Best of the Firsts, No. 9: Bruce Matthews
As part of our offseason coverage, we’re taking a look back at some of the best first-round draft picks since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. We’ll work our way up the draft board, starting with the best selection made with the No. 32 pick and ending with the top No. 1 pick. Track all the choices here.
The No. 9 Pick: Bruce Matthews, 1983, Oilers
His Credentials: 14-time Pro Bowl selection, 10-time All-Pro, named to NFL’s All-Decade Team for the 1990s, second all-time in career games played (296), ranked No. 78 on NFL’s list of 100 greatest players, inducted into Hall of Fame in 2007
Others in Consideration: Kevin Williams (2003, Vikings); Brian Urlacher (2000, Bears); Fred Taylor (1998, Jaguars); Richmond Webb (1990, Dolphins); Jerome Brown (1987, Eagles)
Before we get to Matthews, a moment to recognize Jerome Brown.
Brown was a dominant force on the interior of the Eagles’ defensive line from 1987-91, chalking up 29.5 sacks. He appeared to be entering his prime at that point too, with back-to-back Pro Bowl appearances in 1990 and ’91.
Unfortunately, Brown died tragically in a car accident before the 1992 season. His car skidded off the road and collided with a telephone pole, killing both Brown and his nephew.
If not for that horrible incident, there might be two No. 9 picks in the NFL’s Hall of Fame.
Instead, there’s just one modern-era No. 9 pick to receive the call to Canton: long-time offensive lineman Bruce Matthews.
The current offensive line coach of the Tennessee Titans, Matthews spent all of his 19 seasons with that franchise, first in Houston as an Oiler and then in Tennessee following the team’s relocation. During his incredibly long career, Matthews showed off his versatility, starting at every position on the offensive line — 39 games at tackle, 87 at center and 166 at guard.
Add ‘em together and that’s a grand total of 292 games started, the second-most in NFL history, more than any other offensive lineman and just six back of Brett Favre for the league record.
The Houston run-and-shoot offense under which Matthews played the majority of his career required its lineman to be exceptionally agile. Matthews was that and then some.
“The thing that impressed me most about Bruce was his feet, for a guy his size,” ex-Oilers quarterback Warren Moon said. “At about 6-foot-4, 315 pounds, he had very, very nimble feet.”
Matthews’ nimbleness helped him as he shifted around the offensive line spots throughout his career. He made his first Pro Bowl in 1988 as a right guard, then proceeded to earn a spot in the next 13 Pro Bowls as well — two more as a RG, five as a center and six as a left guard.
Matthews weathered the storm of some awful teams during his early days in Houston, then helped turn the tide for the franchise. After averaging fewer than four wins over Matthews’ first four seasons, the Oilers headed to the playoffs seven consecutive times.
The team and Matthews then made their lone Super Bowl trip together, in 1999, three seasons after the move to Tennessee.
The Titans came up just short in that game, with Kevin Dyson famously being tackled a yard shy of the goal line on the final play.
Matthews would make his final playoff appearance the following season in a divisional round loss to Baltimore. Tennessee finished 7-9 in 2001, then Matthews finally decided to hang up his cleats.
In 2007, Matthews was voted into the Hall of Fame as a first-ballot nominee.
“There has only been one player that I know of who has matched longevity with decorated success on the field,” Oilers/Titans team owner Bud Adams said, “and that would be Bruce Matthews.”