NFL Royal Families


On September 30, 2015, Pittsburgh Steelers rookie linebacker Anthony Chickillo was promoted from the team’s practice squad to the team’s active roster. And with that the 6th round draft pick from the University of Miami made National Football League history.  Actually not only did Anthony make history, so too did his father and grandfather. You see, by making the Steelers’ active roster, Anthony became the third generation of Chickillos to play in the NFL.  And that put the Chickillo family in the NFL history book as just the fourth three-generation of family members to play in the league.

The Chickillo NFL-family-tree begins with Anthony’s grandfather Nick, a guard with the Chicago Cardinals (1953). Next up is Anthony’s dad, Tony, a defensive end/defensive tackle with the San Diego Chargers (1984-85) and the New York Jets (1987). We pointed out this piece of NFL history to Anthony when he visited the Hall of Fame this past summer when the Steelers brought all of their rookies to visit the football shrine. While obviously he was aware of his family’s NFL pedigree, he was surprised to learn that should he make the team, his family would be just the fourth to earn such a distinction.


Chickillo, second to left, watches highlights of Hall of Famers during his visit.

Now that I think about it, I sure hope that sharing that information served as inspiration and not as undue pressure. Life is tough enough for a rookie in this league.  Either way, it’s now an NFL milestone and hopefully a source of pride for the Chickillo family.

The first three-generation NFL family is a little different in that the family link began with Bob Higgins an end with the Canton Bulldogs (1920-21). The second family member in this trifecta was Steve Suhey a guard with the Pittsburgh Steelers (1948-49) who although not related to Higgins, went on to marry Higgin’s daughter. Got that? Now, completing the first three-generation NFL family was Steve’s son Matt, a pretty good fullback with the Chicago Bears (1980-89). What makes this trio unique is that Matt, who is Steve’s son and Bob Higgins’ grandson, is the only one of the three who is “biologically” linked to the other two. I know, it’s confusing. 

Our second three generation family is much simpler to follow. That one begins with George Pyne II, a tackle with the NFL’s 1931 Providence Steam Roller. His son George III played defensive tackle for the Boston Patriots (1965) and his son Jim was a center with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1995-97), Detroit Lions (1998), Cleveland Browns (1999-2000), and the Philadelphia Eagles (2001).

The final NFL three-generation of players is the Matthews family.  What can you say about this bunch? While they too span three generations there are – as of now – seven family members who have NFL blood running through their veins.

The Matthews brood begins with grandpa, Clay Matthews, Sr., a defensive end/defensive tackle with the San Francisco 49ers (1950, 1953-55). Following in Clay, Sr.’s footsteps were sons Clay, Jr. an outstanding linebacker with the Cleveland Browns (1978-1993) and Atlanta Falcons (1994-96), and Hall of Fame center, tackle, guard Bruce Matthews. Bruce excelled with the Houston Oilers and Tennessee Titans (1983-2001). The third generation of Matthews consists of Clay, Jr.’s sons Clay, a linebacker with the Green Bay Packers (2009-present) and Casey who played linebacker for the Philadelphia Eagles (2011-14).


Bruce, not to be outdone by his brother, also had two sons that made it to the NFL. His son Jake is a tackle with the Atlanta Falcons (2014-present) and Kevin, a center, played four seasons with the Tennessee Titans (2010-2013).


Although we have not yet added the father and son NFL combos from 2015 (we’ll get to it real soon), as of the start of this season, including the four above mentioned families, there are 217 documented sets of fathers and sons who played pro football. So, I guess the best way to sum up this week’s blog is to quote R&B singer-songwriter Sly Stone of Sly and the Family Stone who crooned his way in 1971 to a #1 R&B hit.; “It’s a Family Affair,” even in the NFL.       

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Written by: Joe Horrigan