Detroit Lions teammates are living their dream thanks to Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford
Rob Sims was watching the NFC Championship Game on TV and could feel his own emotions starting to boil. For years, Sims blocked Matthew Stafford as a guard for the Detroit Lions. Now retired, he was watching his former quarterback do something he never could have done in Detroit.
He saw Stafford – with his dazzling smile and scruffy beard – rise to the top of the sport with the Los Angeles Rams after languishing with the Lions. For The Sims and so many others who have played with Stafford over the years, his journey was, in some ways, like their own.
“Man, me and [Calvin Johnson] had many conversations about how cool it is that he’s in this position,” Sims said. “Me and [Dominic Raiola] are like, ‘What we believed in was true. This guy is the real deal and he proves it.
“It’s just good for us, to see someone who comes from where we come from, to go to the next level and prove it.”
They watched in Los Angeles and suburban Detroit, won acclaim in Texas and Connecticut – and even in Paris. They played alongside Stafford and shared so much with him. Some were co-captains and others close confidants. They all have one thing in common: a quarterback who once led them to where they all wanted to go.
The Super Bowl.
“That might be weird for people to hear,” said former quarterback and current ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky. “It will be like watching a family member.”
Orlovsky, who has long been a staunch Stafford supporter, is not alone. The group of players who worked with Stafford from 2009 to 2020 at Detroit talked about watching Stafford’s journey this season.
The quarterback, who turns 34 on Monday, may be a Ram now, but his ties to Detroit run deep. Lions fans raved about their former quarterback on social media. The local Detroit sports radio station, which has often criticized Stafford with the Lions, hosted a “StaffordCast” during the Rams’ first playoff game –– Stafford’s first playoff victory. One of the co-hosts, who had bet against Stafford and the Rams, lost and had to drink a shot of Jagermeister and mayonnaise.
The fact that they were still talking about Stafford, who played 12 seasons with the Lions, a year after moving to Los Angeles shows the appeal he still has in a city that hasn’t won a division title since. 1993 or a playoff game since the 1991 season.
In some ways, Stafford’s run through the playoffs was also Detroit’s run. The Lions hope to get there one day. For now, some are living vicariously on his success.
Distant time zones
Nine hours before Pacific time in Paris, former Lions wide receiver Kris Durham loaded up on the international version of NFL’s Game Pass on Sunday nights to watch the Rams live. Durham and Stafford met at 16 and became teammates and close friends in Georgia before spending two seasons together in Detroit.
It was Stafford who gave Durham John Grisham’s book “Playing for Pizza”, about a former NFL player traveling to Italy to play professional football which eventually became Durham’s reality. Durham has been through a lot with Stafford and has made it a point to watch at least 12-game Rams games this season. Durham stayed up until nearly 5 a.m. to watch Stafford reach the Super Bowl. After the game, he was part of a short FaceTime celebrating the victory.
“He’s probably one of the only people I’ve been really, really close to who’s been able to play in that game and maybe win it and be a quarterback, especially after the last 12 months happened were special,” Durham said. “I’m really excited for him and I’m excited for [Stafford’s wife] Kelly and her family and have only a minor role in it.”
Earlier this season, Durham traveled to Los Angeles — he was in the States for work at the time anyway — and went to the Rams’ game against Detroit and surprised Stafford. Stafford’s wife Kelly and college friend Steven Cundari helped Durham get a SoFi Stadium worker’s uniform.
When Stafford entered the suite after the game, he walked past his 6ft 6in friend dressed incognito and did a double take before realizing it was him and wrapping him in a big bear hug . Durham said he plans to return to Los Angeles later this week for the Super Bowl.
“It’s surreal,” Durham said. “This guy has been working for this all his life.”
Seen “a million times”
The most Stafford moment of his entire playoff run came at Tampa Bay, in what turned out to be the final game of Bucs quarterback Tom Brady’s career. Stafford got the ball on his own 25-yard line in a draw with 42 seconds left.
Orlovsky texted his NFL Live group chat and told him he had seen this “a million times before”. Sims, who blocked for Stafford from 2010 to 2014, knew when Stafford got the ball back with so much time what was going to happen. Glover Quin, co-captain with Stafford for half a decade in Detroit, did too.
“Stafford has always proven he’s good in this scenario and that’s why he has so many wins or draws or draws in the fourth quarter, right,” Quin said. “So if he had that ball in the fourth quarter with that much time, shoot, that’s right up his alley. So I knew, oh yeah, Stafford was adept at shaking things up.”
Longtime snapper Don Muhlbach, who resided two lockers away from Stafford for most of their joint career, was on a flight to Michigan during the Buccaneers game. Half the flight was supporting Brady. The other half were Lions fans.
Muhlbach has witnessed that 38 times in person, a fourth-quarter winning drive from Stafford (he has 42 all-time in the regular season, tied for seventh all-time). He expected the sequel.
“When we had Stafford, we were never short of anything. He proved that time and time again,” Muhlbach said. “Everybody’s always like never leaving [Aaron] Rodgers or Brady too much time – as soon as they scored I thought there was enough time left. It’s not going to shock people when it happens.”
After Stafford unloaded a 44-yard completion to Cooper Kupp to set up the eventual game-winning field goal, the quarterback ran down the field screaming. quin and Sims had flashbacks. In 2013, Stafford was migrated against Dallas — in a game where Calvin Johnson received 329 yards — and frantically ran down the field to set up a play for a last-second win. In this scenario, he was giving up and yelling at tackle Riley Reiff to get ready.
He wasn’t yelling at Reiff, who now plays for Super Bowl opponent Cincinnati but is injured, this time around, but was still waving players on the court in a move eerily similar to the 2013 game. In what was an early moments from Stafford’s return, he faked a spike and dove over a pile of Cowboys and Lions for a game-winning touchdown.
Here he nailed the ball to set up a Matt Gay winning field goal.
“It’s the same thing,” Sims said. “I’ve been here a million times. He knows what he’s doing. Just flashes of that, that’s pretty cool.”
That’s when Stafford erased the belief that he can’t win a big game. Knocking the defending Super Bowl champions down the road in the playoffs was a defining victory.
When that happened, Sims texted Stafford congratulating him. Fifteen minutes after the game ended, with so much commotion around the quarterback, Sims saw his phone go on.
“This guy could do anything and he texts back, ‘I like you,'” Sims said. “That’s the kind of relationship we’ve built over the years in Detroit and more than anything, he’s just my boy.”
“I wish we had done it here”
For more than a decade in Detroit, despite all the loss and training changes, diet changes and inability to succeed, Stafford never publicly blamed. He never criticized openly. It mattered then and still does.
This explains why after every Rams playoff victory, there have been celebrations from a segment of former Lions players on social media. They had been through the pain of football with him – seeing the criticism he had received – and beamed at what he was doing now.
“I wish we had done it here,” Muhlbach said. “It would have been better if we all could have done it together, but I think a lot of his former teammates think the same as me. We are all so happy for him.
“He took a lot of things here, fair or unfair, whatever you want to put it.”
Former Lions teammates Sam Martin and Marvin Jones Jr. went to the NFC Championship Game. Many others watched from afar.
And they became Rams fans because of Stafford. Orlovsky’s kids wear Rams jerseys, and for the past week he’s been trying to figure out whether or not he can fly from Los Angeles, where he’ll be on TV, to Connecticut for his kids’ basketball games on Saturday. , then return to watch Stafford at the Super Bowl.
“Once in a lifetime, man,” Orlovsky said. “It’s once in a lifetime.”
Orlovsky believes that if Stafford wins a Super Bowl, it could cement an eventual Hall of Fame induction. Which happened last summer when Raiola, Sims and Stafford all met in Canton for Calvin Johnson’s Hall of Fame induction. As they hung out and reminisced, Sims said Raiola suggested the next time they were there was for Stafford’s induction. Sims said Stafford’s reaction at the time was, “Man, I gotta get a Super Bowl to do this.”
“And here we are,” Sims said.