of making it, don’t you?’ ” Matthews Jr. said.

For a Matthews boy, it’s about 1 in 2.

Clay Matthews Sr. played football at in the late 1940s. The son of the longtime boxing coach at The Citadel, H. L. Matthews, who was known as Matty, Clay Matthews was also a boxer, a wrestler and a diver. He was big for his time — about 6 feet 3 inches, 220 pounds.

He was a 25th-round draft choice of the Los Angeles Rams in 1949. Before he heard that news, Matthews was traded to San Francisco. His career was interrupted by the Korean War, and Matthews became a paratrooper for the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division. In 1953, he returned to the 49ers for three more seasons.

Matthews grew eager to get on with a business career. He worked up the corporate ladder and eventually became president of Bell Howell, the camera and projector manufacturer.

His five children (besides Clay Jr. and Bruce, five years younger, the family included a daughter and twin boys) never knew their father as an N.F.L. player. But they knew him as someone who encouraged competition, and often got on the floor to teach wrestling moves or climbed on the diving board to teach dives.

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