Chris Matthews goes from CFL rookie of the year to Foot Locker employee to surprising Super Bowl star

Former CFLer Chris Matthews shone against the Patriots (and another CFL alumnus, Brandon Browner) in Sunday's Super Bowl. (Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports)
Former CFLer Chris Matthews shone against the Patriots (and another CFL alumnus, Brandon Browner) in Sunday's Super Bowl. (Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports)

Much of the Seattle Seahawks' production in the Super Bowl Sunday came from a former member of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. That would be wide receiver Chris Matthews, who lit up the CFL with Winnipeg in 2012, recording 81 catches for 1,192 yards and seven touchdowns and earning the league's rookie of the year award in the process. Matthews missed 13 of the Bombers' 18 games thanks to injury in 2013 and only made 14 catches for 138 yards that year, but his 2012 production was enough for several NFL teams to take a look at him as a free agent. He wound up signing with the Seahawks in February 2014, and that's worked out very well for both them and him; he shone for them in Sunday's Super Bowl, recording four catches for a game-high 109 yards. To boot, those marked his first NFL catches. While that wasn't quite enough for a Seattle victory, Matthews' contributions were still vital for the Seahawks.

Matthews almost didn't wind up trying out with Seattle, though. As he told Emily Kaplan of The MMQB in January, he was working two jobs during the CFL offseason, and he was initially lukewarm when the Seahawks offered a tryout. Here's what he said:

Matthews spent a year out of the game, latched on with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers for two years, and spent his offseason working two jobs: one at Foot Locker, the other as a security guard. One day, around this time last year, his phone rings. It’s a Seahawks official, and they want Matthews to come to a tryout. Tonight. Matthews looks at watch, pauses, and says, “I don’t get off of work until 9 p.m. I don’t know if I’ll make it.”
“Alright,” the caller said. “We’ll let you know.”


A few minutes later, Matthews agent calls. “What are you thinking! Get yourself home, pack up and go. Are you out of your mind?!”

Matthews made the flight.

“Man, I almost messed up, bad,” he says, sheepishly, as he leans into his locker stall on Sunday. Then his grin returns. “And look at this now.”

Even after he signed with Seattle, it wasn't an easy road to NFL stardom for Matthews, though. He didn't play much in the 2014 preseason, and the Seahawks cut him Aug. 30. They signed him to their practice squad the next day, but cut him again Sept. 3. At that point, many players would have returned to a sure paycheque in the CFL. Not Matthews, though. He worked out on his own in his hometown of Long Beach, California for six weeks, and then Seattle elected to bring him back to the practice squad in late October.

That's an appropriate arc for someone who never had an easy path to football success. Matthews has always had impressive size (he's listed as 6'5'', 218 pounds), but many have said he's slow, and while he eventually wound up in the SEC as a junior college transfer, that was at decided non-powerhouse Kentucky. He did well enough with the Wildcats to get some NFL tryouts in 2011, and the Cleveland Browns signed him, but they cut him in training camp. That led to him spending a year out of the game before signing with Winnipeg in 2013. From there to a spot on an NFL practice squad is a remarkable transition in its own right, and the CFL played a huge role in that. Here's a clip of some of Matthews' CFL highlights:

There were still further bumps ahead, however. Matthews wasn't added to the active roster until Dec. 6, and he was only tabbed then thanks to an injury to linebacker Kevin-Pierre Louis and cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy failing a physical. He occasionally suited up for the team in their remaining regular-season games, but played mostly on special teams, and didn't record a catch. That would change in the playoffs, though.

Matthews and several other players with Canadian connections were essential to the Seahawks' come-from-behind victory in the NFC championship two weeks ago, with Matthews' crucial onside kick recovery proving vital to the team's survival. That was just setting the stage for what was to come, though. In the Super Bowl, Matthews would take things to a whole new level. He made a superb early 44-yard catch in the first quarter, then notched an impressive 11-yard touchdown grab with only seconds left in the first half. Matthews went on to shine down the stretch, too, posting four catches for 109 yards (tied for a game-high) overall. It wound up not being enough for a Seattle victory, thanks to a late goal-line interception, but Matthews still provided the Seahawks with a huge boost. They can thank Winnipeg for that.