INDIANAPOLIS — His story of rising from college obscurity to NFL greatness couldn’t be more inspiring.
Robert Mathis, somewhat inexplicably, became one of the greatest pass rushers in history after arriving in 2003 as an Indianapolis Colts fifth-round pick out of Alabama A&M. He was thought to be too small at 6-2 and 245 pounds. And he didn’t say much at first, painfully shy in front of reporters.
But turn on the stadium lights and he shined. In 14 seasons, Mathis set the NFL record with 47 sack/forced fumbles. He set the franchise record with 123 sacks, which ranks 17th overall.
The undersized edge rusher from Atlanta, who was named to six consecutive Pro Bowls from 2008 to 2013, will be honored again on Nov. 22, when Mathis is inducted into the Colts Ring of Honor at halftime of the home game against the Green Bay Packers at Lucas Oil Stadium. That’s presuming there will be fans in the stands, because such a distinction must be made in front of them.
In keeping with his understated nature, Mathis responded with a brief tweet after Monday’s announcement: “Thanks for thinking so highly of me!!!”
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Thanks for thinking so highly of me!!! <a href="https://t.co/DvHfgr8Umg">https://t.co/DvHfgr8Umg</a></p>— ROBERT MATHIS The1st (@RobertMathis98) <a href="https://twitter.com/RobertMathis98/status/1272550011377782786?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">June 15, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
“From a fifth-round pick from a small college to one of the most effective and feared defensive players in the NFL, Robert Mathis was a centerpiece of the historic Colts teams of the last two decades,” said Colts owner Jim Irsay in a team release.
“He was undersized and underrated, but he made up for it with a motor that wouldn’t quit and a flawless technique that outmatched the most talented linemen in the league. And to watch him strip-sack the quarterback — which he did better and more than anyone in NFL history — was a thing of beauty.”
Mathis becomes the 17th member of the Colts Ring of Honor and, fittingly, follows pass-rushing partner Dwight Freeney, who was inducted last year. Since retirement, Mathis has worked with pass rushers as a Colts assistant coach and team consultant.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Yea <a href="https://twitter.com/Popeye2022?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Popeye2022</a> we talked the talk about you now the pressure is on you to walk it out now!!! <a href="https://twitter.com/gridiron_gang_?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@gridiron_gang_</a> .... this will be one of the top 10 Edge Rushers in the country!!! 2022 <a href="https://t.co/IlS9gC7Woz">pic.twitter.com/IlS9gC7Woz</a></p>— ROBERT MATHIS The1st (@RobertMathis98) <a href="https://twitter.com/RobertMathis98/status/1271526447014916096?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">June 12, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
“What’s more, Robert has stayed connected to the Horseshoe and has helped guide and teach our next generation of players,” Irsay said. “We are so proud that his name and his Hall of Fame-worthy career will be celebrated and remembered in Indianapolis from this day forward.”
He played 192 career games, 121 of them starts, with 604 total tackles, 456 of those solos, 123 sacks, 18 passes defended, 52 forced fumbles, 17 fumble recoveries including three returned for touchdowns, one interception and 15 special-teams tackles. In 18 playoff games, he had 48 total tackles, 32 solos, 6.5 sacks, two passes defended, five forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.
Mathis was voted Associated Press First-Team All-Pro in 2013, when he led the NFL with 19.5 sacks to win the inaugural Deacon Jones Award.
He was also a member of the Colts’ Super Bowl XLI championship team. An enduring image from that game in the Miami rain is of Mathis flying over a blocker to pressure quarterback Rex Grossman.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Ready to rush the <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/ColtsROH?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#ColtsROH</a>.<a href="https://twitter.com/RobertMathis98?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@RobertMathis98</a> is the next Colts Ring of Honor inductee.</p>— Indianapolis Colts (@Colts) <a href="https://twitter.com/Colts/status/1272536921227616259?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">June 15, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
(Phillip B. Wilson has covered the Indianapolis Colts for more than two decades and authored the 2013 book 100 Things Colts Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die. He’s on Twitter @pwilson24, on Facebook at @allcoltswithphilb and @100thingscoltsfans, and his email is email@example.com.)