Ex-Georgia Bulldog Matthew Stafford looks for Hollywood ending in Super Bowl

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

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Former Georgia quarterback gets his shot Sunday.

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

LOS ANGELES – Matthew Stafford had enough of banging his head against the wall in Detroit.

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After 12 seasons of mostly futile efforts to compete in the NFL, the former Georgia first-team All-American (2008) requested a trade, and it was mercifully granted. The Lions shipped him to the Rams for Jared Goff and a bushel of draft picks. Stafford, who is set to play in his first Super Bowl, is forever grateful.

He had a fine season and guided the Rams back to the Super Bowl, where they’ll face the Bengals at 6:30 p.m. Sunday at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif.

“My first thought was, man, I was excited,” Stafford said of the Lions granting his wishes. “I was excited about the opportunity to come to Los Angeles and play for this great organization with a great teammates and for a great coaching staff.”

Stafford, who was drafted No. 1 overall in 2009 after leading Georgia to three consecutive Associated Press Top 25 finishes, was an instant starter with the Lions. He took them to the playoffs three times, but they never advanced beyond the wild-card round.

It was one of those bittersweet departures.

“At the same time I was really thinking back about how appreciative I was of so many of the great teammates and players that I got to play with in Detroit,” Stafford said. “I was just thankful to the Ford family for my opportunity to play in this league.”

Stafford and his wife, Kelly, a former Georgia cheerleader, had to get used to a different lifestyle.

“It was a totally different situation for me and my family, both on the football field and off,” Stafford said. “But there’s been great support here, both with our team and throughout the community to help my family and myself kind of integrate as quickly as we possibly could.”

The Rams reached the Super Bowl in 2019 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, but their offense was shut down by Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots in a boring 13-3 game.

Rams coach Sean McVay wanted an upgrade at quarterback. Goff missed some wide-open receivers in the Super Bowl. McVay finally got his chance two years later, and general manager Les Snead made the move.

Stafford guided the Rams to a 12-5 mark during the regular season.

The Rams routed the Cardinals 34-11 in the wild-card round, upset Tom Brady and the Bucs in the divisional round and defeated the 49ers 20-17 to reach the Super Bowl.

Stafford, while being heavily blitzed by the Bucs, delivered a late strike to wide receiver Cooper Kupp for a 44-yard game to help the Rams get into position for a field goal to win in the divisional round. He also moved the Rams into field goal position to beat the 49ers in the NFC championship game with under two minutes to play.

“These opportunities are what you play the game for,” Stafford said. “I’m so lucky to be in this situation and be able to go out and battle one more time with this great group of guys.”

In a way, Stafford sees himself battling for his old Detroit teammates.

“I think we all are playing for not only the guys in this locker room, but the people who have helped us get to this position, and there’s so many people in Detroit, and people in my life that that have helped me get here,” Stafford said. “I’m still in contact with them and appreciate them so much.”

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Stafford arrived at Georgia highly touted, as the top quarterback prospect in the nation out of suburban Dallas. He guided the Bulldogs to records of 9-4 (23rd AP ranking), 11-2 (second) and 10-3 (13th) over three seasons.

Over his time with the Lions, there were several life lessons along the way.

“I think just the ability to overcome adversity,” Stafford said. “I know that sounds cliche, but there was plenty of times in Detroit where we were having a tough, tough stretch in games or I was having a tough quarter, a tough half or whatever.”

The Rams lost three games in a rough stretch this season, and Stafford was tossing interceptions at an alarming rate.

“I just continued to work,” Stafford said. “We continued to trust each other, continued to understand that the process of us going to work every single day is what was going to get us out of that.”

That trust and the Rams leaning more on their rushing attack is what help them get back on track.

“I’m hoping that if I bring that attitude and if I’ve helped turn one guy’s attitude on this team, maybe it helped us get to this point,” Stafford said. “But those are things that you don’t really learn unless you go through some tough times and adversity. There were some times in Detroit that really taught me that, and I’ve carried it with me.”

Stafford doesn’t believe that the stage will be too big for him.

“I think we all understand the magnitude and the importance of it,” Stafford said. “At the same time, once the ball snaps, it’s going to be another football game. We’ve got to go out there and execute.”

McVay, who also is the Rams’ play-caller, has bonded with Stafford in one season.

“I have so much respect for how he sees the game and how he builds this offense,” Stafford said. “I feel like he has a lot of respect for my vision and my understanding of the game as well.”

There have been disagreements, but they work through their issues.

“I mean, his ability to step in throughout the week, build the game plan out and then step in on Sundays and call the game the way he calls, it is unbelievable,” Stafford said. “He’s calm under pressure. His ability to get us in situations to go out there and succeed as players is something that we don’t take for granted.”

If there is a Hollywood ending, Stafford knows who he wants to play him in the movie.

“Leonardo DiCaprio is one of my favorites,” Stafford said. “Big-time actor. Special actor. I don’t know how he is throwing the football, but with modern technology, I’m sure we could make it look good.”

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