Bruce Matthews Interview Transcript

Sharing the Victory interview:
FCA’s Senior VP of Marketing and Communications Tom Rogeberg with NFL Hall of Fame inductee Bruce Matthews on May 20, 2007

Tom Rogeberg: Bruce, you were an All-American, a first-round draft choice, you played in 296 NFL games, you helped lead your team to the 2000 Super Bowl and you were chosen for a record-tying 14 consecutive Pro Bowls and now you are being inducted into the National Football League Hall of Fame. Could you ever have imagined as a young boy, even with your dad in the NFL, all those honors when you were first starting to play football? I know that you are a very humble person, but what is it like to be recognized as one of the greatest players ever now?

Bruce Matthews: As a boy, I would get up on Sunday morning just to watch the football highlights shows on TV. Back then they’d show the highlights of the previous week and the pre-game show. I’d literally have a football under my head, and I was so excited to brag and tell people that my dad played in the NFL. He’d been out of the league 6 or 7 years before I was born. And my older brother Clay was 5 years older. I was just so proud that I was affiliated with them. I was always a huge sports fan and it was my dream to play major league baseball. But, to think that I would play in the league and have the success that I had, and it be culminated in the Hall of Fame, just further proves and convinces me that everything was God blessing me. I couldn’t have written the script the way things worked out.

Sometimes people will ask and I will tell them some of the things that I have done and you get a little jaded, I guess, saying it so many times, but sometimes I’ll read something that’s been prepared about the highlights of my career, and I’ll say, “Wow! Gosh, who is this guy?” I still feel very much like that kid way back when and think one of these days someone is going to find out and take all these things away from me. I couldn’t possibly have been able to do this. Any time I reflect on my career it refocuses me on how much God has blessed me and my family.

Seeing my kids now, I remember going through that and I can appreciate that enthusiasm and that raw newness and excitement to play the game.

TR: With your dad playing and your brother Clay playing for 19 years and you playing more games than any position player when you retired, how do you explain your durability? Obviously, you worked very hard to keep your body in shape and you said that you were injured a lot of times, but you didn’t let that keep you from playing. Is that God blessing you, too?

BM: Absolutely. Early on, before I really matured in my faith, I thought, “Sure, I work hard.” But honestly, there were so many guys that worked as hard, and in a lot of cases, harder that were injured. My brother played more games than any other linebacker, and there’s just no other way to explain it. I’d see my friend and teammate Mike Munchak get rolled up and be carted off and have to have knee surgery and the same thing—or worse—would happen to me and I’d get up and walk away. God has just blessed my brother and me with these bodies to take all the pounding. And also, I really enjoyed every minute of it—the practice, the meetings, the so-called drudgery part. I enjoyed the whole thing. I loved the discipline, knowing when and where I would be. In the fall I knew exactly what I would be doing, given a certain hour of a certain day of a certain week. I really kind of thrived under that discipline and schedule. It’s really a God thing.

It’s ironic. Not the year after I quit, but the second year, I’m coaching my son, Mikey’s, team when he was nine and in his second year of football. In the first year I stayed in shape thinking, “Someone is going to call me for the playoffs or something,” although I was pretty sure I was finished playing. But, I’m out throwing passes to these nine-year-olds in the rain, and in Texas we have these fire ant hills, and I slipped on one after one of the passes. I go to catch myself and I hear a “pop” in my knee and fall in the mud. And these little 9-year-old boys are laughing and I’m just lying there. And I try to stand up and realized I had torn my quad tendon! I wasn’t mad. I almost laughed. It was like God was telling me, “That part of your life is over with. I blessed you playing all those years and you were never injured.” Here I am, standing on the sidelines of a peewee game, and I have to have surgery. It was kind of an eye-opening experience. Not exactly the way I expected God to reveal Himself to me, but He got the message across.

TR: When you talked about enjoying every minute of practice, Les Steckel told me when he was your offensive coordinator you were the master of inventing games at practices, like “jungle basketball.”

BM: Well, [it went] along with just enjoying the game and wanting to compete. [We’d do] things like throw paper napkins into the trash can, which my brother and I would do when we were younger. The more stupid the game, the more it was like pure competition. I guess by the end of my career I really didn’t care what other people thought. I probably enjoyed it even more. Here I am at 40 years old, and we were sitting in trash cans playing games. Sometimes I reflect and wonder, “What was I doing?”

TR: How about the Elvis impressions?

BM: Yeah, that, too. I was a big fan of Elvis, and I still am.

TR: How important is it in the intensity of pro football for you guys to have that bond of laughter as teammates?

BM: Well, I think as offensive linemen we really have that bond. By and large, we’re recognized pretty much only when we’ve done something bad. But, because of that there really is a unifying process because of what you go through. The whole NFL lifestyle was like, “You’ve got to be kidding me? I get to be like a kid, and you’re going to pay me what?” It was such a blessing. And people said to me, “Oh, we respect and admire everything that you stood for.” I would think, “Gosh, it was like I was stealing.” I got to be a kid until I was 40 years old.

When the team moved we still lived in Texas in the off-season and everyone else moved up there, but because I was so old, they kind of gave me the “Roger Clemens deal.” In the off-season I would fly in for mini-camp and I remember thinking, “Man, I haven’t really been in this kind of locker-room mentality for so long.” In the first meeting it was as if I had never left. It didn’t take any prompting for me to get my “sea legs,” if you will.

TR: You played most of your seasons here in Houston and now you make your home here. What was it like then for you and your family and your fans when you had a two or three year notice that you were going to move to another city? How did you respond to that?

BM: Well, we used to live in California. I went to USC. I really loved Houston, and when our oldest was getting ready to start school, we wanted to be in Houston full-time instead of moving back and forth. Then the year they announced [the team’s eventual move to Tennessee], my contract was up and it was the first time I was actually going to be a free agent. And I told them, “Look, I can play the game and go around and shop myself to other teams, but I’m going to be honest with you, I want to play here. I’ve decided I’d like to live here.” So, we waited and I actually missed 3 or 4 days of camp, not because it was me holding out for money; they were taking care of other guys, and telling me, “We’re going to get you.” I signed, and they had already scheduled a preseason game in Knoxville to play against the Washington Redskins. That was the first day. And the next day Mr. Adams (Bud Adams, the owner of the Oilers) shows up. We all said, “What the heck is he doing up here at training camp?” And he announced [that the team was moving to Nashville]. This was two days after I had waited out the whole off-season and I had told other teams, “Look, I’ve got to be honest with you; I want to play for the Oilers.”

I was angry about the move and was hoping and praying the people in Nashville would reject it. I was really bitter about going up there. Even for the first year, I drove up with a couple of bags of clothes, thinking that I was just going to get an apartment. It was one of those things that God brings into your life, and it turned out to be a great blessing. The first year, being away from them, it opened my eyes to how much I really appreciated my family, and how much I took them for granted. They would fly up for the home games, and my appreciation for my wife and kids really grew. My faith grew too.

James Mitchell was the FCA chaplain with the Tennessee Oilers back then. With my family in Texas, I really didn’t have anything to do. He’d come into the locker room and we’d talk for a half-hour to an hour and a half every night, because I was just going to go home to my apartment and play video games or something. I think it was God’s way of opening my eyes and saying, “Hey, look, you’ve got some things out of priority here.” It turned out to be a blessing, and all the years up there really were. I really enjoyed the time up there.

TR: The first year your home games weren’t really at home. Your team practiced in Nashville, but your games were played in Memphis, and your family lived in Houston. What was that like?

BM: Those last two years in Houston weren’t really very good. The attendance was bad. We were average. We were told that when we got to Tennessee it would be like a land flowing with milk and honey. And then we played all our games away when we got there. The next year we were told that we were going to play in Nashville at Vanderbilt Stadium and that was going to be a great thing; but that wasn’t much better, other than the fact that my family was there.

TR: But soon it became important to you to get involved in the community in Nashville.

BM: Going up there I wasn’t really inclined to do so, and I’m not sure that I did so much. I don’t know if it was because I was older and the fans were great up there, but more than anything it was just because my faith was growing. I had been so short-sighted in terms of compassion, and it was all about me. Suddenly, the scales were lifted from my eyes and it was like, “Hey, there’s a bigger world out there.” A big part was Coach Steckel and having his influence. There were times where he was overt about injecting something in the team meetings, which was unheard of, at least in my experience in the NFL. But it was so refreshing to see football done from that perspective. There were obviously guys who said, “What is this garbage?” But, I appreciated it. And I think God honored it and He blessed the team.

TR: Les talks about the time that you stood up in a team meeting in 1999, the first year of the Titans, and said, “Remember what Coach said that it’s amazing what will happen when no one is concerned about who gets the credit.”

BM: I remember him saying that and it really hit me. You see it so much in sports that guys say, “I’ve got to take care of me.” It brought everything in focus, everything the team had been through with moving and the circumstances, and I thought, “Yeah, that is how it works.” When it isn’t about me, that’s when I am blessed. It’s like the Gospel. The first time you quit thinking about yourself, that’s when you’re going to be blessed. It’s so cool. What he said stuck with me, and I tell it to all the kids I’m coaching now. 

TR: Les Steckel’s book, “One Yard Short,” is all about how that first season of the Tennessee Titans ended, but I remember how it began as well when you guys came out for that first preseason game against the Falcons with a new team name, new uniforms and a new stadium. And that whole season was so amazing.

BM: As Dennis Swanberg said last night about having the vision that the blimp has and thinking, “Wow, so that’s why we went through what we did?” It was so we could appreciate and carry out that season. Then again, it was such a great learning experience. It was so arrogant of me to think, “Well, of course God wants what I’m thinking.” The team moving, being away from my family, growing in my faith and then how it all culminated in that Super Bowl year.

TR: In that Super Bowl year, you had been in the league for 17 years and had worked so hard, with so much being new that year and the Music City Miracle game. Then breezing past Indianapolis and Jacksonville in the playoffs and finally getting to the Super Bowl, and yet when that final whistle blew, the Titans were one yard short of victory? How did that make you feel?

BM: I think in some regards I took the approach I’ve always taken that it isn’t that important. But when I saw the replay of the telecast, I thought, “Oh, my God, we’re going to win!” You know you hear it all the time in sports, “Oh, he doesn’t have a championship ring.” Our definition of success is so skewed. I honestly believe that ’99 year was a great team, but there were teams that I played on that were 8-8, 4-12 or 5-11 where I think we might have been as successful, if not more successful, just because of what we were able to accomplish and overcome.

Our youngest daughter Gweneth, who was born in 2003, has Down syndrome. It was a shock to us. We had been made aware of the risk of having a child that late, but we didn’t care. And she has just shown us it isn’t about what the world says is success, or what we do or why we do what we do. It’s all about your heart; and this sweet little girl is such a blessing because she’s all about unconditional love. She’s taught us so much and she’s a blessing. That’s all I can say. I never would have said, “God, please give us a Down syndrome child.” And now, I’m like, “God’s pretty smart.”

TR: One of your teammates at USC, Jeff Fisher, became your head coach. One of your teammates with the Oilers, Mike Munchak, became your line coach and your very best friend. And you have a great relationship with Les Steckel who was your offensive coordinator. Some people would think that with all the demands of professional football a coach and a player wouldn’t be able to have this lasting friendship. How does a coach still have team success and this relationship that transcends time?

BM: From my perspective, I never wanted to have anyone think that I was getting special treatment because of who the coach was and our relationship. Jeff Fisher was three years older than me at USC, so I didn’t really know him that well; but he ends up marrying the sister of a friend of mine I caught in Pony League so it was just amazing. Here I am playing for a former teammate in college. My line coach was a former teammate with the Oilers, and then with Coach Steckel I probably spent more time talking about my faith than football. When he answered my questions, it wasn’t like a football thing; it was more like a “life thing.” As I think about it now, I am blessed to think that I have been able to do the things that I have and to play for who I have. It’s so neat. I never could have imagined that things would work out that way. It’s cool.

When I was with those guys in the arena of work, it wasn’t work. It wasn’t anything I did to set that up. It was God’s direct blessing in my life.

TR: Let’s talk a little bit more about your faith. When did you accept Christ as your Savior? 

BM: My rookie year. Mike Stensrud was a defensive lineman here who made a really big impact in my life. He had come to the Oilers during the “Luv Ya, Blue” days and had had some wild living. But you could just see that he had something more than others. And I had always been interested in—I don’t want to say “church”—but I knew there was something else. I didn’t go to church regularly, but Greg Heddington was the team chaplain, and I got to know him and he discipled me. It was the coolest thing. There wasn’t anything like a life altering change in my life, but it all kind of made sense. I had seen the stuff, but it all came in focus. And although I was very immature in my faith, I knew this was how God wanted it to be.

That’s when I accepted the Lord. But, I kind of went on “cruise control” and meanwhile God blessed me with my relationship with my wife, Carrie, and with my children and my career. When Mike Meyers with Coach Pardee took over in 1990 it was the first time I was directly challenged to be more than just a casual believer. It wasn’t until 1997 when the real big growth in my life occurred when my family was taken away and my home and everything; so I’ve been blessed to have a lot of godly mentors in my life. 

TR: Are there some special verses in your life that have meant a lot to you?

BM: I just had to sign some footballs for some missionary kids and I was asked to put a verse on them and I thought of Joshua 1:9 (“Haven’t I commanded you: be strong and courageous? Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”). Charles Stanley preached on that verse the morning of the 2000 Super Bowl. And I’ll be honest, I struggle with that, thinking I’m not qualified for that. I’m just a guy. I always have to reflect on that, because on my own I am nothing. It’s only through my relationship with Christ. That is where I rate. When I quit playing, I struggled with that a little bit. But, it was God showing me, “Hey, look, you were blessed during that time in your life, but your worth is not what you did—that you pushed around 300-pound guys—but, it’s that you’re an heir; you’re my son through Christ.” It’s such an empowering thought—not a thought, a truth. It’s something I need to reflect on more often.

TR: Well, you did push around 300-pound guys, but you’re a humble person and play classical piano. That’s not the prototype of an NFL lineman. Is it hard to be a Christian in the NFL? Obviously, there are a lot of temptations in the NFL.

BM: I think this has come in focus even more since I quit. Out of response for what God has done for me through Jesus Christ, He deserves my best. And I’ll be honest; there are areas of my life where it’s pretty hard for me to be excellent. Yet, I think if we’re truly living for Christ, we’ve got to be the biggest “butt-kickers” out there. There’s no other option. When I played, I didn’t necessarily have that mindset. I think I was motivated by all the worldly stuff. But to step on that field and to be playing for the Lord, I mean, gosh, I’m fired up now. Put me in for one series!

TR: In this last year in the NFL there have been so many concerns about character issues, and I’m sure you’re following these stories and hearing about the arrests, the accusations, and things like that. Has professional sports not addressed this character concern quickly enough? Is there still time to make a difference?

BM: It’s just treating the symptoms because it really is a heart issue. Having been in the school with young kids and teaching them, [I saw] people hurting so bad. And everyone senses that void and they’re going to try and fill it up somehow. The NFL is a powerful narcotic—a great, exciting lifestyle. Yet, like everything the world offers, it’s temporary. It can be a temporary fix for you. We can have the rules and fines and suspensions, but it’s still a heart issue. Jesus Christ is the cure, the answer. He is the truth; and anything that you put in your heart short of Him is only going to provide a temporary fix.

TR: You’re in the construction business. Obviously, that requires teamwork. So does having a large family. What did you learn on the football field that you’ve applied to your business and your family?

BM: Well, our head coach and general manager, is my wife Carrie, and she is such a blessing. I think we complement each other very well.

TR: What is it about the mission of FCA that has had you so involved for so long, and what is it that you hope to accomplish?

BM: Well, there are so many parallels between sports and the Gospel. The discipline. The delayed gratification. What an amazing way to reach kids, especially hurting kids. I am blessed to be in an area where the schools are good, but everywhere you still see hurting kids, trying to fill up their hurts. The truth is there is ONE answer, and that’s Jesus Christ. And sports are a great way to introduce that.

Matthews Trivia

1) If you hadn’t played football, you would have ____?
Growing up I wanted to play major league baseball. I loved catching. But I literally outgrew the position.

2) Favorite movie?
The Natural. It was very cool.

3) Favorite kind of music?
Christian music. That was one of the blessings of living in Nashville. I had always loved traditional hymns. In Houston we have an old-school Christian music station. But in Nashville I got to know many of the contemporary Christian artists.

4) Favorite foods?
I really enjoy eating. You can’t beat a good steak.

5) Favorite thing to do with your family?
Just having them all home. We have three now that are in college. We’ve been blessed with having seven children and it sounds kind of crazy to say, but if one of them is missing, it’s like the house is empty. Unfortunately, it doesn’t happen that often that they can all be home at the same time, but it’s such a blessing to be able to spend time with them.

6) What you do to stay in shape now?
My kids kind of force me to work out. My oldest two boys were in high school while I was still playing and when they graduated I kind of hit a lull there for a while and I didn’t work out very much, but the second wave of boys is coming through now and I’ll workout and play racquetball and basketball. I like to stay active.