Ex-Lions QB Matthew Stafford ready for big stage of Super Bowl: ‘Pressure’s a privilege’

Detroit Free Press

Matthew Stafford’s daughters showed up at school one day last week with big news to tell their teacher.

“My dad’s going to the Super Bowl,” Stafford recounted his daughters saying at Super Bowl 56 virtual media day Monday. “And their teacher was like, ‘I know. We’ll all be cheering for him.’ That kind of threw them off, like, ‘How did you know that?'”

While Stafford’s four girls, all 5 and under, can’t yet grasp the magnitude of Stafford’s latest accomplishment, the significance has not been lost on virtually anyone else.

Stafford will lead the Los Angeles Rams in a Super Bowl home game Sunday against the upstart Cincinnati Bengals a little more than 12 months after he was acquired to do just that in a trade with the Detroit Lions.

The Rams, believing Stafford was the missing ingredient they needed for a Super Bowl run, sent Jared Goff and three draft picks, including two first-rounders, to the Lions for their franchise quarterback.

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Stafford has delivered his signature late-game heroics in wins this postseason over the San Francisco 49ers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and this Sunday he will step into the spotlight again on the biggest stage in football.

“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 it around here all the time, pressure’s a privilege. That means something’s expected of you and we expect that of ourselves anyway.”

The No. 1 overall pick by the Lions in 2009, Stafford played 12 seasons in Detroit without approaching the success he has had in his first year in LA.

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He went 74-90-1 as a starter with the Lions, lead the franchise to three playoff appearances and four winning seasons and never won a postseason game.

But Stafford said Monday his experiences with the Lions are a big reason why he finally is on the verge playing in the game he’s dreamed about all his life.

“I don’t know that there was a single time or an instance, but I think just the ability to overcome adversity,” he said. “I know that sounds cliché, but there was plenty of time in Detroit where we were having a tough stretch of games or I was having a tough quarter or a tough half, whatever it was, and being able to just trust yourself, trust your preparation and go to work and continue to work and trust your teammates and all that kind of stuff, I still feel that way and think that way today.”

Stafford said the lessons he learned handling adversity in Detroit helped him when the Rams fell briefly on hard times in November, losing games to playoff teams the Tennessee Titans, 49ers and Green Bay Packers by a combined 41 points.

Stafford threw five interceptions and took nine sacks in those games, then rebounded to lead the Rams to five straight wins to clinch the NFC West.

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In the playoffs, Stafford has taken his play to another level, completing 72% of his passes and throwing for 905 yards with six touchdowns and one interception in three games.

“We had a tough stretch in our season this year in the month of November where we didn’t win a football game and lost three in a row there, I didn’t play particularly good football, but we just continued to work and we continued to trust each other, continued to understand that the process of us going to work every single day is what’s going to get us out of that,” Stafford said. “And I’m hoping that if I bring that attitude and I help turn one guy’s attitude on this team maybe it helped us get to this point. But that’s things that you don’t really learn unless you go through some tough times, some tough adversity and there were some times in Detroit that really taught me that and I’ve carried it with me.”

Stafford, who turned 34 on Monday, said he feels like he is playing for some of his ex-Lions teammates, coaches and fans in some ways this week.

He still stays in contact with the Ford family — he approached Lions owner Sheila Ford Hamp and asked for a trade last January, not wanting to be part of another organizational rebuild — and has talked to “a bunch of old teammates,” including Hall of Fame receiver Calvin Johnson, in the build up to the game.

“It was such a great learning experience for me to watch a guy that’s the greatest at his craft at that position at that time and just the way he went about his business, the way he treated people, the way he did everything really with such great class and work ethic,” Stafford said. “It was so fun for me to be around that and see that, so appreciate him so much.”

[ Kelly Stafford on love from Lions fans: ‘We hear it and we feel it’ ]

Though he’s onto his new life now in LA, and admitted Monday he was “excited” about getting a fresh start, Stafford said part of him will forever be grateful for his time as a Lion and the people he met in Detroit.

“As far as what Detroit fans are, they were extremely loyal, they were great. They were passionate. All the things you want fans to be,” Stafford said. “Unbelievable to me and my wife and my family and the community, how many times we were out to eat or playing with the kids in the park, whatever it was, and the support we felt from them, not only when the times were good but when my wife was going through some of the things she was going through health wise or maybe we weren’t winning football games, they were always supportive and people that cared about not only the Lions and me, but my family and us as people. So always going to have a soft spot for Detroit in my heart and just appreciate them.”

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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