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Football's Fathers and Sons

Football's Fathers and Sons

06/21/2020
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By Jon Kendle (Director of Archives and Football Information at the Pro Football Hall of Fame)

Football teaches so many great life lessons. As a game for life, it instills values like commitment, integrity, courage, respect and excellence in those who play. These are ideals every parent wants their sons and daughters to develop. There is an adage “like father, like son,” that rings true in the great game of football.

Each season, fans are reminded that the when it comes to developing NFL talent, “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”

On Father’s Day 2020, we celebrate the 280 father-son combinations that have played at least one regular-season snap of professional football. This treasure trove is compiled by the archive’s staff at The Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Archives, The Ralph Wilson, Jr. Pro Football Research and Preservation Center. The list includes those who have played professional football in the NFL, the AFL of the 1960s (that merged with the NFL) as well as the short-lived All-America Football Conference (1946-49). 

The list of “Football’s Fathers and Sons” includes 13 Hall of Famers. Another might be added at the start of the 2020 NFL season, if Randy Moss’ son Thaddeus makes his NFL debut.  

Election into the Pro Football Hall of Fame is the highest individual honor a football player can achieve. The sense of pride, accomplishment and humility a Hall of Famer feels when reaching that incredible summit perhaps is matched only when seeing a son also achieve great things on an NFL football field.

“For me, being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame was the zenith of my career professionally and everything that I strived for as an athlete,” commented Jackie Slater, whose son Matt is an eight-time Pro Bowler with the New England Patriots. “To have my son Matthew playing professional football and soon to be playing at a level that he is playing at and distinguishing himself, I can’t tell you just how proud of him I am and just how jubilant my feelings are when I think of all the success that he has had.”

Those feelings no doubt were magnified for Howie Long when he traveled to St. Louis in 2013 to watch two of his sons compete against one another on the same field for the first time. The fact Chris, a defensive end for the Rams, and younger brother Kyle, a rookie guard for the Chicago Bears at the time, lined up nose to nose made the matchup even more compelling for the Long family.

“[We've talked about] understanding the significance of the moment and taking a mental Polaroid in your head, to take a second and enjoy it because the next minute will be here quickly, and you don't know when you'll be down this road again,” Howie Long, a Hall of Fame defensive end, said before the game.

Hall of Fame offensive lineman Bruce Matthews is part of a family many consider pro football royalty. They might be the most prestigious lineage of professional football players. It all began with Clay Matthews Sr., a two-way lineman who played four seasons with the San Francisco 49ers (1950, 1953-55).

His sons Clay Matthews Jr. and Bruce not only followed in his footsteps with their own NFL careers, they expanded on them. Clay Jr. played linebacker for 19 seasons in the NFL, from 1978-1993 with the Cleveland Browns and 1994-96 with the Atlanta Falcons. Bruce also played 19 seasons in the NFL as a guard, center and tackle for the Houston/Tennessee Oilers/Titans from 1983-2001. He was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007.

The third generation of Matthews family members made its way to an NFL field when both of Clay Jr.’s sons suited up at linebacker – Clay III for the Green Bay Packers currently and Casey for the Philadelphia Eagles from 2011 to 2014.

“I can’t say I didn’t expect it,” Clay Sr. said about his grandsons’ careers in the NFL. “I think there’s another three generations behind them that might be playing someday.” 

Bruce’s son Kevin earned an NFL roster spot as a center in 2010 with the Tennessee Titans and later joined the Indianapolis Colts. The Atlanta Falcons selected Bruce’s younger son, Jake, with the sixth overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.

In the moments after Atlanta had taken Jake, a Texas A&M tackle, Bruce barely could contain the pride he felt about his son.

“He’s a lot more talented (than me), I think. He moves around very well. He has a great feel for the game,” beamed Bruce, a 14-time Pro Bowler. “Again, I’m very biased. He’s my favorite player in the draft, and I think the Falcons did themselves a real positive today by picking Jake up, and that’s trying to take my ‘dad hat’ off as best I can.”

There are only two other families who, along with the Matthews, provide the extremely rare historical notation of having three generations from the same family play in an NFL regular season game: the Suheys and the Pynes.

The NFL’s first three-generation family happened when Matt Suhey lined up at fullback for the Chicago Bears in 1980. He followed his father, Steve, who had played guard for the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1948-49, and his maternal grandfather, Bob Higgins, an end for the Canton Bulldogs from 1920-21. Higgins’ teammates over those two seasons included Hall of Fame legends Joe Guyon, Wilbur “Pete” Henry and Jim Thorpe. 

The Pyne family became the second three-generation family and first family to have two genetic father-son relationships. The family’s first pro football player was George Pyne Jr., who played one season with the 1931 Providence Steamroller. George Jr.’s son George Pyne III played the 1965 season with the AFL’s Boston Patriots. Finally, George III’s son Jim completed the Pyne family’s place in history during the 1995 season while playing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In all, Jim Pyne played eight seasons with four clubs, including the Cleveland Browns, who chose him with the first pick of the 1999 expansion draft. 

Equally as rare as three generations of the same family to play in the NFL is the election of a father and son in the Hall of Fame. With the election of the Hall’s historic Centennial Class of 2020, three sets of fathers and sons have now been inducted into the Hall of Fame as contributors – Tim and Wellington Mara of the New York Giants; Art and Dan Rooney of the Pittsburgh Steelers; and Ed and Steve Sabol of NFL Films – but none who has played or coached in the NFL.

One can only imagine the pride a father would feel to see his son join him in the elite fraternity of former players in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

So, whether it’s friends and families around the television rooting for a win or outside in the backyard tossing the pigskin, one thing that is crystal clear: Football is family!

Pro Football Hall of Fame members whose father or son(s) have played in the NFL:

BELL

Bobby – LB, DE – 1963-1974 Kansas City Chiefs, HOF, 1983

Bobby – LB – 1984 New York Jets, 1987 Chicago Bears


DORSETT

Tony – RB – 1977-1987 Dallas Cowboys, 1988 Denver Broncos, HOF, 1994

Anthony – CB – 1996-99 Houston-Tennessee Oilers/Tennessee Titans, 2000-03 Oakland Raiders


GRIESE

Bob – QB – 1967-1980 Miami Dolphins, HOF, 1990

Brian – QB – 1998-2002 Denver Broncos, 2003 Miami Dolphins, 2004-05 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 2006-2007 Chicago Bears, 2008 Tampa Bay Buccaneers


GRIMM

Russ – G – 1981-1991 Washington Redskins, HOF, 2010

Cody – S – 2010-12 Tampa Bay Buccaneers


HANNAH

Herb – T – 1951 New York Giants

John – G – 1973-1985 New England Patriots, HOF, 1991

Charley – T, G, DE – 1977-1982 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1983-88 L.A. Raiders


LONG

Howie – DE – 1981-1993 L.A. Raiders, HOF, 2000

Chris – DE – 2008-2015 St. Louis Rams, 2016 New England Patriots, 2017-18 Philadelphia Eagles

Kyle – G- 2013-19 Chicago Bears


LOTT/NECE

Ronnie Lott – DB – 1981-1990 San Francisco 49ers, 1991-92 Los Angeles Raiders, 1993-94 New York Jets, HOF, 2000

Ryan Nece – LB – 2002-2007 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 2008 Detroit Lions


MATTHEWS

Clay Sr. – DL – 1950, 1953-55 San Francisco 49ers (1951-52 military service)

Clay Jr. – LB – 1978-1993 Cleveland Browns, 1994-96 Atlanta Falcons

Bruce – OL – 1983-2001 Houston-Tennessee Oilers/Tennessee Titans, HOF, 2007


MATTHEWS

Bruce – OL – 1983-2001 Houston/Tennessee Oilers/Tennessee Titans, HOF, 2007

Jake – T – 2014-present Atlanta Falcons

Kevin – C- 2010-2013 Tennessee Titans


PAYTON

Walter – RB – 1975-1987 Chicago Bears; HOF, 1993

Jarrett – RB – 2005 Tennessee Titans


SHULA

Don – DB, HB – 1951-1952 Cleveland Browns, 1953-1956 Baltimore Colts, 1957 Washington Redskins. Head coach: 1963-1969 Baltimore Colts, 1970-1995 Miami Dolphins, HOF, 1997

David – WR – 1981 Baltimore Colts (also head coach 1992-1995 Cincinnati Bengals)

Mike – QB – 1987 Tampa Bay Buccaneers


SLATER

Jackie – T – 1976-1995 Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams HOF, 2001

Matt – WR – 2008-present New England Patriots


WILCOX

Dave – LB – 1964-1974 San Francisco 49ers, HOF, 2000

Josh – TE – 1998-99 New Orleans Saints


WINSLOW

Kellen – TE – 1979-1987 San Diego Chargers; HOF, 1995

Kellen Jr. – TE – 2004-08 Cleveland Browns, 2009-2011 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 2012 New England Patriots, 2013 New York Jets

 

Click Here to see the list of all 280 sets of Fathers and Sons who have played Professional Football

 

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