The Colts locker room rarely looks the same.
The faces inside it are always changing – season to season, week to week, even day to day.
But for the past 14 seasons, linebacker Robert Mathis has been the anchor in a sea of change – the constant teammate, the constant professional, the constant leader.
You always know what to expect from Robert Mathis.
He demands the best of himself and those around him. Ask him a question, he’ll answer it. But if you want something more, you’ll have to ask another question – or a better question.
He doesn’t waste words. Mathis has a unique ability to say a lot by saying a little. Maybe it’s for effect, maybe he’s being efficient, or maybe it’s just his way.
He commands attention when he walks in the room. And when you see him coming, you get out of his way.
He looks the part. Every football player resembles a gladiator when they strap on a helmet and pads. Robert Mathis looks like a gladiator without all that. His chiseled features and steely gaze may be intimidating at first – but then he smiles and suddenly, he’s as human as you and me.
My job (writing the Colts blog, Colts Roundup), is to tell the players’ stories. I know who they are as football players, I want to know who they are as people – and help fans get to know them that way too.
With Robert Mathis, it wasn’t difficult – it just took time. He revealed himself slowly and in his own way.
He’s got a soft spot for kids and not just his own. His wife, Brandi, is his rock. He loves his family fiercely and he’s fiercely protective of them, just as they are of him. His late mother, Emma, was his everything – and now, she’s his angel.
Prior to the last game of the season, Mathis announced his retirement. During the press conference, I asked him this question: “Who is the one person most responsible for your success?”
This was his answer: “Emma Mathis, my mother. She lit a fire. Sophomore year in college, a lot of people don’t know it, but we got put out of our house. She was paying her rent, she cleaned houses for a living. She paid rent on time every month but the landlord wasn’t paying the mortgage. The U.S. Marshal knocked on our door and we got put out. My mom was crying crocodile tears. That lit a fire. There’s going to be a lot of hell to pay for somebody on the football field. Thank God for keeping me healthy for 14 years to retire her … It was a happy ending after all.”
Emma Mathis is Robert Mathis’ why.
It’s a special thing any time I get a player to share a piece of himself. But when Robert Mathis did – it was downright magical. During that last press conference, he opened his heart and let us see a little bit of his soul.
The following Monday, he was in the locker room cleaning out his locker for the last time. “Hey, Robert,” I said. I stuck my hand out to congratulate him and say goodbye. He looked up, smiled, and gave me a hug.
I had respect for Robert Mathis the day I walked into the Colts locker room. But the day I earned it back, I’ll never forget.
It’s hard to say and even harder to believe – but the next time I go into the Colts locker room, Robert Mathis won’t be there.
I won’t say he’s no longer a Colt, because Robert Mathis will always be a Colt. For 14 seasons, he showed us what it means to be a Colt. And I hope he can continue to do that in some way.
He played football for a living and made a life doing it. But Robert Mathis is more than a football player. He’s a husband. He’s a father. He’s Emma Mathis’ son.
But more than anything, Robert Mathis is a leader.
I look forward to seeing where life leads him.
And where he chooses to lead.