Two weeks or so ago, Clay Matthews experienced something he hadn't felt since the Green Bay Packers won the Super Bowl.
A brief lifting of the NFL lockout allowed Matthews, Green Bay's Pro Bowl linebacker, and his teammates to gather in Green Bay to receive their Super Bowl championship rings.
"I've seen a few of my guys in charity events and just along the way, a few workouts here and there, but that was the first time we had pretty much the whole team all together," Matthews said. "(It was) fantastic, seeing the coaches, players, personnel, and getting our rings."
As to when the entire team might be together again … "I'm just as much in the dark as you guys are," said Matthews, in Williamsburg on Sunday night to take part in William and Mary's Colonial All-Pro football camp. "We are making strides, or so I hear. I would like to think sometime in July, so we can get back at it and not miss any games. But we'll see."
The labor uncertainty didn't detract from the Packers' post-Super Bowl celebration, Matthews said, and the team has moved on to focusing on backing up that championships.
"We're almost onto a new year now, and we've got to go ahead and try to get after another one," Matthews said. "I've just been going about my business like I would have if it were any other offseason. ... Obviously I'm not with my team, which makes it a little difficult, but I'd like to think that we have a team where everybody's working hard in their own right, so that way when we do come back together, we'll be ready to go."
Matthews was ready the minute he stepped onto the field for the Packers as the 26th overall pick in the 2009 draft. He had 50 tackles and 10 sacks in his first season, becoming the first Green Bay rookie since James Lofton in 1978 to earn a trip to the Pro Bowl.
Matthews earned a second Pro Bowl selection in 2011, but that wasn't the highlight of his second pro season. Matthews forced a fourth-quarter fumble by Pittsburgh running back Rashard Mendenhall as Green Bay beat the Steelers 31-25 in Super Bowl XLV.
"Once those final seconds ticked off the clock, it culminated the whole season," Matthews said. "I'd been injured a few times. Everybody had been injured. Everybody had their issues, their fights, their ups and downs of the season, but we were able to make it through and get to the pinnacle of the season, which is what every team strives for, and we were able to come away with that one goal."
Not that long ago, Matthews' goal was just to make the team. Steeped in the genetics of the game — his uncle, Bruce Matthews, was a 14-time Pro Bowl offensive lineman for the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans and is in the Hall of Fame, and his father, Clay, played 278 games in 19 seasons with Cleveland and Atlanta — Matthews was a slow-blooming physical specimen who drew scant interest out of Agoura (Calif.) High. His father, the team's defensive coordinator, didn't start his son because of his small size.
"I play this game with a level of violence, because I've had to prove so many people wrong," said Matthews, now 6-foot-3 and 255 pounds. "I play with a chip on my shoulder. … It's not your typical college scenario in which players get to the NFL, but I wouldn't change it for anything, because I think it's what's made me the person I am today."
On Sunday, with his trademark blond hair in a ponytail, Matthews instructed campers on proper tackling technique, holding a padded dummy as young bodies hurtled themselves at it.
"Wrap those arms," he instructed before exchanging high-fives with each kid.
Matthews can't wait to be on the field again with players his own size.
"What everybody misses the most is the camaraderie we have in the locker room, where there really are no boundaries," he said. "Everyone is truly your best friend and your teammate and your confidante.
"… I think this is ultimately the maturation process of our organization. You see the NBA and these other organizations going through it. Everything is working itself out, as far as benefits for retired players, a rookie salary cap, a wage scale, and owners giving a certain amount to the players. I think we're all working toward a common goal."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun