SIOUX CITY -- Needless to say, no one has seen or done it all.
Nonetheless, Matt Chatham, who’ll be inducted into the Iowa High School Athletic Association’s Football Hall of Fame on Friday night, has quite the diverse career portfolio.
The 1995 North High graduate has achieved so many other things while playing a game all the way through eight NFL seasons, we’ll have to flog that darned liberal media with several more lashes for obsessing on his halftime heroics in Super Bowl XXXVIII.
Mere moments after Janet Jackson’s infamous “wardrobe malfunction” Feb. 1, 2004, in Houston, Chatham nearly stole the show when he tackled British exhibitionist Mark Roberts as he streaked naked across the field at Reliant Stadium.
It was worth an Esquire Magazine byline for Chatham, a prolific writer even before his post-football life. However, Roberts was scarcely deterred after a stunt that wound up costing him all of a $100 fine. According to Wikipedia, as of 2013, this attention addict had streaked well over 500 sporting events around the globe. It certainly might cause some to wonder why fellows in white coats haven’t been tasked with carting him off somewhere out of public view.
Chatham, a linebacker who became one of pro football’s premier special teams performers, certainly outranks nearly all NFL veterans with the three Super Bowl rings he won in six years with the New England Patriots.
Those came with teams that combined for a 48-9 record in the 2001, 2003 and 2004 seasons, winning NFL titles that were decided, of course, after the calendar flipped to 2002, 2004 and 2005, respectively.
One of six former Iowa prep stars that will be honored at halftime of the Class 4A championship game in the UNI-Dome, he’ll be honored alongside fellow Northwest Iowan and longtime friend LeVar Woods, another 1995 high school grad who starred at West Lyon (see separate story).
Already a University of South Dakota Athletic Hall of Famer, Chatham was the kind of football player who was impossible to miss on some USD teams that had losing records in his final three seasons. Similarly, he managed to be Sioux City’s only first-team all-stater after three losses by three points or less kept a talented North High team out of the Iowa playoffs with a 5-4 record.
Until this fall, I might add, that ’94 season marked the only autumn in a 34-year span (1982-2015) that Sioux City failed to send a team to postseason play. The Stars were literally just a play or two shy of a playoff opportunity, though, in their only season under a brilliant head coach, Jon Dornon. And, they held their heads high in a season-ending road game, walloping South Sioux City, 48-12.
For me, it was a night that still brings back a vivid memory of Chatham, the high school safety who morphed into a 6-foot-4, 250-pound NFL linebacker. As if to put an exclamation point on his prep exploits, he leveled a South Sioux ball carrier powerfully enough to surpass any tackle I’ve witnessed in a half-century of prep football.
Turns out I wasn’t the only person to notice.
“(Patriots Coach Bill) Belichick used to start our Friday team meetings with a little surprise,’’ said Chatham, who has made his home in suburban Boston and still does a weekly TV show on the Pats. “We’d come in and he’d have film or tape of one or our guys from their high school days. Like one time he had Jermaine Wiggins, a huge tight end for us, running a statue of liberty play in high school. The meeting room would go crazy.
“Then, one of those Fridays, I was just floored when he ran a VHS tape of me and that play against South Sioux City. It got one of the better reactions (from Chatham’s teammates). I’m sitting in a team meeting room at this palatial NFL organization and they’re playing clips of North and South Sioux City. It was like two worlds colliding.’’
That wasn’t the end of it, either.
One year, reporting to preseason camp, Chatham found himself in the same lockerroom with West grad Zeron Flemister, a high school football and basketball rival who was trying to make the team after four seasons as a tight end with the Redskins.
“We had two first-round draft picks on our team (at tight end) and they were both injured,’’ said Chatham. “I had played against Zeron when he was with Washington and we both started because (the Patriots) had some injuries (at linebacker). Worlds colliding again. We’re at FedEx Field in D.C. and two Sioux City guys are lining up against each other.’’
It happened again in the NFL’s 2005 kickoff contest, when Flemister, suiting up for the Oakland Raiders in his last of five NFL seasons, faced Chatham and his third defending championship team in four years. For old times’ sake, the Sioux City boys got in several licks on one another on a day when a pregame extravaganza at Gillette Stadium showcased former Black Sabbath headliner Ozzy Osbourne.
FYI: That ’94 North team had a quarterback, Mitch Allner, who set an NCAA Division II record as a wide receiver at Morningside, catching a pass in every game (44 in a row) over four seasons. He went on to become the only individual to win a championship in the old af2 as both a coach and a player.
Those Stars also had just the second 1,000-yard rusher in the school’s first 23 seasons of football as Doug Steinhoff joined what had been an exclusive club of one -- Raul Sanchez, a 1988 all-stater who went on to star on great teams at North Dakota State.
Dornon, who had coached those ’94 seniors to an 8-1 record at the sophomore level, was fighting a losing battle with cancer when an anticipated second season at the varsity helm didn’t happen. Meanwhile, Chatham was already turning heads in Vermillion, where he was also a three-time academic All-North Central Conference pick.
Bypassed in the 1999 NFL draft, Chatham was signed by the Rams as a free agent and got cut loose almost the very same day offensive guard Joe Andruzzi, another ex-Division II athlete (Southern Connecticut), was let go by the Packers. Belichick and the Patriots wisely grabbed them both for New England’s ’99 practice squad and they became roommates, teammates and news-making machines.
Andruzzi, whose three brothers were all 9/11 first responders from the New York City Fire Department, ran onto the field with two American flags at the Pats’ next home game. His brothers, who all survived, were honored at halftime.
Then came the Boston Marathon bombing April 15, 2013, when Andruzzi, hosting an event along with Chatham at a nearby business, was photographed carrying an injured woman from the scene.
In between these headlines, Andruzzi was diagnosed in 2007 with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, definitely overcoming the odds by beating the disease. He now heads a thriving charity, the Joe Andruzzi Foundation, and Chatham’s wife, Erin, who also has an MBA, is his operations and finance director.
“We have Thanksgiving dinner with them every year,’’ said Chatham, who’ll be hosting next year’s meal after the completion in the spring of a new home in Wrentham, a nearby suburb to Foxboro.
I should point out that Mrs. Chatham, mother of 8-year-old son Lex and 4-year-old daughter Emm, is the former Erin Magel, another North grad and former softball standout. Erin’s mother, Joyce, still lives here. Tragically, Erin’s dad, Bill Magel, was a Union Pacific Railroad employee who was killed in a work-related accident Dec. 28, 2006.
Faithful to the powerhouse Patriots when he might have been a full-time starter on many other teams, Matt did finally follow defensive coordinator Eric Mangini to the New York Jets when Belichick’s fellow Wesleyan University alumnus became a head coach.
That lasted two seasons before the eldest of Jeff and Brenda Chatham’s three sons shifted gears to pursue an MBA from Babson College, the suburban Boston school which bills its graduate school in entrepreneurship as tops in the country.
The business backgrounds for Matt and Erin helped them run a restaurant for a time, but Matt’s life now cuts across a wide spectrum of media ventures. He works full time for the New England Sports Network, which includes a show called “Patriots This Week.’’ He does college football color for ESPN, primarily close to home. Also, He oversees the website “Footballbyfootball.com,’’ featuring the writings of four NFL veterans who are all, coincidentally, college color men who logged eight NFL seasons apiece. The lineup: Chatham, Brady Quinn, Brady Poppinga and Rocky Boiman.
“I had to take this weekend off,’’ said Chatham, skipping a Boston College-UConn assignment to be in Cedar Falls. “I’m very proud of my roots. In an NFL lockerroom, all these guys from Ohio or Texas or California don’t know much about Iowa. But I’m proud of all the players we’ve produced. Adam Timmerman -- I was a teammate for a minute (in his preseason camp with the Rams). Tim Dwight and I were teammates for two years. I’m proud to be going in the same time as Levar Woods. He and I played concurrently and he came back (to Sioux City) for my charity (softball game) thing.’’
Chatham will be doing another charity event today, matter of fact, participating in a Boston-area YMCA gig with another former Patriot from Siouxland, retired offensive lineman Russ Hochstein, an ex-Nebraska Cornhusker out of Hartington Cedar Catholic.