GREEN BAY – Earlier this season, Packers linebacker Clay Matthews became Green Bay’s all-time sack leader, and then he added to his total this past Sunday wearing a special pair of cleats designed by some very special people.
The whole picture helps sum up why Matthews is the Packers’ 2017 nominee for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award.
Matthews is one of 32 nominees league-wide for one of the game’s most prestigious honors, which recognizes an NFL player for outstanding community service activities off the field as well as excellence on the field.
With four games to go in the regular season, Matthews has six sacks in 2017, second on the team. The six-time Pro Bowler broke the Packers’ career sack record back in September, and he now has 78½, plus a franchise-record 11 in the postseason.
Matthews added 2½ sacks to his mark less than a week ago in the Packers’ 26-20 overtime victory over Tampa Bay while wearing specially designed cleats as part of the NFL’s “My Cause, My Cleats” campaign.
The designs on Matthews’ cleats were randomly chosen from several submitted by youth with a rare form of muscular dystrophy called Duchenne. It’s a degenerative muscular disease that affects mostly boys, and for the better part of this decade, Matthews has been involved with CureDuchenne, an organization dedicated to raising awareness and funding research to find a cure.
Matthews initially got involved with CureDuchenne back in 2010, recording a public service announcement. He was asked, in part, because of the popularity of his muscle-flexing sack celebration, which represented multiple facets of the cause – the inner strength of the boys fighting the disease, an image they look up to and strive for as a cure for their condition is sought, and the determination of those involved in seeking that cure.
As Matthews’ stardom rose and the Packers won the Super Bowl that season, the PSA received considerable airtime, bringing more awareness to the disease, and Matthews then started meeting some boys and their families affected by it.
“That’s when it really struck home to me, this is something I was able to change people’s lives just by offering a voice,” Matthews said in a brief interview with packers.com this week.
“It truly became a passion for me, and now we’re at a point where they’re at human clinical trials with some of the drugs they have. They’re making progress year in and year out trying to cure this disease.”
Getting a couple of sacks to highlight the cleats, and to do so in a Green Bay victory with one of the boys who designed them in attendance at Lambeau Field, was as special as it gets. Matthews said the other boy whose design was picked will be at the Packers’ next home game.
“I couldn’t tell you how many were made,” Matthews said of the designs entered in the random drawing. “It was really neat to get the kids involved that way.”
Debra Miller, President and CEO of CureDuchenne, said the organization is “grateful and honored” to have Matthews on its team. Over the past seven years, Matthews has been involved in several events and regularly corresponds with boys with Duchenne and their families.
“Clay Matthews has become the hero to the boys who are stricken with Duchenne,” Miller said. “As he battles on the field using his strength and physicality, he represents 300,000 Duchenne boys around the world who are battling to keep walking and breathing.”
In January, three of the Man of the Year nominees will be selected as finalists for the award, and the winner will be announced in Minneapolis at the NFL Honors ceremony on Feb. 3, the night before Super Bowl LII.
Recent Green Bay nominees for Man of the Year were linebackers Jayrone Elliott in 2016, Sam Barrington in 2015, and quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who was a finalist in 2014.
Starting this week, a Walter Payton Man of the Year trophy silhouette will appear in uniform elements to recognize past award winners and current nominees. Matthews will wear a Man of the Year helmet decal through the end of this season.
“It’s obviously not something I lobbied for or campaigned for,” Matthews said of the recognition, which comes on top of his selection this past summer for the Green Bay Chamber of Commerce’s 2017 Community Service Award.
“To be one of the nominees, it means a great deal, especially when you see some of these guys and what they mean to their community.”
Charity Challenge: Each Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee will take part in the Charity Challenge, a social media challenge that encourages fans to tweet using a unique hashtag for each player.
The player hashtag that generates the most mentions between Dec. 11 and Jan. 7 will win an additional $25,000 donation to the charity of his choice. The second and third place winners will receive a $10,000 and $5,000 donation, respectively, for a charity of their choice.
Fans can support Matthews by tweeting with the hashtag #WPMOYChallenge + Matthews to help Matthews earn a donation to his chosen charity, CureDuchenne.