Clay Matthews III heads to Cleveland on special day for his dad

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THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- To say Clay Matthews III grew up around football would be an understatement. The Los Angeles Rams outside linebacker was born into a family that considered it the family business -- one that runs three generations deep.

On Sunday, when the Rams play the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium (8:20 p.m. ET, NBC), it will be a family affair -- with about 20 in attendance -- and two generations on display.

Now in his 11th season, Clay Matthews III will suit up for his third game as a Ram.

And at halftime, his father, Clay Matthews Jr. -- who played 19 NFL seasons, including 16 with the Browns and three with the Atlanta Falcons -- will be inducted into the Browns Ring of Honor.

"Awesome," Matthews III said. "It's long overdue."

Matthews Jr. said he's "extremely humbled to be honored in this manner," but admitted that having his son playing on the field against the Browns "presents some issues."

"I thought about that and realized there is some pull each way and I think I found a solution," said Matthews Jr., whose own father, Clay Matthews Sr., played for the San Francisco 49ers in the 1950s. "We will get after it on Sunday night and then how about we meet again in Miami early February [for the Super Bowl] and work it out then. We will go best out of two."

Matthews III was 10 years old when his dad retired in 1996 and was too young to attend most of his games at old Municipal Stadium in Cleveland. "It was too cold," Matthews said. But he does hold close a few moments from his dad's final seasons with the Falcons.

"Some of my fondest memories of him playing was him after victories bringing us on the field and allowing us to run around," Matthews said. "I remember stealing -- well, I wouldn't say stealing, but I remember asking -- I think I got a pair of Eric Metcalf cleats back in the day. My mom said we'd come out with hands full of just used tape, mouthpieces, just stuff that was trash."

Matthews Jr. was a four-time Pro Bowl selection and will become the first player inducted into the Browns Ring of Honor who has yet to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He has been a semifinalist to make the Hall of Fame three times, including this past year. He played in 278 games, had 69.5 sacks and 1,561 tackles.

"I coached in that division a long time against Cleveland," Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said. "To play 19 years at outside linebacker is unheard of ... you just don't see many defensive players, especially at that position where you got to run, you got to hit, all those things, you've got to cover."

Over the offseason, after 10 seasons together, the Green Bay Packers chose to move on from Matthews III. He had 83.5 career sacks, but last season recorded a career-low 3.5.

Matthews, 33, could have retired. But longevity runs in the family and he felt he had plenty remaining in the tank, so Matthews signed a two-year deal, worth $9.25 million, which includes $5.5 million in guarantees, with the Rams.

He was brought in to provide veteran leadership to young pass-rushers Dante Fowler Jr. and Samson Ebukam -- whom Matthews replaced as a starter -- and to apply much needed pressure off the edge. Through two games he's tied for the team lead with two sacks.

"I look at it as an opportunity to get better," Ebukam said about playing behind Matthews. "Just get more experience because it's not some slap d--- that's in front of me. That's a future Hall of Famer."

Said Fowler: "I always try to look at what he's thinking out on the field, see how he takes notes and things like that. I feel like that's why he makes an impact on Sunday, because he knows where the ball is going to be at."

As for how much longer Matthews can continue to play?

"He sure looks like he's doing really well," Rams coach Sean McVay said. "I've been a fan of his just watching his versatility in terms of different things that you can do with him, how smart he is, he's twitchy, he's feeling good ... if he continues on this trajectory it's going to be really good."

Matthews III and his wife, Casey, have three children, two boys and a girl, who are ages four, 2 1/2 and six months.

They're likely to learn soon that football is the family business. But for now, they're even too young to join their dad on the field for postgame victory celebrations.

So that must mean Matthews, like his dad, has to play a few more seasons?

"Let's take it one game at a time," Matthews said, chuckling. "One year at a time."