Two days after he was waived by the New York Jets almost a year ago, Bryan Mattison found a new home with the Ravens.
And as ecstatic as he was to continue his NFL career, a small part of Mattison was reluctant to make the move - and it had nothing to do with AFC rivalries.
Bryan Mattison is the son of Greg Mattison, then the Ravens linebackers coach and now the defensive coordinator. That relationship gave Bryan Mattison pause.
"It was great, but then you think to yourself - not ever questioning whether you're going to do it or not - 'Now I'm going to have to deal with this and deal with that,' " Mattison, 25, recalled. "Some guys just wouldn't understand and they'd think, 'He's only here because of his dad.' "
Not so, according to coach John Harbaugh. Mattison, a former defensive end who, at 6 feet 3, 295 pounds, is converting to the offensive line, has just as much of a chance to make the team as any other player, Harbaugh said.
"He's here strictly for his ability to make this team, and he's got a chance to make this team - now or in the future," Harbaugh said. "He's doing a heck of a job."
This is not the first time that the Mattisons have encountered a possible appearance of nepotism. When Greg Mattison was defensive coordinator at Notre Dame and also coached the defensive line and linebackers, the Fighting Irish offered Bryan Mattison a full scholarship.
But instead of accepting the offer, the Mattisons agreed that Bryan would attend Iowa.
"We decided that it was best at that time that he go away," Greg Mattison said. "That was a tough decision because I would have coached him. But I thought a young man growing up needs to be off on his own. And then he had a great career at Iowa. So it worked out for the best."
Greg Mattison said he never was able to watch his son play at Iowa because of his work responsibilities. Mattison left Notre Dame after the 2004 season to become defensive coordinator at Florida, where he helped the Gators win the national championship in 2006.
So, when the Ravens decided to sign Bryan Mattison after he was cut by the Jets on Aug. 30, his father was happy. But Greg Mattison had similar reservations about what people would think about father and son being on the same team.
"I think, initially, people might say, 'Well, he's the coach's son, and that's why he's here.' But with Ozzie and the player personnel we have, everybody earns their way onto the team," Mattison said. "The thing that I've made sure that I didn't do is get in the way of what he's doing. He's just another player out there when it comes time for football."
Harbaugh said the club tried to give Bryan Mattison the space he and his father craved.
"I'd say we made a concerted effort not to bring Bryan in here early on," Harbaugh said. "Scouting-wise, when we looked at him coming out, we were surprised he didn't get drafted. We made a push to sign him as a free agent because we thought he was a really good player. But I think the family decided that it wouldn't be the best thing to start out where his dad was coaching. But then as fate or providence would have it, it turned out he got released by the Jets and we had a need at [defensive] line."
Father and son crossed paths often last season when Bryan Mattison was trying to carve out a career as a defensive end. Mattison clearly remembers a defensive meeting where he caught the attention of his father for the wrong reason.
"I remember one time in meetings, I did something wrong, and we were sitting in the same row, but he was down on the other side," Mattison recalled. "I just felt this presence looking down at me, and I looked over and he did one of these."
Mattison pantomimed his father leaning forward in his chair, staring down the row at Bryan, and shaking his head. "It was funny," Mattison said. "He gives me crap all the time."
This season has been different. With Greg Mattison monitoring the defense and Bryan Mattison trying to absorb the nuances of pass-blocking, the two rarely get a chance to exchange notes. When Ann Mattison asked her husband in the first few days of training camp about their son's transition, Greg Mattison replied: "I don't know. I watch the defense."
Both father and son said there are days when their only form of communication is a nod or a quick hello.
Center Matt Birk once told Greg Mattison, "I don't even know sometimes that you are father and son."
Both father and son said their doors are open, and they don't hesitate to pick up the phone and call. But for now, they understand that their primary focus is their separate tasks.
"I think we have an unwritten deal where I'm not going to watch him," Greg Mattison said. "I've got my job to do. And he's got his job to do. There's none of that where you're watching the tape and you're looking for his number to see how he's doing. I don't have time to do that, and it's not fair to the rest of the organization."