Since its inception in 1920, the NFL has seen generations of players follow in the footsteps of their fathers. All the backyard games of catch, the youth football coaching provided, and the sometimes-tough love, NFL dads everywhere have passed on their knowledge and athletic gifts to their sons in aspirations of watching them play football on Sundays.
Though not all have lived up to the legacy left by their fathers, some have gone on to have stellar careers. Some father-son duos—and even trios—have left more of an impact than others.
In honor of Father’s Day, we are featuring some of the most successful football families in NFL history.
The Manning Family
Let’s get the obvious out of the way here. The Manning’s come to the forefront when you think of father-son athletes that have shared a multitude of successes. They are in fact so good, that our list of father-son duos is actually a trio.
The Manning legacy began in New Orleans. Archie Manning, the pride of Isidore High School in New Orleans, began his dream career as a promising young passer for his hometown Saints. Though he never led his team to a winning record or a Playoff appearance, Manning garnered a lot of respect amongst his NFL peers for his abilities to thrive on a talent-deprived roster. A second-round pick in 1971, Manning racked up a number of awards during his 13 years in the NFL. A 2-time Pro Bowler and “Whizzer” White Man of the Year recipient, Manning played the game the right way and was a great league ambassador off the field. His 35-101-3 record is the worst in NFL for QB’s with at least 100 starts.
Though the eldest Manning was unable to reach the Super Bowl, his sons Peyton and Eli have thrived since day one in the NFL. Perhaps foreshadowing their talents, both players were drafted first overall in their respective drafts—Peyton by the Colts in 1998 and Eli by the Chargers in 2004. Eli was later sent to the New York Giants in exchange for Phillip Rivers on draft day.
During his 14-year stint with the Colts, Peyton Manning was named to 11 Pro Bowls and consistently led his team to the post-season. The older Manning has one Lombardi Trophy to his name, a Super Bowl XLI win against the Chicago Bears in 2007. Following the 2009 season, Peyton was awarded his 4th NFL MVP award—passing Brett Favre for most MVPs by a single player. Currently, Manning is playing out a 5-year, $100 million deal with the Denver Broncos.
Eli Manning has also thrived in his role as the signal caller for Big Blue. The Giants have won two NFL Championships, despite posting some .500 or below seasons in the AFC East. Ironically, both of Eli’s victories on the grandest of NFL stages have come against the Tom Brady-led Patriots—Manning was named the Super Bowl MVP in both games.
Both Mannings project to be enshrined in Canton after their playing days are over.
Not to be outdone on this list is the Matthews family—boasting three generations of NFL talent. It all began with Clay Matthews Sr. in the 1950’s. After four successful seasons as an offensive tackle and linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers, Matthews took his work ethic and determination with him into his military service during the Korean War. After his military leave, he returned to play three more seasons for the 49ers, picking up right where he left off. He is the legacy to sons Clay Matthew Jr., Pro Football Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews, and grandfather to current Packers star Clay Matthews III.
Clay Matthews Jr. played all of 19 seasons during his NFL career—splitting time with the Cleveland Browns and Atlanta Falcons. The four-time Pro Bowler holds the distinction of the oldest player to record a sack at the ripe old age of 40 years and 282 days. Though not an overwhelming force, Matthews’ consistency and duration are what made him a special player during his time in the league. As it stands, he ranks 17th on the list for most games played in NFL History (278).
Bruce Matthews, the second son of Clay Matthews Sr., has the ultimate bragging rights as far as the most successful NFL career is concerned. His laundry list of accolades—that reads more like a novel—include 14 Pro Bowl selections, 10 All-Pro selections, a Bart Starr Man of the Year award, induction into the NFL Hall of Fame in 2007, and being named a member of the 1990’s All-Decade team. Perhaps the highest honor was having his number 74 was retired by the Tennessee Titans (formerly the Houston/Tennessee Oilers). Matthews’ love for the franchise was so deep that he became the offensive line coach for the Titans, a position he still currently holds.
The youngest Matthews in the NFL, Clay Matthews III, is currently playing at a torrid pace for the Green Bay Packers. Matthews has earned a reputation as an explosive player that makes plays from sideline-to-sideline, a mindset that might stem from knowing full well that he has to play catch-up in such a successful lineage of Matthew’s players in the NFL. The former USC Trojan is already racking up the awards like family before him: including 4 Pro Bowl selections, an NFC Defensive Player of the Year and Dick Butkus Award in 2010, and a Super Bowl XLV win against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Although not as well known top-to-bottom as the Manning’s, the Matthews’ have to be considered among the most elite football families. Oregon Linebacker Casey Matthews is quietly having a successful collegiate career and could wind up pushing his family to the most successful in league history.
The Winslow Family
The last family to earn a spot on our list is the Winslow family. Both of the Winslow’s were drafted in the first round of their respective draft classes. Kellen Winslow Sr. is about as decorated a tight end as the NFL has seen—often regarded as the greatest tight end to play the game. An All-American tight end for the Missouri Tigers, Winslow’s success immediately translated to the NFL. The five-time Pro Bowler is a member of the NFL’s 75th Anniversary All-Time team, a member of the 80’s All-Decade team, and a member of the San Diego Chargers and Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Kellen Winslow Jr. has enjoyed a modicum of NFL success, although not quite like his father. The current free agent tight end has been a journeyman thus far in the NFL, playing for four teams thus since his NFL arrival in 2004. Winslow has earned one Pro Bowl invite (2007), but has been relatively under-utilized in his NFL career. Combinations of injuries and bad luck have kept the former Miami Hurricane from having a successful career at the next level.
Ultimately, this duo makes the cut because of the achievements of Winslow Sr. Though Winslow Jr. could still finish with a nice career, he is unlikely to reach the numbers and stats put up by his father. He is currently 103 receptions, 2,000 yards, and 30 TDs shy of his father’s career stats.
Honorable Mention: The Long family (Howie & Chris), the Dorsett Family (Tony & Anthony), The Ryan Family (Buddy, Rex, Rob), The Hasselbeck Family (Don, Matt, Tim)
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