INDIANAPOLIS – One of the most significant draft picks in the Colts' era in Indianapolis hardly raised an eyebrow in the public's conscience when it happened in 2003.
In the fifth round of the draft that year, Indianapolis traded a fourth-round pick in the 2004 draft to Houston for the chance to take defensive end Robert Mathis in the 138th position.
It was a move that brought celebration in the draft room, and Mathis has spent the past nine seasons raising eyebrows around the league, particularly opposing quarterbacks – when they even see him.
Mathis has started 71 of 135 career games, and he ranks second in franchise history with 83.5 sacks. A "game wrecker" in the words of Head Coach Chuck Pagano, Mathis also has forced 39 fumbles and recovered 14 others in a career that has earned him three Pro Bowl nominations.
Mathis has agreed to a new contract with Indianapolis, and he will be finishing his NFL career where it began after that fateful draft day trade.
"Robert Mathis is a special player and the epitome of the word, 'TEAM.' Not only is he a true talent with a tremendous body of work, but he is living proof that loyalty, dedication and hard work does pay off in this league," said General Manager Ryan Grigson. "He is a great example to all. Mr. Irsay, Chuck Pagano, myself and the entire organization are thrilled for Robert and his entire family. We all look forward to seeing him wreak havoc on the field once again this fall and for years to come wearing the horseshoe."
Mathis is pleased his final NFL colors will be the Colts' blue and white.
"It feels great. Around this league it is rare that you get to finish where you started," said Mathis. "I'm in a position to do that. I am excited and ready to get to work again.
"It's a great relief. It means a lot knowing the place where you started wants you to end your career there. It's a blessing, and I am real thankful for the opportunity. I did not know what was going to happen. It was all breath-holding. I did not know what the outcome was going to be, so I had to play the waiting game. It came out great."
Mathis led the Colts in 2011 with 9.5 sacks. He also topped the club in takedowns in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2010. He has 19 career multiple-sack games and has reached double digits in sacks in four of his nine previous seasons. Mathis has had two career three-sack games and three career games with multiple forced fumbles, including an outing against Houston in 2004 with three sacks and three forced fumbles.
Mathis hopes to become the second Colts player to reach 100 career sacks. Rather than being driven by numbers, Mathis is driven by the scoreboard.
"I feel I can get to that number, but I am not concerned about that. It will take care of itself," said Mathis. "I want to do my job, and there is no substitute for winning. I feel winning is extremely under-rated.
"I love team defense, and the new staff is big on that. It's going to be interesting and fun to see the things we will do. They are eager and ready to get to work like I am. Everybody shares the same sentiments around here. It's going to be a fun, fun year."
Mathis, 6-2, 245, is not the prototypical sized defensive presence, but his accomplishments out-grow those earned by many players. It was an opportunity Mathis almost never had.
He tried to draw the notice of colleges as he pursued his dream of playing in the NFL. Mathis met without success until finding Alabama A&M. Without finding the opportunity to play there, he does not know what might have happened.
"They were the only school to offer me a scholarship," said Mathis. "They offered me the very last one for the 1999 season. Without that I may not have played football. I would have gone to Plan B or Plan C. I am thankful Plan A happened and let me live my dream."
After starting 39 games at defensive end and compiling 221 career tackles, 44 sacks and 20 forced fumbles, Mathis still did not breathe easier about his NFL chances. Tapes of his action were scarce, but one found Indianapolis and the Colts found a trade partner. The trade brought smiles all around on draft day in the club's headquarters.
Still, Mathis never dreamed his career would take off as it has.
"No, I didn't," said Mathis on if he dreamed of such success. "You dream it as a little boy, but you never dream things will go like they have for me. I want to take it all in, but not take it for granted. … I also understand the business of football. I'm thankful the Colts saw enough in me to make me stick around for three contracts. Nothing will change with me at all."
Mathis was proud of how his team fought and stayed together in 2011, a difficult time for everyone.
"We hung in there all last season, and that will make us a better and a closer unit," he said. "We don't want to repeat what happened last year. Guys will bust their humps to get that bad taste from last year out of their mouths."
Mathis also tipped his cap to Colts fans, and he wants them on board in 2012.
"Thanks for sticking with me and supporting me. It means a great deal to me," said Mathis. "They're going to help us play ball again."