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Cleveland Browns legend Clay Matthews Jr. named finalist for Pro Football Hall of Fame

It's the first time the former linebacker has survived the second cut before possible enshrinement.

CLEVELAND — EDITOR'S NOTE: The video above was originally produced in September of 2019

What one seemed like an impossibility is now (finally) one step closer to becoming reality.

Legendary Browns linebacker Clay Matthews Jr. was named a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Tuesday, meaning he is still in the running to be one of up to five former players enshrined in Canton this summer. This is Matthews' first time surviving the Modern-era Committee's "second cut" after four previous times as a semifinalist.

Matthews spent the first 16 seasons of a 19-year career in Cleveland, and established himself as the best defender in team history. He was a second-team All-Pro in 1984 and made four out of five Pro Bowls from 1985-89, and during his tenure helped the Browns to seven NFL playoff appearances and three AFC Championship Games while eight times recording at least 100 total tackles. He remains the franchise's official all-time leader in total tackles (1,430), and sacks (62), although the actual numbers are likely much higher due to a lack of record keeping until the early '80s.

Matthews left Cleveland after the 1993 season and signed with the Atlanta Falcons, where he made another postseason in 1995 before closing his career a year later with a solid 6.5 sacks. His 278 games played trailed only George Blanda and Jim Marshall at the time of his retirement, and it remains the all-time mark among linebackers.

A second-generation member of what many consider football's greatest family, Matthews' late father Clay Sr. was a San Francisco 49ers lineman for four years in the 1950s, and his brother Bruce is already in the Hall of Fame following a stellar career on the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans offensive line. Additionally, his son Clay III made six Pro Bowls and won a Super Bowl as a linebacker with the Green Bay Packers, while nephew Jake is currently the Falcons' starting left tackle. Son Casey and nephew Kevin also spent time in the league, and another nephew Mike was a starter on the Texas A&M offensive line before finding his way to various NFL preseason camps.

Daughter Jennifer has been Clay Jr.'s biggest supporter on social media, constantly making the case for her father's induction to Canton. On this evening, she again took to Twitter to express her and her family's gratitude.

The Modern-era Committee will meet one more time before Super Bowl LV to debate the 15 total finalists, and will select no more than five for induction. If Matthews isn't chosen, he will be relegated to the Seniors Committee for further consideration, for his career ended 25 years ago as of 2021.

The 14 other finalists are:

  • DE Jared Allen
  • DB Ronde Barber
  • OT Tony Boselli
  • DB LeRoy Butler
  • OL Alan Faneca
  • WR Torry Holt
  • WR Calvin Johnson
  • S John Lynch
  • QB Peyton Manning
  • LB Sam Mills
  • DL Richard Seymour
  • LB Zach Thomas
  • WR Reggie Wayne
  • DB Charles Woodson

Sixteen players and one coach who spent significant portions of their career with the Browns have been elected to the Hall of Fame since the museum's inception in 1963. The most recent was the late receiver Mac Speedie, who got the nod as part of the Hall's extended "Centennial Slate" that celebrated the league's 100th anniversary.