Doug Matteson’s life comes full circle
What would you have done if you saw your life flash before your eyes in an instance?
If everything you have worked and dreamed about had changed just like that?
South Buffalo native Doug Matteson had to be asking himself those same questions eight years ago when his life would change forever.
Living in Arizona, Matteson was on his motorcycle driving down the highway with a buddy when an off duty cop, driving his mustang, tried to split to the two.
Needless to say he was unsuccessful and what happen next was something that change Matteson’s life forever.
The car hit Matteson and sent him flying off his motorcycle and in the process severing his leg at the knee.
To make things worse, Matteson was lying in the middle of the road and literally pulled himself to the side where he could get medical attention.
Matteson, who was a policeman with Maricopo County, saw his life and everything he strived for flash right before his eyes.
At one point, he even thought he wasn’t going to make.
“I was thinking about my mom and not letting her down,” said Matteson. “When they brought me to the hospital, they didn’t expect me to live. My brother, who was visiting me in 2004, had to make that phone call to my parents and had to tell my mom that I was pretty much dying.”
When news of the accident reached everybody back home in South Buffalo, the outcry of support was immediate.
People in the community, especially those that lived on Crystal Ave., and those who went to Bishop Timon High School, were all about helping.
The community support touched Matteson deeply when he arrived back home from Arizona, and to this day he still doesn’t forget it.
“When I came home, I almost expected it. Because, that is what South Buffalo is about,” he said. “This community does want to see their locals do well. It was very special when I came home and saw that. It was so hard for me to experience everything, because I wasn’t there mentally. It’s Buffalo, they look after their own and it was nice to be able to come back.”
Matteson, who isn’t one to ask for handouts, didn’t want a fundraiser to help pay his medical bills.
He was, and still is, someone who likes to do things himself. So, when his family organized a fundraiser at Timon, Matteson was grateful – but didn’t want everybody to make a fuss. That’s the kind of person he is – no free rides.
“My thing is this, I don’t expect anything from anybody,” he said. “I don’t expect anyone to feel sorry for me. I will make it myself. But, it is nice to know that people do care. I don’t expect donations or charity, I will do it myself. I will push hard. If I don’t get it, I will push harder for it. That’s how I always been.”
Next week, Matteson goes from athletic star to policeman.
Athlete to Cop
Doug Matteson didn’t always want to be a cop. Growing up Matteson was a gifted athlete – one that many on Crystal, the street he grew up on, could attest too.
He was good at everything including basketball, baseball and football. But, his real passion was hockey and golf.
He just wasn’t that Saturday golfer who went out there and played a couple of rounds, Matteson was All-Catholic while playing for Timon and could have easily made a living from it.
Hockey, however, was his calling.
Friends recall street hockey games where he would dominate and maybe that was some thing to come.
His street hockey prowess was just the beginning as he dominated Caz hockey as a defense before moving on to Timon – where he was part of the first Western New York Varsity Hockey Federation championship team. They defeated rival St. Joe’s in the final that year.
He was All-Federation during his time at Timon and parlayed his standout four-year career there into playing time at Erie County College.
“My dad was always in my corner, but he was by biggest critic,” he said. “I remember playing at Caz and I was on a team that won 7-0 and I had all seven goals. And all my friends thought it was the greatest thing in the world. And I remember seeing my dad and he said you could have had eight or you didn’t hustle and back check where they could have scored and broke your goalies shutout. I said yeah dad but I had seven goals. And he said yeah but your goalie could have lost his shutout.”
He dominated as a defenseman at ECC and took his skills to Alabama-Huntsville before finally making it to the Detroit Red Wings camp before getting traded to the NY Rangers.
Making the National Hockey League, however, wasn’t meant to be as Matteson hurt himself pretty bad ending his career.
“I wasn’t standing up on the platform as the number one pick, but I told the coach I will do whatever it takes and I will make sure no one touches (Wayne) Gretzky,” said Matteson. “
While most would sulk at the prospect of not reaching their dream, Matteson had a back up plan and moved out to Arizona where he became a cop and was part of the SWAT team.
It’s easy to say what if. What if I did this differently? Or what if I went to a different school?
For Doug Matteson he never looks back but looks ahead to what life will brings him.
The best example is one of his high school buddies sent him a copy of the 1990-91championship game when they defeated St. Joe’s.
And to this day he has never watched it.
“I have still yet to watch it,” he explained. “Maybe someday I will. But, right now, I’m content. That’s not my life anymore. That’s not me. I don’t want to fantasize about that past. I would rather talk about us growing up and having fun in the street playing basketball or tackle football in the street. It’s still tough sometimes thinking what might have been.”
Even when he lost his leg in that horrific accident, he never said why me?
He just picked himself up and said that he must have been put on this earth for a different cause.
“There was a higher power that wanted me here for whatever reason, Matteson said. “I don’t think my journey is over with.”
Matteson said all lot of that strength comes from his South Buffalo background. You weren’t allowed to say why me in South Buffalo. If you got into a fight, you just picked yourself up and dusted yourself off – even though no one really messed with him.
He says it’s those kinds of morals that helped him get through his ordeal.
“I’m a South Buffalo kid,” said Matteson. “And people don’t realize back in Arizona what South Buffalo is all about. I still brag about Buffalo. I am a Buffalo boy. ”
Who says you can’t come home again?
On a recent trip back to Buffalo, I was able to sit down with Matteson to do this interview. We met at the local South Buffalo restaurant, where people still knew him and came up and said hi.
They all wondered what he was doing now, how he was feeling – you know the normal stuff.
Matteson is feeling great as he was put back on the police force as a detective in February of this year. After 14 surgeries and numerous other medical aliments, Matteson was back where he belonged.
“That day I will never forget it, because it was almost bringing back to the past of when I was a spokesman,” He said. “It was gratifying that I was back. And the years of pushing and the hundreds and hundreds of doctors appointments and the surgeries that number in the teens and sleepless nights. It just goes to show that whatever I put my mind too I accomplished it and I never gave up.”
Now reading this, you probably will say what a great ending. He got back to doing what he wanted to do eight years ago. Happy ending.
While this chapter of his life is complete, there are still many more chapters to go.
And knowing Doug Matteson no one is going to tell him how to write the ending to this fairy tale story.
“Life is full of ups and down,” said Matteson. “There are people out there worse off then me in wheelchairs. And kids going through Children’s Hospital with cancer. I just knew that if I pushed hard that life is full of unknowns, and that’s what kind of kept me going.”