Matthews retires magna cum laude

Bruce Matthews, who officially announced his retirement from pro football yesterday in Houston, played in 296 games and was selected to the Pro Bowl a record-tying 14 times.

It probably wasn't the way Bruce Matthews would have designed his retirement party – too much pomp and circumstance for a guy who was a Columbia blue-collar worker for 19 NFL seasons.

There were reporters and TV crews gathered in Houston for Monday's official ceremony, the Nashville media and front office officials on hand via conference call at the Tennessee Titans' complex and coach Jeff Fisher on the teleconference from vacation in California. Matthews' wife Carrie and the couple's six children were also on hand for the ceremony.

The Titans even made an apology to the low-key Matthews that he had to go through Monday's formalities, offering that it was necessary to honor the many accomplishments of one of the NFL's all-time greats.

Matthews made his retirement official Monday from owner Bud Adams' offices in Houston, ending a 19-year affiliation with the Oilers/Titans franchise, retiring with 296 games played and a record-tying 14 Pro Bowl selections.

"It's an honor. I cherish every opportunity I had to play this great game and never once did it feel like a job to me," Matthews said.

There will be more honors for Matthews to cherish later this year when his No. 74 will be retired and he will be the lone inductee into the Titans Hall of Fame on Dec. 8 against the Indianapolis Colts.

Matthews, who turns 41 on Aug. 8, said he had pretty much made up his mind at the end of last season that this would be it for his future Hall of Fame career. Still, there was that wee bit of doubt he first had to reconcile in his mind.

"I guess I wavered a little bit. I came out of the season definitely retiring [and went] to possibly retiring," Matthews said. "We had kind of ruled out going back to Nashville with the family situation, and things didn't work out here [with the Houston Texans]. It was a very good decision once it came about. A lot of things went through my mind, more than anything, that I've never had a real job and what would I do with the rest of my life. But I've been blessed with six kids, and I look forward to being the best husband and father I can from here on out."

Matthews said once he made the decision to retire, it was one he was comfortable with.

"Once the decision was made, it really has been a relief. The biggest thing I've struggled with before I did announce was that I still had desire within me to play," Matthews said. "I thought that when you retire, you're done with it; you don't want to play anymore. Everyone I've talked to says that desire doesn't really go away. You just channel it into other avenues of your life. I'm looking forward to whatever the Lord has in store for my life."

As expected, the accolades for Matthews were plentiful Monday.

"No one else has ever done better in the history of the game than what Bruce has done," said Titans offensive line coach Mike Munchak, Matthews' best friend and his teammate for 11 seasons. "I think most of us who have played football to some degree, and those who have played offensive line, realize what that means, to have played every single snap, 60 to 70 plays a game for 19 years, every game. That's amazing in itself, and the fact that he played all five positions [on the offensive line].

Fisher, who was Matthews' teammate at Southern Cal for two seasons, talked of the lineman being the consummate professional on and off the field and about the character he displayed in life as well as football.

"As a coach, it's an honor for me to be associated with Bruce playing for so many years. Also, it's been an honor to have been a teammate of Bruce's for a couple of years back in college," Fisher said. "From a coaching perspective, our jobs are to get players to do the best that they can every play, to play as hard as they can possibly play and do their best. And over the 19 years, I think Bruce did that over 21,000 times on the field. He gave it everything he had every play and played at a high level. What happens is we have a tendency in this case to take so much for granted. "

General manager Floyd Reese said he found the words difficult to come by when describing what Matthews has meant to the organization.

"The thing that is unique about Bruce is that it is impossible to put into words what he has done," Reese said. "What he has gone through as a player, to always be there and answer the bell and excel at whatever he is doing, cannot be properly expressed.

"He is arguably the best offensive lineman to play the game. If you put together a laundry list of what you would want in an offensive lineman, durability, production, versatility, dependability, character, he would be at the top of the list in each of those categories."

Added Fisher: "It's going to be a difficult task to replace Bruce. That's something that will never be done. We'll do our best. Again the things he's done on and off the field. He is what we'll refer to from now on as a Titan-like figure in this organization and in the league."

Adams also spoke of Matthews' character and priorities as being his most distinguishing characteristics.

"He obviously was a great football player, but what I found admirable about Bruce was that God and family were clearly more important than football, and this is what made him such a special man, not just a special football player," Adams said.

When the Titans open training camp a week from Wednesday, it will mark the first time in 20 years that they will not have Matthews on their roster.

But Matthews said he will still follow the Titans, even though it will be from afar in Houston instead of on the field.

"I'll still keep up with the Titans. I still have a lot of friends there," said Matthews, who followed older brother Clay (also a 19-year player) and father Clay, Sr. into the world of professional football.

Matthews is also looking forward to football season this year in some ways more than any other because oldest sons Steven, 17, and Kevin, 15, are now playing competitively.

"I'm really looking forward to Fridays and high school football," Matthews said.

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