When Clay and Bruce Matthews get together for a little brotherly competition, it's best to have an ambulance on standby. Boxing matches can turn into knock-down-drag-out fistfights; in Bruce's wedding pictures, you can see a scratch on his forehead that came from roughhousing with his brother. They play video games until 5 a.m., calling it quits only when they no longer can keep their eyelids from twitching. When they go knee-boarding on Castaic Lake in Southern California, pulled side by side behind a speedboat at 40 mph, they jump the wake and try to land on one another. A simple game of one-on-one basketball on Clay's backyard court usually turns into a shouting match, or escalates into so much banging and shoving that one of them gets a black eye, bloody nose or cut lip.
"We find losing so disgusting that we refuse, by sheer effort, to lose," Clay says.
"With time, effort and the will to win, we prove ourselves in the long run," Bruce says. "No matter what the sport is, if we play long enough, we will beat you."
Their sport of choice, naturally, is football. And while they may sound like a pair of burr-headed teenagers, Clay, 34, is the Cleveland Browns' left linebacker and Bruce, 29, is the Houston Oilers' right guard.
Of the 140-plus brother combinations who have played pro football since the 1920s, none can match the Matthewses' overall achievements. Both received All-America honors in high school (Clay at New Trier East in suburban Chicago, Bruce at Arcadia, Calif.) and in college (while seniors at Southern Cal). Both were first-round NFL draft choices, the Browns making Clay the 12th overall pick in the '78 draft, and the Oilers choosing Bruce ninth in '83. And they are the only brothers ever voted to the same Pro Bowl team, having both been chosen for the AFC squad in '88 and '89.
Clay and Bruce admit, however, that their intensity on the football field has wavered 14 times in the past seven years. On those occasions they lined up across from each other as the Browns and Oilers, members of the highly competitive AFC Central, squared off. One brother does not enjoy seeing the other made to look foolish in front of a screaming, sellout crowd and millions of TV viewers.
In 1986 in Cleveland, Clay blew past Bruce and sacked Oiler quarterback Warren Moon for a nine-yard loss. A great play? Not according to Clay, who had difficulty sleeping that night. "I felt like Judas, like I had turned in someone from my family for the sake of a game," he says. "My teammates wanted to exchange high fives, but I felt terrible. I want to beat Bruce in anything I do, except football."
Last year in Houston, with the division championship on the line, it was Bruce's turn to feel the tug of family ties. With about five minutes left in the fourth quarter and the Browns clinging to a 17-13 lead, Moon lined up in the shotgun formation at the Cleveland 15, and the ball was snapped over his head. Clay scooped up the ball and began to run, but an Oiler grabbed him.
"Everything seemed out of focus on the field except for Clay's eyes," Bruce recalls. "I'll never forget that sensation. He was looking at me. All of a sudden, he threw the ball, and I swear, it was coming right toward me. I thought I was having a flashback to my childhood, as though we were playing football in the backyard."
Actually, Clay had attempted a lateral to Chris Pike, the Browns' 6'8" defensive tackle, but the ball sailed over Pike's head. It landed four feet in front of Bruce and then trickled through his legs. Oiler Ernest Givins recovered at the Cleveland 27, and on the next play, Moon threw a touchdown to Drew Hill, putting Houston ahead, 20-17.
"My teammates came up to me and said, 'Your brother just won the game for us!' " Bruce says. "It was such a boneheaded play. But I really didn't feel like celebrating."
Bruce was left with mixed emotions when, with 39 seconds left, Cleveland's Kevin Mack scored the winning touchdown on a four-yard run. "I said, 'Man, I can't believe we lost this game,' " Bruce says. "I was upset. Then, I thought, Well, at least my brother's not the goat. He's vindicated."
The brothers' competitive spirit originated with their father, William Clay Sr., now 62, tan and fit at 6'3" and 240 pounds. President of a Los Angeles air-pollution-control business, Clay Sr. lettered in football, wrestling and swimming at Georgia Tech (1944-49), and started at offensive tackle, defensive end and linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers in the early '50s. He loves to tell a story about how, as a senior at Georgia Tech, he competed in Georgia's state Golden Gloves heavyweight finals at 10 p.m. one night, then wrestled for the Southeastern Conference heavyweight title at 10 a.m. the next day. He won both championships.
Clay Sr. has always taken pride in being tough. "We were playing the Chicago Bears in 1954, and I was at linebacker, covering Bill McColl, their big end," he says. "I was watching the quarterback, and he got inside me. I ran right into the goalpost. Wrapped my arms around it. I was out cold. But I stayed in the game, calling the defensive signals. In those days, we had a trainer nicknamed Anak the Faith Healer. I'd say, 'I'm hurting.' And he'd say, 'Tape an aspirin to it.' "
With a father like that, you can imagine what it's like when the Matthews brothers compete against each other in sports. So where do they get all of this compassion when they are on opposite sides of an NFL field?
When they were youngsters, Clay and Bruce developed a close relationship while the family crisscrossed the country and Clay Sr. climbed various corporate ladders. Their father worked in 27 different locations for seven companies, and their mother, Daisy, supervised the moves. She packed the five children into station wagons and hopscotched from Palo Alto, Calif., to Raleigh, N.C.; Clinton, N.C.; Jackson, Mich.; Racine, Wis.; Washington, N.C.; Arcadia, Calif.; Kenil-worth, Ill.; and back to Arcadia. Kristy, now 36, is the eldest Matthews child, followed by Clay, twins Bradley and Raymond, who are 31 and educationally handicapped, and Bruce.
Although Clay Sr. worked long hours and traveled often, he tried to be an involved father, as a disciplinarian and a philosopher. He had a simple set of house rules: Once you start something, never quit. Give every ounce of energy to any endeavor. "The Matthewses are committed," Clay Sr. preached to his family.
Every six months or so, Clay Sr. would gather the children at the kitchen table and hand each of them a piece of paper and a pencil. This was known as "personal inventory time." He would pose moral and ethical questions: What is God? What does marriage mean? What are brothers and sisters for? When you give your word to somebody, what does that stand for? He would tuck away the answers in the top drawer of his dresser, then pull them out a few months later and call the children together for a review.
"You try to teach your kids about morals, but you never know if it sinks in," he says. "I was interested in honesty, love and fair treatment of others. I wanted them to understand what brothers and sisters are for; they're for each other. They're somebody to rely on, to help and to protect.
"When we'd look at the slips of paper, I'd tell them, 'Until somebody convinces you that this is not true, or that there are better answers, this is who you are. To thine own self be true.' "
Clay Sr. insisted that Raymond and Bradley be treated exactly the same as the other members of the family. Same rules. Same chores. Same standards. Same philosophies of life. "They aren't mentally handicapped," Clay Sr. likes to say. "They just don't have the horsepower." He placed the twins in regular public schools, enrolling them in special-education classes, and he insisted they compete in all of the backyard and playground sports against Clay and Bruce. And they did. The basement of the Matthewses' home in Illinois was the site of hard-checking floor hockey games, and the pool in Arcadia became a dangerous baseball and water polo battleground. There were knee-skinning basketball games on all of their cement driveways across the country.
"There was no foul unless there was blood," Raymond says.
"They hit hard, and so did we," Brad remembers. "We never backed down. No pain, no gain."
Both won state Special Olympics swimming medals while in high school, and today Raymond is the best bowler in the family, boasting a 180 average. But the Matthews family trait—an overly strong will to win—has gotten the twins into trouble. They've been ejected from Special Olympics basketball and floor hockey games for fighting with opponents and arguing officials' calls.
Competing against Clay and Bruce in sports-related activities helped the twins gain confidence as they went to school and made friends. Brad and Raymond know how to read and write, maintain their own apartments, shop for groceries, cook, handle their own checking accounts and maneuver around Los Angeles on the city's bus system.
"They achieved, thanks to being pushed by their brothers," Clay Sr. says. "I just refused to do anything different from what I would do for a normal kid. I figured, They will be what they will be. I have the same wants for them as I do for Bruce and Clay. We don't all have the same gifts. And what are your gifts, Raymond?"
Sitting beside his father at the edge of the family pool in Arcadia, Raymond looks at his dad and answers slowly. "Love...being gentle...kind," he says. "Looks don't count."
For the past nine years, Raymond has worked as a maintenance man at the data-tape division of Kodak, and until Friday, Sept. 30, 1988, Brad was an assembler for an electrical firm. That evening, after work, he was walking to a nearby high school track for his regular three-mile run, when he stepped into a crosswalk and was struck by a pickup truck. Brad was thrown 40 feet and suffered injuries that left him paralyzed from the shoulders down.
"He was given 26 pints of blood," Clay Sr. says, "but he never lost consciousness."
Although doctors said there was a chance Brad wouldn't survive, Clay Sr. waited three days—until after Sunday's games—to inform Clay and Bruce of the accident. When Bruce was told on Monday by his wife, Carrie, he pulled his car to the side of a Houston road and began to cry. Clay's first response was anger. "It just seemed so unfair," Clay says. "He was born with a strike against him. Why was he the one who was hit by the truck?"
Three weeks later, Clay visited Brad in the hospital. "I told Clay, 'When you go in, he's going to look different,' " Clay Sr. recalls. "Brad was wearing a halo. He had had a tracheotomy, a colostomy and a gastrotomy. He was being kept alive by tubes. Clay said that he could handle it, but when he got inside he was overwhelmed."
Clay composed himself well enough to offer Brad some words of inspiration. Recently, Brad, sitting in his motorized wheelchair, recounted the moment for Clay for the first time.
"You told me to keep fighting," Brad says. "You said, 'Do the best you can. Keep pushing. Keep going with life. You're just like anybody else, you just had a bad break.' That gave me strength."
Clay is stunned and moved. "I didn't know that I had made you feel strong," he says softly.
Brad smiles. "You told me how life goes on, that not everything can be perfect," he says. "It helped me. I wanted to be stronger because of you."
Brad's accident brought the Matthews family even closer. Daisy had died of lung cancer in 1984, so Kristy pitched in at the hospital, visiting Brad every day for nearly a year. Clay and his wife, Leslie, often had Raymond to their house for dinner and to stay overnight. Bruce and Carrie discussed the Bible with Brad.
"What Brad lost physically, he has gained mentally," Bruce says. "His personality and mental skills have expanded so much. He has no bitterness about not being able to walk. He's glad to be alive."
Clay and Bruce share the same philosophies on life and about raising children, and they possess a similar offbeat sense of humor. Both are devoted family men who own sprawling two-story homes a few blocks apart in Agoura Hills, Calif., a suburb of Los Angeles. They met their wives as freshmen at Southern Cal. Clay and Leslie have been married 11 years and have five children. Bruce and Carrie, married seven years, have three kids and plan to have three more.
How do they differ?
Music: "I like '50s and '60s music, and he's more educated to heavy metal," Clay says. "That's where I got lost."
Food: "Clay makes a big deal about his healthy eating," Bruce says. "He'll say, 'I don't cat butter and you do.' Then, in the next breath, he'll order a cheeseburger."
Dancing: "I do an Elvis routine that's a big hit, probably because of the shock value," says Bruce, who is 6'5", 295 pounds. "I swing my legs and shake my hips. Clay would never do that. He's too inhibited."
Clay, who is 6'3", 249 pounds, prefers to wear his sandy blond hair long, so that it hangs out the back of his helmet. Bruce keeps his dark hair short, in a conservative businessman's style. "That's really the biggest deviation among the males in our family," Bruce says. "But looking back at Clay's old pictures, I think it was a move for the best."
Even though he was an academic All-America in business administration and is two courses short of earning his MBA, Clay likes to cultivate the image of laid-back California cool. He subscribes to a variety of comic books, refers to his sons as "dude," and drives a beloved '73 Mercury Capri, with an odometer that stopped working six years ago after 89,000 miles. Bruce puts on a more serious, analytical air. A former dean's list student in industrial engineering, he has taken piano lessons on his Steinway baby grand.
"Clay finds it amusing to portray that beach boy image," Bruce says. "But nothing he has said or done has ever caught me off guard. We both like to be different but not be smart alecks about it."
Because they are in the same business and achieved the same success, and because they are so similar in all aspects of life, Clay and Bruce thoroughly understand one another.
"We talk about football—our reactions to situations, what we're feeling inside—once a week during the season and almost every day in the off-season," Clay says. "That gives us a chance to figure out what makes us tick. We're like two psychiatrists. I know myself better because I know my brother."
And what do the brothers think of each other as football players?
Bruce on Clay, a five-time Pro Bowl performer: "He is the most unorthodox pass rusher in the NFL, and one of the smartest. His head, hands and feet go every which way. He looks like he's being electrocuted. That wigwagging is Clay's strength: It freezes guys. He gets opponents wondering, What on earth is that guy doing?"
Clay on Bruce, who has started in two Pro Bowls: "He's a good athlete in a position where there aren't always good athletes. Most linemen get a lot of mass going, but they can be easily misdirected. He has such a low center of gravity and good balance overall, that he very rarely leaves his feet. More than that, he has an incredible will not to be defeated. I've seen him dive backward to block guys."
Clay and Bruce readily agree that they owe a lot of their success in football to the inspiration provided by the twins. Raymond and Brad have pushed them to strive for excellence. The twins' presence is a constant reminder to Clay and Bruce that talent is a blessing and playing football should always be kept in its proper perspective.
"Ray and Brad always understood they weren't going to be able to do the things that Clay and I were doing," Bruce says. "To this day, they are very happy about who they are, more so than frustrated about what they can't do.
"Of course, Clay and I both feel guilty that we've been given all these physical and mental tools. I know Clay has said it, and my parents have felt it, that if the twins were in a different situation, there would be four Matthews brothers playing in the NFL. In their own way, Brad and Ray are as fortunate as Clay and I are. Because what's important in life isn't being a football star. It's doing the best with what God has given you."