Coming out of Alabama A&M in 2003, Robert Mathis was considered too small and slow to be an effective NFL pass rusher.
After 14 years in the NFL where he played 192 games, accumulated 123 sacks and appeared in six Pro Bowls, Mathis retired after yesterday’s 24-20 win over Jacksonville, finishing his career 17th on the NFL’s all-time sack list.
Mathis set an NCAA I-AA record with 20 sacks during his senior season at Alabama A&M and played his entire career with the team that drafted him, the Indianapolis Colts. 137 players were selected before him in that 2003 NFL Draft.
He made an impact as a pass rushing specialist as rookie, playing in all of the team’s 16 games. But he took a giant step during his second year where, despite only starting one game and being utilized mostly in a specialty role, he racked up 36 tackles, 10.5 sacks and 6 forced fumbles.
By his third year, he’d established himself as a force of nature. Despite missing three games due to injuries, he set a franchise record with eight straight games with at least one sack, and finished the season with 54 tackles, 11.5 sacks and eight forced fumbles.
He was an integral part of the team that beat the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI, as the Indy defense ranked second in the NFL in fewest passing yards allowed. Dwight Freeney and Mathis were widely considered to be among the best pass-rushing defensive ends in the league.
Mathis wrapped up his career with a strip sack, upping his NFL record to 47, in his final game. He picked it up when he came up the middle and knocked the ball away from Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles and jumped on it when Jacksonville was at the Colts 24-yard line and trying to break a 17-17 tie.
“I actually panicked because he almost got away from me,” Mathis said. “That swipe was a desperation move, so it all worked out. Thank god for everything, and Im humbled by everything right now.”