INDIANAPOLIS — Robert Mathis is going home for Thanksgiving this week.
The Indianapolis Colts’ fifth-year defensive end was born and raised in Atlanta, where he attended McNair High School. Interestingly, tonight’s nationally televised game with the Falcons will be his first-ever visit to the Georgia Dome.
“That’s my home team. I root for us first and then I root for them second,” Mathis conceded earlier this week. “It’s going to be good. I’ve never played at home and I’ve never been in the Georgia Dome. So it’s going to be an experience for me.”
How could a kid growing up in Atlanta, with an obvious fondness for the city’s professional teams, not see a game in one of the city’s biggest sports venues? Easy, according to the soft-spoken defensive lineman who played collegiately at Alabama A&M.;
“I stayed in the city, but I’ve just never been to a football game there. I’ve never to [the Dome,” Mathis said.
“So it’s going to be an enjoyable experience for me,” he explained, joking that the cost of purchasing enough tickets for family and friends might set him back a bit financially.
“I’m looking at a 100 [people]. They’re going to be well-fed and they’re going to be rowdy. They’re going to be cheering at the Dome. I might be playing this game for free what with all the people I know that are going to be there.”
Mathis — who has his own website at
www.robertmathis.com — hopes to give his entourage a lot to cheer about. Chances are that he will. With the loss of three-time Pro Bowl performer Dwight Freeney to a season-ending foot injury, it will be up to the 6-foot-2, 245-pound speed rusher to provide some much needed pressure on Atlanta’s two-headed quarterback tandem of Joey Harrington and Byron Leftwich.
“We’re going to try and contain them, try and keep them inside [the pocket],” Mathis said, adding that the Falcons can be dangerous running the ball with Warrick Dunn and Jerious Norwood. “Not let them get loose on you. Their running backs can hurt you too. They really run hard and they can hurt you if you aren’t careful.”
While Freeney has gotten the most attention between the Colts’ two starting defensive ends since they were paired together a year ago, it’s been the cat-quick Mathis who has gotten the biggest share of the sacks over the last two seasons (15.5 to 9.0). He now has 41 career sacks and is closing in on Freeney’s current career franchise mark of 60.
Mathis’ success as an every-down defensive end may have come as quite of surprise to many NFL pundits who weren’t quite sure where Indianapolis planned to play him. He was thought of as an athletic, but undersized, defensive lineman in college who would probably make the move to outside linebacker on the professional level.
When he first came to the Colts as one of the team’s fifth-round draft choices in 2003, he was used primarily on special teams and as a situational pass rusher.
“Robert is a guy who, when he was young, we just kept playing him in those situations and saying, ‘He makes a lot of plays. He does a lot of things.’ Wherever we put him — on kickoff coverage, blocking his guy on [kickoff or punt return], rushing the passer. And then he got in there some [at defensive end] and they started running at him. And he held his own and made plays,” Indianapolis coach Tony Dungy recently recalled.
“Early in his career, he’d have 15 plays [on defense] and five tackles. It took us a while to get smart and figured that could extrapolate out to 20 tackles if he played 60 plays. He’s a good football player. And we knew that and our thing was always balancing productivity and not wearing him down. But he’s an exceptional player.”
Indianapolis’ defensive end was born and raised in Atlanta
INDIANAPOLIS — Robert Mathis is going home for Thanksgiving this week.
- CNHI News Service Originals
Donnelly forges bonds, reaches across aisle
When Indiana’s freshman senator joined a small group of Senate centrists two weeks ago to quietly begin forging a plan to end the shutdown of the federal government and keep the U.S. from defaulting on its debt, he was convinced it was what his Hoosier constituents wanted him to do.
- Colts will face Redskins in Hall of Fame Game on Aug. 3 The Indianapolis Colts, as a group, are going to the Pro Football Hall of Fame this summer.
- Thanksgiving is a homecoming for Colts’ Mathis Robert Mathis is going home for Thanksgiving this week.
- Indy's true safety valve Ever since he was selected by the Indianapolis Colts in the second round of the 2004 NFL draft, strong safety Bob Sanders has been an integral part of the team’s young defensive unit.
- Colts Camp: Simon still missing as Colts start practice The Indianapolis Colts went through their first two practices of training camp Monday, but veteran defensive tackle Corey Simon was no where to be seen. Simon’s status with the Colts for the upcoming season, which has been considered tenuous at best, remains an unanswered question.
Colts arrive ready to get down to business
Give Bill Polian plenty of credit. The Indianapolis Colts’ team president and general manager had said late last week that he was going to take all the time he needed in order to get the all nine of his draft picks signed.
- Welcome back champs: Indy begins its run for another Lombardi Trophy in Terre Haute Remember those guys who were hoisting the Vince Lombardi Trophy in Miami almost six months ago?
- Tanoos takes advantage of badge When Dan Tanoos rushed to the scene of a serious accident involving a school bus last week, he used red-and-blue police lights to help him get there more quickly.
- Bear's Notebook Monsters of the Midway don’t need motivational speeches.
- From the pressbox: From IU to the Super Bowl: Ogunleye appreciates trip Going into the 1999 season, then-Indiana University senior defensive end Adewale Ogunleye had the world at his feet.
- Dungy proud to honor Indy Most of the time, Tony Dungy is not an emotional man. But for a brief moment Friday, just prior to his final pre-Super Bowl XLI press conference, the Indianapolis Colts coach showed a side of his personality that few people get to see.
- Colts Notebook Back spasms limited the work schedule for defensive end Robert Mathis on Friday as the Indianapolis Colts wrapped up their final full practice prior to Sunday night’s Super Bowl XLI meeting with the Chicago Bears.
- Bears Notebook The last time the Indianapolis Colts faced a running back tandem as prolific as Chicago Bears runners Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson, Jacksonville rushers Maurice Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor scampered for nearly four football fields worth of yardage on the Colts.
- Indianapolis keeps its composure during record comeback Coming back from an 18-point deficit against three-time Super Bowl champion New England to win an AFC championship Sunday night was old hat for the Indianapolis Colts.
- Indy’s line ready for next challenge It’s a safe bet that the Indianapolis Colts offensive line will be severely tested when the New England Patriots come to town for Sunday’s AFC championship game.
- Dungy already knows approach to take during practice Savor the moment and take advantage of the opportunity.
- Dallas Clark may be the Colts biggest threat in a loaded offensive arsenal Mr. Versatility.
- Colts defense aims for repeat To put it mildly, the national sports media was stunned by the way the Indianapolis Colts defeated Kansas City in last weekend’s AFC wild-card game.
- Colts prepare for return to Baltimore On to Baltimore.
- Colts’ Sanders resting, ready to play Saturday It’s looking more and more like safety Bob Sanders will be in the starting lineup when the Indianapolis Colts face the Kansas City Chiefs in Saturday’s AFC wildcard game at the RCA Dome.
- Manning ready for familiar foes As Peyton Manning continues his videotape preparation this week for Saturday afternoon’s AFC wildcard game with the Kansas City Chiefs, two of the team’s veteran defensive players have grabbed his attention — cornerbacks Ty Law and Patrick Surtain.
- Dungy: 'We're still the same team' Tony Dungy is scratching his head right about now, trying to figure out what the heck is wrong with the Indianapolis Colts.
- Indy’s defense looks super The Indianapolis Colts knew that they would need a complete team performance if they were to register a win Monday night over the streaking Cincinnati Bengals.
- Donnelly forges bonds, reaches across aisle