Ollie Matson: 'He would be superstar' today

We interrupt the regularly scheduled sniping between NFL owners and players for Bill Bidwill's thoughts on the great Ollie Matson, who passed away recently at age 80.

"As football's oldest professional franchise," the Arizona Cardinals' owner wrote in a letter to Matson's family, "our team has had thousands of players wear a Cardinals uniform. Few, if any, ever did so at the level of Ollie Matson."

Matson, a two-time medalist in the 1952 Olympics, finished his NFL career with 12,844 yards as a runner, receiver and return specialist. As his Hall of Fame bio notes, Matson scored 40 rushing touchdowns, 23 receiving touchdowns, nine return touchdowns and one fumble-recovery touchdown.

Bidwill shared one of his favorite memories of Matson in the letter he wrote for use at Matson's memorial service. He recalled an Oct. 5, 1952 game between his Chicago Cardinals and the Chicago Bears at Comiskey Park:

We were down 10-0 in the first half when he returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown that not only demonstrated his amazing speed, but also the different gears he could shift into. Still trailing in the fourth quarter, the Bears had the ball and we needed a big play. Their running back was almost clear when Ollie closed in and in one motion, stripped the ball and returned it the other way for a touchdown. We won the game and it still ranks as one of the most remarkable individual performances I have ever seen.

Matson was 6-foot-2, 220 pounds and a six-time Pro Bowl choice. He won bronze in the 400 meters with a time of 46.8 seconds. The world record, set by Michael Johnson in 1999, is 43.18 seconds. Matson won a silver medal for his role on the 1,600-meter relay team.

"People often ask me how certain players from the past would stack up in today's game," Bidwill wrote. "I say this with the greatest amount of respect for the current NFL players: Ollie Matson wouldn't just stack up, he would be a superstar."

Related: The New York Times' Frank Litsky assesses Matson's legacy.