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Stafford's struggles lead to Super Bowl shot
Stafford's struggles lead to Super Bowl shot

Stafford's struggles lead to Super Bowl shot

After spending many bruising winters of discontent in Detroit, Matthew Stafford was more than ready for his place in the sun.

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The 34-year-old quarterback heads into Sunday's Super Bowl as the fulcrum of a star-studded Los Angeles Rams team tipped to win their first Vince Lombardi Trophy in more than two decades.

It is a far cry from Stafford's 12 seasons of suffering with the Detroit Lions, which came to an end last year when he was traded away to the Super Bowl-chasing Rams.

The number one pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, Stafford's prodigious ability had never been in question.

But the franchise's failure to build a team around him left Stafford facing up to the very real prospect that his would be a talent unfulfilled.

In 12 seasons with the Lions, Stafford only registered four winning campaigns. Three trips to the playoffs ended in three first-round exits.

At the end of the 2020 season, Stafford had had enough. In a tearful meeting with the Lions ownership, he requested a trade.

With several teams circling, the Rams won the race for his signature in a blockbuster deal that sent quarterback Jared Goff and several draft picks in the opposite direction.

Stafford believes a Super Bowl victory on Sunday will belong in part to his former teammates in Detroit.

"If we sit here and say we're not a product of our experiences, or we haven't learned from some of the things that we've had go on in the past, picked up things from great teammates or coaches along the way, we'd be lying to ourselves," Stafford reflected this week.

- Relishing pressure -

"There's so many people in Detroit, important people in my life, that have helped me get here.

"I feel like every time I step out there on the field, I'm playing for not only myself, but for everybody that has helped get me there."

Stafford also maintains that his struggles with the Lions helped him ride out a rocky spell with the Rams this season, when the team lost three straight games in November.

"There's things you don't really learn unless you go through some tough times -- and there were some tough times in Detroit," he said.

In the playoffs, Stafford led the Rams to a last-gasp victory over Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, before seeing off the San Francisco 49ers to earn a Super Bowl berth.

It is precisely the scenario the Rams envisioned when they swooped for Stafford last year in a move that essentially mortgaged the franchise's future draft capital for a proven quarterback.

While the move saddled Stafford with expectations to deliver, the quarterback wouldn't have it any other way as he prepares for Sunday's showpiece.

"These opportunities are what you play the game for," Stafford said.

"I'm so lucky to be in this situation and being able to go out and battle one more time with this great group of guys that I have as teammates and coaches.

"As far as pressure goes -- we say around here all the time, 'Pressure is a privilege.' That means something is expected of you, and we expect that of ourselves."

A cornerstone of Stafford's late career renaissance has been Rams coach Sean McVay, a progressive tactician who at 36 is only two years older than the Los Angeles quarterback.

"It's probably unlike any other collaboration I've had with a coach," Stafford said.

"He and I are so close in age, and I have so much respect for how he sees the game and how he builds this offense.

"Do we see eye-to-eye every single second of the day? Absolutely not. Do we work together to make sure that 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 and all that? Yeah. But that's part of what makes this so special."