February 08, 2007 —
|Bruce Matthews and John Robinson
Superstardom and humility aren’t often found together.
Yet, Bruce Matthews (BSISE '83) embodied both during his days as a USC engineering student and throughout his stellar 19-year career in the National Football League.
On the day before Super Bowl XLI, the quiet man’s extraordinary qualities were recognized with his first-ballot election to the NFL Hall of Fame. Matthews was one of six former players elected – and the only one chosen in the first year he was eligible.
Matthews has been a standout ever since his student days. He played on storied Trojan teams stocked with stars like Charles White and Marcus Allen. As an offensive lineman – perhaps the quintessential offensive lineman – his exploits often went relatively unnoticed. That was okay with Bruce Matthews then and it still is now.
The right people were watching anyway. Matthews won unanimous All-America honors in his senior year, and was selected by the Houston Oilers (now the Tennessee Titans) in the first round of the 1983 NFL draft.
While garnering these honors, the unassuming Matthews was carrying a heavier load than most of his teammates and competitors – the full load of a USC engineering student.
Gerry Fleischer, a professor of Industrial and Systems Engineering who knew Matthews as a student said, “He was a BMOC, but you would never know it. He took every engineering course on schedule, neither asked for nor got any special treatment, and graduated in four years. Successfully completing a top engineering school’s requirements within four years is a challenge for anyone, but doing it under the difficult time constraints of an elite football program is a remarkable achievement. To me, Bruce was more than an All-American athlete — he was an All-American student as well.”
Matthews attended the Epstein Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering. In 2003 he received a USC Alumni Merit Award, which he accepted in typical modest fashion. “Talk about humbling!” Matthews says. “There I was at the awards dinner, being recognized alongside a Marine Corps Major General who’d been a shuttle astronaut, a woman who’s an internationally acclaimed expert on cancer and AIDS, and the chairman of Walt Disney Motion Pictures. What an honor!”
USC was also where he met his wife Carrie the mother of his seven children.
Matthews’ football credentials speak for themselves. He was the NFL’s all-time leader in games played by non-kickers with 296 at the time of his retirement in 2001. That included a streak of 229 consecutive games played. Bruce Matthews never missed a game due to injury.
He played all five positions on the offensive line at various points of his career and tied Merlin Olson’s league record with 14 selections to the Pro Bowl, 11 of them in a row.
When his election was announced, the praise from his peers told the true story.
“The consistency in which he handled his job year after year was typical of those who end up in the Hall of Fame,” said Titans coach Jeff Fisher, who was also Matthews’ college teammate at USC. “He was a true professional and was looked up to by all of his teammates through his career. He had a quiet influence on generations of players in this franchise who learned what it was to be a teammate, a professional football player and a family man.”
According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, Jerry Glanville, a coach from his time as an Oiler, was a bit more succinct in describing Bruce Matthews. Glanville said simply, "He's the best. That's it."