NFL Family Trees: The Genealogy of 5 Famous Football Families

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott searches through old newspapers to find stories about five families that have played professional football and made a big impact on the National Football League (NFL).

Here comes the Super Bowl and—love it or not—it is one of those “happenings” that are impossible to miss in our culture. I enjoy many aspects of the game of football, but one of the ones that has always intrigued me the most is the fact that “football” often seems to run in families. In my own case, my sister married a football coach, whose father was a football coach, and now her three sons are also football coaches!

Star-Studded NFL Family Trees

Then I happened across an older article on the Internet that was titled “These players’ family trees can beat up your family trees.” While I laughed at the title it got me thinking about the subject—especially because one of the famous football Manning brothers (Peyton Manning) will be directing the Denver Broncos against the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl on February 2.

The more I thought about it, the more I thought it would be great fun to take a look and see what I might find in the newspapers of GenealogyBank.com regarding some football family genealogy during the run-up to Super Bowl XLVIII. I was astonished at what I found—there have been a number of father-son combinations that played professional football (although not at the same time, of course).

NFL Quarterback 3fer: Archie, Payton & Eli Manning

Almost immediately I found this 1985 article from a Louisiana newspaper. I realize that these days the Manning names that trip off most folks’ tongues are Peyton and Eli (quarterback of the New York Giants), but did you know that their father, Archie, was a big-time NFL quarterback too? He spent 14 years in the NFL, most with the New Orleans Saints, but also with the Houston Oilers and the Minnesota Vikings. Check out this newspaper article and you might get a chuckle out of the part that talks about Peyton being 9 and “4-year-old Eli” going off to nursery school! I wonder if Archie suspected then what we all know now?

Archie Manning Readies for Last Season, Times-Picayune newspaper article 26 May 1985

Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana), 26 May 1985, page 103

I bet Archie did, since only 13 years later this 1998 article from a Georgia newspaper called Eli Manning one of the top 10 prep quarterbacks in the country.

Sons of NFL Stars among Nation's Top Quarterbacks, Augusta Chronicle newspaper article 4 September 1998

Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Georgia), 4 September 1998, section F, page 2

Phil, Chris & Matt Simms

You will notice this news article mentions another pro NFL football lineage, since Chris Simms is also named as one of the top prep QBs. It was in 1987’s Super Bowl XXI that Chris’s father, Phil Simms (quarterbacking the New York Giants), earned the coveted title of Super Bowl MVP, as you can see in this 1987 photo from a Massachusetts newspaper. Phil Simms’s sons, Chris and Matt, both went on to play in the NFL. Chris was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and played for not only the Buccaneers, but also for the Tennessee Titans and the Denver Broncos. His brother Matt played for the New York Jets.

a photo of 1987 Super Bowl MVP Phill Simms, Boston Herald newspaper article 26 January 1987

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 26 January 1987, page 1

Howie & Chris Long

I followed up my research about the Simms by searching for a Football Hall of Fame member, Howie Long. Now if you watch football on television, you know that Howie Long is currently one of the top NFL commentators. His playing career was an excellent one and he, too, wears a Super Bowl championship ring thanks to the Oakland Raiders’ win over the Washington Redskins, as you can read in this 1984 article from an Oregon newspaper.

Black Shirts Butcher Hogs 38-9 in a Super [Bowl] Rout, Oregonian newspaper article 23 January 1984

Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), 23 January 1984, page 49

It was interesting to also read this 2008 article from an Illinois newspaper about the signing of Howie’s son Chris Long to a long-term contract with the St. Louis Rams. The football genealogy “gene” must be really strong in the Long family too!

Rams Sign Top Pick Chris Long, Register Star newspaper article 21 July 2008

Register Star (Rockford, Illinois), 21 July 2008, page 16

Kellen Winslow, Sr. & Kellen Winslow, Jr.

Then I came across the surname of Winslow in my research. No look at football genealogy would be complete without including Kellen Winslow, Sr. and Kellen Winslow, Jr. You can read about Kellen, Sr. being inducted into the NFL Pro Football Hall of Fame in this 1995 article from a South Dakota newspaper.

NFL Hall of Fame Selections, Aberdeen Daily News newspaper article 29 January 1995

Aberdeen Daily News (Aberdeen, South Dakota), 29 January 1995, page 17

Then you can read about Kellen, Jr. winning the John Mackey Award for being the best college tight end in this 2003 article from an Illinois newspaper—and you can follow his continuing NFL career now.

Miami's Kellen Winslow Wins Mackey Award, Register Star newspaper article 11 December 2003

Register Star (Rockford, Illinois), 11 December 2003, page 27

5-Pack of NFL Stars: The Matthews

Then I found another NFL surname with quite an amazing genealogy to follow, and that is Matthews. First there are the Matthews brothers as reported in this 1983 article from a Texas newspaper. This article talks about brothers Bruce Matthews, who played for the Houston Oilers, and Clay Matthews, Jr., who played for the Cleveland Browns, meeting and playing against one another during their careers.

Brothers Matthews Hold Reunion at Astrodome, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 10 December 1983

Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 10 December 1983, page 14B

The Matthews brothers are sons of Clay Matthews, Sr. who played for the San Francisco 49ers and was the son of Matty Mathews, who, while he didn’t play football, coached boxing, baseball, and track at “The Citadel” in South Carolina. Clay, Sr.’s son, Clay, Jr., was a Pro-Bowl player. His other son, Bruce, is another familial NFL Pro Football Hall of Fame member, holds the record for Pro Bowl appearances at 14, and now coaches for the Tennessee Titans. Oh and if you take a look at this 1988 article from an Ohio newspaper, you might find it interesting to see a listing for Clay III, age 1 at the time.

The Clay Matthews File, Plain Dealer newspaper article 8 January 1988

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 8 January 1988, page 34

Then you can click on http://www.claymatthews52.com and find the next generation’s football success as Clay Matthews III pursues his outstanding career with the Green Bay Packers. And wait there is more! How about Casey Matthews who plays for the Philadelphia Eagles? Yes indeed! He is from the same lineage. Now this is some kind of football genealogy and football family!

Newspaper Search Tip:

Attention sports fans—did you know that you can search from GenealogyBank’s Tables & Charts page to find old sports stats and charts for all popular American sports like football, baseball, basketball, golf and tennis? Also make sure to follow the American Sports History Pinterest board to learn more interesting facts about famous names in sports.

Share Your Football Family Story

So tell me…who have I missed in this article and what is your favorite Super Football genealogy? Do you have some football superstars in your own family tree?

Making an All-Inclusive Family Tree through Newspaper Research

Introduction: Scott Phillips is a genealogical historian and owner of Onward To Our Past® genealogy services. In this guest blog post, Scott writes about expanding his family tree research to be inclusive of all family relations, and uses old newspapers to accomplish this goal.

When I embarked on my initial family tree work I made an important decision: I was going to be as inclusive in my ancestry work as possible. It was an easy decision and it was actually made by my children. Quite naturally, they wanted to know both sides of their ancestry. To them it made no difference that my wife’s grandparents weren’t “my blood” because they were “their blood”!

I quickly saw that this would be true for every marriage in my tree and thanked my children profusely. In hindsight this decision to go all-inclusive with our family tree has paid huge dividends in many of my family history and genealogy efforts.  It’s led to research successes such as finding my ancestral home village in Bohemia through a clue I discovered as a result of researching my great grandfather’s sister’s marriage!

Recently while I was researching my family tree I found myself sighing over the fact that I really knew far too little about my brother-in-law’s father, Lee Tressel.

photo of the Phillips-Tressel wedding

Photo: the wedding of Scott Phillips’s sister and her husband, Dick Tressel. The bride’s parents are on the left; Lee Tressel and his wife, Eleanor, are on the right. Credit: from the author’s collection.

Unfortunately, Lee passed away at the young age of 56 in 1981, long before I was smart enough to have spent an appropriate amount of time gathering his stories and memories of his life and career to add to our family tree. While I knew Lee and had spent some time with him, I believed that there had to be more I did not know about this accomplished football player, coach, mentor, and family man. So off I went to GenealogyBank.com to help me fill the void in our family tree—and it did a superb job!

One of my earliest discoveries in this family research project was a 1996 newspaper article that recapped Lee’s induction, as a member of the inaugural class, into the College Football Hall of Fame. It was inspiring to see his name alongside such football luminaries as Terry Bradshaw and Walter Payton.

Payton, Bradshaw Lead List of Hall of Fame Inductees, Marietta Journal newspaper article 18 May 1996

Marietta Journal (Marietta, Georgia), 18 May 1996, page 22

As I continued my genealogy search, I was treated to a 1969 newspaper article that included a wonderful photo. This was a truly smile-inducing old news article since it not only talked about Lee, but also about his son, Dick, my now brother-in-law, playing for him at Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea, Ohio.

Father-Son Act Closes at B-W, Plain Dealer newspaper article 21 November 1969

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 21 November 1969, page 54

Soon my searching brought me to another historical newspaper article from Cleveland, Ohio. While it was bittersweet to be reading Lee’s obituary, there were genealogy and family history treasures to be found throughout this article.

Friends, Rivals Alike Remember B-W's Tressel as a Gentleman, Plain Dealer newspaper article 17 April 1981

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 17 April 1981, page 61

Not only was there a very nice review of Lee’s sports coaching career, there was also a quote from our old family friend and my first childhood hero, Cleveland Browns’ Pro Football Hall of Fame member Lou “The Toe” Groza. I was even more thrilled when I saw that this news article included a photograph of Lee from his playing days. Now, I am not saying Lee played the game in the olden days, but I will say you can see him wearing a leather helmet. No wonder he knew the game so well! It was also heartwarming to read a quote by the Browns’ coach, Sam Rutigliano, who said “Lee represented all the things I believe in—in coaching, as a father, a friend and a husband. He was all the things I’d like to be.” Quite an accolade I’d say.

I came across several more articles talking about how Lee thought it was a real thrill to be able to coach two of his sons on the gridiron, both my brother-in-law, Dick, and Dick’s youngest brother and my schoolmate, Jim. I kept on searching and was taken aback by my next genealogy find.

I couldn’t quite figure out why GenealogyBank.com was directing me to an article published on 20 November 1933 in the Repository of Canton, Ohio, but as always I took a quick look. I found myself reading an article about Lee’s father (who was also named Lee) and the tragic loss of his brother, Charles Gene Tressel, at the age of 11. He died of “lockjaw” from stepping on a chicken bone. This one took me right back to my summer visits to the old Tressel family farm in rural Ohio.

Tetanus Attack Fatal, Repository  newspaper article 20 November 1933

Repository (Canton, Ohio), 20 November 1933, page 10

In just about an hour I had taken a lovely trip back in time, gained valuable information on this family member, and even discovered tidbits of family information I had never expected. That is one of the things I like best about using newspapers in my genealogy research: finding the unexpected!
What kind of interesting family information have you found unexpectedly in old newspapers?