A (failed) “Hail Mary” to a Green Bay Packer!

In case you didn’t know, there’s a former pro football player living in Douglas County who played with the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers. But if you’d expect for him to say what it was like playing with Hall of Hamers Bret Favre or the late Reggie White, I’d say good luck with that. He’d rather tell you about his love for kids and his foundation. I quickly figured out that his track and football successes were not topics he wished to dwell on. 

Like others, what drew Eric to Douglas County were its property values, quality of life, plus his love for the outdoors. He was raised in Boynton Beach, Florida where he enjoyed a career playing football, running track, and where he was recognized as one of Florida’s top athletes that led to a full scholarship to Indiana University.  While running track at Indiana, Eric was a two-time Big Ten qualifier and was the Penn Relays long jump champion. As a college football player, he played in the Independence and the Copper Bowls. In 1996 Eric join Green Bay Packers which, in his rookie year, won the Super Bowl. He later played with the Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins. 

“Hey, I’m basically a country boy and love gardening and raising chickens,” he said with a laugh. In fact he and his wife Niya (we’ll get to her further down) will be adding more chickens to their property next week. Their two daughters, graduates of Douglas County high schools are, respectively, a salon owner and biologist at Coke a Cola.

Now it took some extra nudging on my part but I finally got Eric to say more about his NFL career.

“Okay, winning a Super Bowl was my most memorable NFL experience. I mean, to play on the same field with Bret Favre, Reggie White, Leroy Butler, Doug Pederson (today the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaquars) and other great players was a once in a lifetime experience.” 

He chuckled at my question as to whether he’s a Packers or Falcons fan since he lives in Georgia. “Now don’t get me wrong Terry, I do support the Falcons, but the Packers will always hold a special place in my heart. It is what it is.” 

Now when Eric mentioned in passing who he is married to, Niya, I wanted to know how they met. 

“On Facebook,” he said with another laugh. Seriously, I asked.

“Yes. You see, at the time we were both living in downtown Atlanta when I posted on Facebook a warning that there was a huge traffic backup on I-20. She thanked me, detoured, and shortly after I asked for her phone number. The rest is history.” Here’s what I learned on my own about his wife, Niya Brown Matthews.

She’s not only Eric’s wife, she’s also a certified life coach, author, motivational speaker, radio host, humanitarian, real estate professional, mother, a two-time breast cancer survivor, contributing writer for Today’s Purpose Woman Magazine, and Founder of Soul food Sessions with Niya and the Women Empowerment Organization. She has been featured in Essence Festival, EBONY, Black Enterprise, Black America Web, Rolling Out, Sophisticated Black Hair, Mommy Noire & Wendy Williams to name a few. 

Now displaying deft moves he developed on the football field, Eric pivoted our discussion back to his foundation and life-long love for youth. Here’s what I learned about his foundation.

​The Eric Matthews Foundation serves youth through sports. Its mentoring program is about developing trust, building relationships, increasing learning and exposing children to opportunities that they might not otherwise be afforded. It emphasizes exposure to influential people, sponsors field trips and sports activities, stresses the importance of education and provides “down to earth” honest advice. His foundation’s community outreach services are dedicated to providing a full range of charitable, human services and community development activities. He said that he is looking forward to relaunching his foundation’s work with youth after having to curtail a lot of its work because of COVID. 

“I’m also excited about restarting our youth football camp in Mississippi that we’ve done for 15 years and intend to offer one here next year.” 

When asked about something about him that others may be surprised to hear, perhaps something related to his NFL career, Eric was quick to respond…and deflect.

“I’m basically an introvert and not star-struck with celebrity and celebrities. I just happen to love kids. There are few things more gratifying than seeing their faces light up when we do things for them like donating toys, something we’ve done for the last eleven years. I’m fortunate that sports has done so much for me and has provided me with a platform to work with our kids.”

Silly me. With time and space for this column running out, I tried one last time – they call it a “Hail Mary” in football parlence to pull off a last second win – to highlight Eric Matthews the footballer by asking for his Ok to include a grainy photo I found of him on the sidelines during a Packers playoff game. But, sigh, he balked. Instead, he allowed me to step outside the coffee shop and snap the enclosed photo of him without Packer paraphernalia, including his Super Bowl ring.

With that, Mr. Matthews was off to to meet his wife and plans to pick up a few more chickens for their backyard.

© Terry Howard is an award-winning writer and storyteller. He is also a contributing writer with the Chattanooga News Chronicle, The American Diversity Report, The Douglas County Sentinel, Blackmarket.com, co-founder of the “26 Tiny Paint Brushes” writers’ guild, recipient of the 2019 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Leadership Award and 3rd place winner of the 2022 Georgia Press Award.

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