5 best father-son duos in NFL history, ranked

Father’s Day was Sunday, a day full of celebration and remembrance of the fathers, grandfathers and stepfathers in our lives. It’s also a day typically pretty loaded with sports, as was seen Sunday with the College World Series, Formula 1, NASCAR, MLS games and the US Open golf tournament all taking place. However, due to its place on the calendar, the NFL is notably absent.

Father’s Day falls right in the dead part of the offseason between the draft and the start of training camp, but fear not! Interesting NFL content still exists during this trying time. To celebrate Father’s Day, here are the five best father-son combos in NFL history, ranked for your viewing pleasure.

Best Father-Son Duos In NFL History

Honorable Mention: The Hochulis

The list here focuses mostly on players and coaches, but it’s worth giving a shoutout to Ed and Shawn Hochuli. Father Ed began work as an official in the NFL all the way back in 1990 and worked in the league until his retirement in early 2018. His son Shawn, while also refereeing college and arena football beforehand, began NFL work in 2014, working alongside his father for four seasons.

5. The Ryans

The Ryan coaching lineage was cemented into NFL history first with father Buddy when he was defensive coordinator for Mike Ditka’s Chicago Bears. Buddy Ryan was a well-known coach around the league before, but in 1985, his 46 defense marked its place in the history books as potentially the greatest defensive season in NFL history en route to a Super Bowl title.

His sons Rob and Rex both also became defensive coordinators, with Rob heading the defense of five different teams, and Rex running the show in Baltimore from 2005-08 before taking the head coaching job with the New York Jets, where he would guide Gang Green to back-to-back AFC Championship Game appearances in his first two seasons. Rex Ryan last spent time coaching as head coach of the Buffalo Bills in 2016, helping turn the culture around in upstate New York. During his final season in Buffalo, both Ryan brothers worked together, with Rob serving as defensive coordinator.

4. The Longs

Younger readers among you may only know Howie Long from his appearances on ESPN over the years, but as a player from 1981 to 1993, the Long paterfamilias earned an impressive eight Pro Bowl nods along with a Defensive Player of the Year honor in 1985 en route to a spot among the legends of the game at the Hall of Fame in Canton.

His sons Chris and Kyle would enter the league much later, with Chris, the defensive end, going second overall in the 2008 draft. Chris would have a long and productive career, capping it with back-to-back Super Bowl championships as a member of the Patriots and Eagles, respectively, along with the 2018 Walter Payton Man of the Year Award.

Kyle Long was drafted 20th overall in 2013 and has made three Pro Bowls himself.

3. The Matthews

Usually when you think of successful lineages in the NFL, it’s limited to one branch of a family tree, or even just one father and one son, but that couldn’t be further from the truth as far as the Matthews family is concerned. Patriarch Clay Matthews I played for the San Francisco 49ers in the 1950s on either side of his service in Korea, but his legacy would come from his sons, Bruce and Clay Jr.

Clay Jr. had a staggeringly long 19 seasons in the NFL, placing himself 21st in NFL history in games played, to go along with the fourth-most tackles in NFL history. Clay Jr. also racked up four Pro Bowls and a Second-Team All-Pro selection in 1984. Bruce, much like his brother, also spent 19 seasons in the NFL, and outdid his brother in total games played, where he ranks third in NFL history. Bruce is tied for the second-most Pro Bowl selections in NFL history with 14 (!!!) to go along with seven First-Team All-Pro selections and two Second-Team All-Pro nods. While Clay Jr. has been inducted in to the Hall of Fame (yet), Bruce has, getting his bust in 2007.

Clay Jr.’s middle child Clay III would continue the family legacy in the NFL, having spent 11 seasons in the NFL to date. Clay III has racked up 91.5 sacks in his career, which has thus far earned him six Pro Bowls and two All-Pro selections, one First Team and one Second Team. Youngest child Casey also played in the NFL for a time, last playing for the Vikings in 2015.

Bruce’s oldest son Kevin entered the NFL in 2010, and he would spend five seasons in the league with the Titans, Commanders and Panthers. Next up was Jake, drafted sixth overall in 2014. In his nine seasons so far, Jake has been a stalwart on the Falcons’ offensive line, even earning himself a Pro Bowl nod in 2018.

2. The Shanahans

You might be wondering how any family can outdo the Matthews, but as far as coaches go, none have been more successful than the Shanahans, Mike and his son Kyle.

Mike’s coaching career began in 1975 with Oklahoma, but he’d make his mark at the professional level nine years later in his first stint with the Broncos. After two seasons as head coach of the Raiders, Mike Shanahan spent three more as a Broncos assistant before moving to San Francisco to be offensive coordinator, where he helped the 49ers win Super Bowl XXIX.

This earned him a third stint in Denver, this time as head coach, and this time, Shanahan would stick. Spending 14 seasons at the helm with the Broncos, Shanahan helped guide John Elway, Terrell Davis and company to back-to-back Super Bowls in 1997 and 1998. He also spent four years as head coach of the Commanders between 2010 and 2013, where he would work with Kyle alongside fellow future head coaches Sean McVay and Matt LaFleur.

Kyle Shanahan really burst onto the NFL coaching scene as the architect behind the Falcons’ Super Bowl run in the 2016 season. Though they wouldn’t win the title, Shanahan earned a head coaching job, his first, with the 49ers. Despite several injury-plagued seasons for Shanahan’s squad, he has still managed to take his team to two NFC Championship Games and an appearance in Super Bowl LIV.

1. The Mannings

Football’s First Family, who else could rank No. 1 on this list? It all starts with patriarch Archie, who was drafted first overall in 1970 after a standout college career. Long regarded as the shining diamond in a very rough Saints organization, Archie earned back-to-back Pro Bowl nods in 1978 and 1979 before retiring in 1984. Though oldest son Cooper wouldn’t make the NFL due to a spinal issue, middle child Peyton would, and boy did he fill his father’s shoes.

Peyton had a long and illustrious career that would leave him regarded as potentially the best pure passer in NFL history. 14 Pro Bowls, 10 All-Pros, five MVPs, a Walter Payton Man of the Year Award and two Super Bowls don’t even begin to describe the talent Peyton possessed on the football field. Often playing with a football IQ light years ahead of any other player or coach in the stadium, at times it felt like Peyton was gifted with 20/20 foresight into what the defense was about to do, both in Indianapolis and Denver.

Eli came next, and while he wouldn’t quite match his brother, he would outdo his father. Eli guided the Giants to improbable Super Bowl victories over the dynastic Patriots in 2007 and 2011, and won Super Bowl MVP in both. Not to mention he has a Walter Payton Man of the Year Award himself along with a Bart Starr Award. You may have thought the Manning dynasty was over, but a new challenger has appeared on the horizon.

Cooper’s middle child Arch is currently rated as the 247Sports Composite No. 1 recruit in the 2023 class, and he looks poised to make the jump to the NFL in three years. Only time will tell how long his chapter in the pages of his family history is. Though Peyton and Eli’s sons are all too young to look at right now, don’t be surprised if any of them join this list in a couple decades.

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