Matthew Stafford: The NFL’s Best Loser – Sports Mix

Standing out in college football is a thankless thing. The reward: The handicap to start your own NFL career as a beacon of hope in a losing franchise.

As the first draft pick, many players have failed to meet these expectations – sometimes because they remain trapped in a “loser environment” forever. Of the last 20 No. 1 picks, only two are wearing Super Bowl rings: Eric Fisher and Eli Manning.

Matthew Stafford, who just over a year ago showed every indication he might never come close to a Super Bowl, could join that ranks on Sunday.

Because the Detroit Lions are perhaps the epitome of a loser franchise. Without a Super Bowl title, they have only managed four “winning seasons” and three playoff entries since Stafford’s draft in 2009, and since 2018 they have also leased the last place in the NFC North.

Made a lot out of little

In fact, Stafford ended up in Michigan thanks to the team’s only completely winless season in history, going 0-16 in 2008. More losers are not possible.

But the Los Angeles Rams released him from the clutches of the Lions in January 2021. In exchange with Jared Goff, they saw a missing piece of the puzzle in the now 34-year-old, the missed Super Bowl victory of 2019 of all times, in their own and brand new SoFi Stadium. With one step left to complete the plan, the Cincinnati Bengals are the final hurdle in Super Bowl LVI.

And this hope of the Rams was no accident: Stafford already proved in Detroit to be an expert. The hopeless situation of the Lions was certainly not due to that.

No other quarterback in NFL history reached the 20,000, 30,000, 40,000 and 45,000 passing yards as quickly as he did. In 2021, he led the NFL with 435 completions – although Detroit won only four games.

And then it was easy enough

And yet Stafford always flew under the radar. Due to the environment in which even playoff entries were a rarity. As a result, his own reputation suffered.

Some injuries did the rest. As early as 2010, a severe shoulder injury and an operation slowed him down to such an extent that making the playoffs the following year qualified him as “Comeback Player of the Year”.

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Stafford with his wife Kelly

Photo: © getty

It was only the first of numerous character tests that also existed in the private sphere – with his wife Kelly’s brain tumor three years ago.

The title “wasted career” would have been appropriate without a personal change of course. And yet Stafford, who is also known to be reserved off the pitch, likes to fly under the radar and doesn’t spit out big tones, never complained.

But twelve years in Detroit was just enough. He didn’t bother with another rebuild and the fourth head coach, wanted a trade – and got the new opportunity.

The two first-round picks sent to Detroit, along with Jared Goff – after all, also a quarterback who led the Rams to the Super Bowl – were a clear announcement of the hopes LA coach Sean McVay and staff had in Stafford.

Rams and Stafford: Unequal combo that works

The shrill and loud Los Angeles as the right environment for the reserved Stafford? The trade was watched with interest but not uncritically. But he passed the test on the first attempt.

The Rams took twelve wins and five losses from the regular season, Stafford reached his personal career best with 4,886 passing yards, and he matched that in terms of completion percentage (67.9 percent). For only the second time in his career, he ended the season with a three-digit passer rating of 102.9.

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The beginning of a long way

Photo: © getty

After twelve wins and five losses, the Rams did not go into the playoffs as a top favorite, but acted hard in three games. Especially in the Divisionals, when Tom Brady’s career effectively ended in a battle of nerves.

Stafford also played his part in this, because he is considered a man for decisive seconds: Including the games against Tampa Bay and San Francisco, it was the 43rd game-winning drive under the leadership of the 34-year-old since Monday, no other quarterback has recorded so many since 2009. A quality that could also be decisive in the Super Bowl.

Nobody had to wait that long

There he is the experienced part of the quarterback duel “Routine against young blood”, which experiences its umpteenth edition in Stafford against Burrow. No first draft pick was as quick in a Super Bowl as Burrow – no other had to wait as long as Stafford.

The second is clearly under more pressure. Less because a Rams triumph would be the right setting in their own stadium. Even five years after the relocation, the fans are still not breaking in the doors of the Rams, despite winning teams and the most modern sports arena in the world. It’s probably not even far-fetched that more people in Detroit are crossing their fingers for their “prodigal son” to finally reap the rewards of his career of sporting suffering.

But Stafford’s trade, for which strong future stocks were sent to Detroit, was emblematic of a team that needs success now — and has invested heavily to get it. Otherwise, Stafford could soon be faced with another rebuild.

A very big success in a career that gave a lot of talent with few highlights is no longer as likely as this Sunday.


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