Matthew Stafford never had to worry about football on his birthday until this year, but celebrating his 34th on Monday, the former Detroit Lions and current Los Angeles Rams quarterback is preparing to play his first. Super Bowl.
In an ideal world, Stafford would have participated in the day’s festivities as a member of the Lions. But after failing that goal for more than a decade, the franchise acquiesced in a trade request last offseason, ultimately sending him to the Rams for Jared Goff and a trio of draft picks.
So while Lions fans continue to wait their turn for their team to play for the NFL’s biggest prize, they must live vicariously through the quarterback they’ve cheered on since he was selected with the first overall pick in 2009.
And while there’s no unanimous opinion when it comes to sports fandom, it’s clear that Stafford still has the support of many Detroiters. Look no further than when the Rams and Lions played each other in the regular season, where there were far more Honolulu No. 9 blue jerseys in the stands than his current Rams misses.
Likewise, a number of former Stafford teammates have taken to social media in recent weeks to express their support. None of that is lost on the quarterback, who understands that a Super Bowl win will mean a lot to people stretching far beyond Los Angeles.
“If we sit here and say we’re not the product of our experiences, or we haven’t learned from some of the things that we’ve been through in the past, learned things from great current teammates or coaches road, we’d be lying to each other,” Stafford said. “I think we all play for, not just the guys in this locker room, but the guys who helped us get to this position. There are so many people in Detroit, important people in my life, who helped me get there. get here.
“…I so appreciate everyone’s support and know that when I play there, whether it’s this week at the Super Bowl or any other game, I’m a representation of those experiences that I’m I had with those people. I feel like every time I step on the pitch, I’m not really playing for myself, but for everyone who helped me get there.
Stafford said he was still in touch with the Ford family and maintained regular contact with them. He also noted that he’s heard of several of those former teammates, including longtime target Calvin Johnson, whom Stafford backed during former Hall of Fame induction last summer.
“He was such a big part of my success in Detroit,” Stafford said. “(It) was such a great learning experience for me to see a guy who is the best at his job in that position at the time and just the way he handled his business, the way he treated people. The way he did everything really with such great class and work ethic and all that. It was so much fun for me to be around that and see that.
As for Detroit fans, Stafford described them as loyal and passionate, saying what he valued most was how the community support extended far beyond the football field.
“All the things you want fans to be,” Stafford said. “Amazing to me, my wife and my family, how many times we went to eat or play with our children in the park, whatever it was, and the support we felt from them, not only when times were good , but when my wife was going through some of the things that she was going through health-wise.
“They were always supportive and people who cared about not only Lions and me, but also my family and us as people,” Stafford said. “So I will always have a soft spot for Detroit in my heart and I will appreciate it.”
Stafford never made the job in Detroit. Whether it’s an individual shortcoming, the fact that he was never backed with enough talent, or a bit of both, will be a debate for years to come. But his experiences with the Lions — from disappointments to countless comebacks — all shaped quarterback Stafford, culminating in that championship run with the Rams.
“We had a tough season this year in November where we didn’t win a football game but lost three in a row,” Stafford said. “I didn’t play particularly good football, but we just kept working. We keep trusting each other, keep understanding that the process that we’re going to work through every day is what’s going to get us out of this.
“Hopefully if I bring that attitude and if I helped change a guy’s attitude on this team, maybe that helped us get to this point,” Stafford said. “But those are things that you don’t really learn unless you go through tough times, tough adversities, and there were times in Detroit that really taught me that and I took it with me. “