Mathis isn’t a first- or second-year player who is out to prove he belongs in the NFL. He’s 35 years old, and his playing resume has success written all over it. He has a team-record 118 sacks. He’s just one of 31 players in NFL history to record at least 100 sacks in their career. And he's been selected to six Pro Bowls.
Despite his accomplishments, Mathis reads, watches and listens to just about every word said about him. Mathis publicly acknowledges it, too, as he’ll let you know during interview sessions or on social media.
“I’m not going to sit here and lie to you, I read it all,” Mathis said straight-faced. “You do kind of want to know what people think of you. That’s my job. I’m in the entertainment business, so I’m somewhat concerned about what people’s opinions are about me.”
That’s just Robert Mathis.
It carried him in college, when Alabama A&M was the only school to offer him a scholarship out of high school. It carried over to when the Colts selected him in the fifth round of the 2003 draft, as some said he was too small, too slow and not athletic enough to get to the quarterback.
The stat sheet says differently.
"Basically it's kind of seizing the opportunity," Mathis said. "Life gives you a crack in the door, kick the damn door in. I use that, and once I got the opportunity I took advantage of it. Whatever rocks your boat, I use whatever motivates me."
Mathis will use that mind frame while dealing with the latest questions about him. The Colts didn't sign a pass rusher during free agency and focused more on the offensive line in the draft, meaning Mathis will be counted on to be the primary pass-rusher despite his age.
"The fire still burns and as long as it still burns and you have the opportunity to have a job in the NFL, let it burn," Mathis said. "People say you can't do it, so I want to show I can do it. I have to prove to myself I can still do it and the love is still there. I'm going until the wheels fall off."
Mathis proved he could be productive when he had 7.0 sacks last season after missing the entire 2014 season; first from a four-game suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs and then a torn Achilles.
History shows that players can still be successful when it comes to sacking the quarterback at the age of 35 or older. Ten different players at least 35 years old have recorded at least 10 sacks in a season a total of 16 times. Julius Peppers did it last season, when he finished with 10.5 sacks with the Green Bay Packers.
“Like anybody that’s in this league that long, you have to have that work ethic,” new defensive coordinator Ted Monachino said. “What you’ll see with Rob is Rob has the dominant trait as a pass rusher, and we’ve got to make sure that he does that as often as possible, and when he knows that’s what we’re going to do with him, then he’ll continue to be excited about every third down. The more we can do it with him the better.
“Now, there are going to be times that we ask Rob to do some tough things that Rob isn’t really cut out for, but for us to be multiple enough and to have enough variety in the system, we’ve got to ask him to do some of those things. But we would prefer to have Robert going forward as often as possible.”
Mathis and the Colts hope his nonstop motor and nearly-impossible-to-stop spin move will put him next in line to do it under Monachino because a defense that only recorded 35 sacks last season needs a boost.
“Like in baseball, when you have a slugger you get more swings and that means you’re going to hit more home runs and get more opportunities to be productive,” Mathis said. “We have no excuse. We’ll have opportunities. We just have to take advantage of them.”