(LOS ANGELES) — It began with a chance encounter at a resort in Cabo. Two men who were both at a proverbial fork in the road in their respective careers.
Matthew Stafford. The 12-year veteran quarterback who just finished up another losing season with the Detroit Lions. With little team success and suffering through several rebuilds, the 34-year-old Stafford could sense his window to win the biggest prize of all, the Super Bowl, was closing quickly. He knew a change of scenery was needed.
Sean McVay is the charismatic 36-year-old head coach of the Los Angeles Rams. The grandson of former NFL head coach and executive John McVay, Sean was coming off another tough playoff exit in the NFC Divisional round, just two years removed from his first Super Bowl appearance against the New England Patriots. The man many around league referred to as the “offensive guru” felt he had to shake up his team.
Stafford and McVay were introduced by a mutual friend. Over drinks, the two hit it off and bonded over their careers.
It was that conversation, McVay later recalled, that convinced him he may have found his new quarterback. A few days later, the Rams made it official, trading for Stafford in exchange for former number one pick, Jared Goff.
Now, one year later, both men finally reached the top of the hill that at one point seemed so fleeting and illusive: celebrating their first Super Bowl title, a thrilling 23-20 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. And to cap it all off, it was Stafford, with the ball in his hands, who delivered the eventual game winning touchdown pass to Super Bowl MVP Cooper Kupp with under two minutes to play to secure Los Angeles’s first Super Bowl title since 1999.
Talk about a perfect ending to an unbelievable story only fit for Hollywood.
“You put the ball in your best player’s hands when it matters the most, and that’s what we did with Matthew,” McVay, who became the youngest head coach to win a Super Bowl, said following the game.
“And he (Stafford) delivered in a big way and is a world champ.”
Despite this being his first-ever Super Bowl, the bright spotlight certainly didn’t faze Stafford.
“I love those kind of drives… you’re sitting in the huddle and the belief that I have and in the teammates that I have is just unwavering,” Stafford said.
“I believe in those guys so much and we got it done.”
But there looked like a time where the Rams would come up short in the big game yet again.
After a back-breaking interception closed out the first half, Los Angeles held on to a tight 13-10 lead. Cincinnati capitalized on this momentum swing to begin the third quarter. In less than five minutes, the Bengals came roaring back, thanks to a one play, 75-yard touchdown pass from Joe Burrow to Tee Higgins, and a field goal by rookie Evan McPherson.
But if there is one thing fans who have watched the Rams this season have come to realize, it’s that you can never count this team out. They have been in this spot before many times, including in the divisional round against Tom Brady and the Buccaneers, and two weeks prior against the 49ers in the NFC Championship game.
The Rams defense clamped down, not allowing the Bengals to score a single point the rest of the way and sacking Burrow seven times.
Then, Stafford and Kupp rallied the offense after losing key receiver Odell Beckham Junior to a knee injury, finishing off one last comeback with the go-ahead touchdown to keep the Lombardi trophy in Los Angeles.
Finally, vindication for a team that went all-in, acquiring big name players like Stafford, Beckham and former Broncos All-Pro Von Miller to add to the main stays led by Kupp and arguably the league’s top defensive end Aaron Donald.
“You got to be relentless,” said Donald.
“You know it was right in front of us…all offseason you work, you train, you got camp, you got a long season just for this one game. You know we the last team standing.”
Just the way McVay had envisioned his return trip to the big game ending.
“You get over it (loss in last Super Bowl appearance). You know, as a competitor, you have to be able to do that,” said McVay.
“But certainly, this was really satisfying to see these guys and to see the looks on their faces.”
As for Stafford, all the ups and downs and heartbreaking seasons he endured early in his career was all worth it.
“For 12 years, that goal wasn’t reached and it tore me up inside,” said Stafford.
“But I knew I could keep playing and try to find a way. You know, the fact that we reached that goal is so special.”
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