Matthew Stafford is like the grandfather who starts imparting life lessons by saying “back in my day…”
Here is what one of Stafford’s Rams teammates drafted five years year ago — newly crowned NFL Offensive Player of the Year Cooper Kupp, for example — has experienced: Five straight winning seasons, three division titles, six playoff wins and a soon-to-be second Super Bowl appearance, though he was injured for the first.
Here is what Stafford’s first 12 NFL seasons (all with the Lions) amounted to: Four winning seasons, zero division titles and zero playoff wins. In other words, the quarterback is there to remind anyone who might think otherwise that this run to Super Bowl 56 should not be taken for granted.
“I probably bring a little bit of a unique perspective when it comes to that kind of stuff just because of the success they’ve had here in the recent past,” Stafford said. “I obviously didn’t have that at the beginning of my career, but it’s made me the player that I am and the teammate that I am. I definitely am appreciative for the opportunity, know that they are few and far between, and tough to come by.”
Acquired as the missing piece to a championship in a bold offseason trade with the Lions, Stafford, who celebrated his 34th birthday Monday at home, will lead the Rams against Joe Burrow’s Bengals. Stafford’s journey from the NFL draft to his Super Bowl debut is the longest ever for a quarterback selected No. 1 overall (2009) who eventually reached the big game, while Burrow’s is the shortest (2020).
“I pinch myself sometimes thinking about the opportunity I’m getting,” Stafford said. “I came here for a new beginning, a new opportunity to play football with a great team. Just because I came here doesn’t mean we were going to get to this point.”
Stafford’s journey to the NFC champions started with a trade request and was bolstered when the Lions hired general manager Brad Holmes away from his role as Rams scouting director. He was at the same vacation resort in Mexico as Rams coach Sean McVay, 35, when the trade was agreed upon.
“It’s probably unlike any other collaboration I’ve had with a coach,” Stafford said, citing a mutual respect and their age similarity. “Do we see eye-to-eye every single second of the day? Absolutely not. Do we work together to make sure we’re doing what’s best for our team? Absolutely. Do we disagree in-game, do we disagree on the sideline, do we disagree in practice? Yeah, but that’s part of what makes this so special.”
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Stafford has completed 72 percent of his passes with six touchdowns, one interception and a 115.6 quarterback rating in the three playoff wins, highlighted by his 44-yard throw to set up the walk-off field goal against the Buccaneers.
“Matthew has played his best ball as of late in those biggest moments,” McVay said. “We’ve seen our offense play great in the moments they had to play great. Matthew has led the way.”
Stafford is the second “franchise quarterback” to leave his longtime team and take another to the Super Bowl in as many years. That’s where the similarities end with Tom Brady, who won six Super Bowls with the Patriots before adding a seventh after signing with the Buccaneers in free agency.
“I definitely did not think about what Tom had done — our times with our drafted teams were a little bit different,” Stafford quipped. “He won a bunch of Super Bowls. I was unable to win a playoff game at that point. I was thinking inside out about what was going to be best for me, what was going to be best for the Lions.”
If Stafford wins a Super Bowl, how many others will begin to exercise their muscle rather than risk rotting away? The Packers’ Aaron Rodgers, Seahawks’ Russell Wilson and Texans’ Deshaun Watson (legal issues pending) all have expressed interest in trades. More could be coming.
“As far as other guys doing it, I have no idea,” Stafford said. “Every situation is unique in this league. For me, it happened to work out well.”
That’s for sure.