Column: Matthew Stafford might not be Hollywood, but Rams love him in leading role
He conducted his first Los Angeles video conference wearing a black baseball cap while sitting in front of a white background.
He rarely smiled. He rarely raised his voice. It looked like he needed a shave.
Meet Hollywood’s new quarterback, more matinee usher than matinee idol, a stolid bit of sturdy known as Matthew Stafford.
“I’m just a player trying to do my thing,” he said.
His thing is not being the Rams’ new star.
After deciding it was time to move on from the Detroit Lions, Matthew Stafford was looking to land on a team with Super Bowl aspirations, and the Rams seem to be a perfect match.
He’s a background extra working from center stage. He’s a lineman in quarterback clothing. Listening to his low-key delivery and witnessing his lack of flash, he’s basically his high school buddy Clayton Kershaw in a helmet and pads.
“You’re observant; I’m not a celebrity-Hollywood type of guy,” he said. “Listen, I’m going to be focused on football when I’m here; if I run into somebody cool, I’ll let you know.”
He’s so, well, Detroit. When asked about moving here with his wife and four children, he acknowledged having to work around the illusion held by many Midwestern transplants that everybody here lives on the ocean.
“My little girls don’t really know what going on, so we had to trick them and tell them we’re moving to the beach,” he said. “Not really the beach, but its closer to the beach than we’ve been in the past, so they’re excited about that.”
For the headline writers, he’ll be a bore. For the gossip websites, he’ll be invisible.
For the Rams, he’ll be perfect.
They don’t need a star. Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey are their glitzy stars. They don’t need a spokesman. Sean McVay is their ebullient spokesman.
What they need is a solid cornerstone with the toughness and smarts to guide their offense when the stakes are the highest. They need a rock who is impervious to pressure, ignorant of the elements, and willing to do whatever.
That was not always Jared Goff. That is absolutely Matthew Stafford, who didn’t win a playoff game in a dozen years with the Lions yet made such an impact there, his highlights filled a nine-minute farewell video.
As the second day of free agency began Thursday, the Rams had yet to make additional moves to upgrade the personnel that will surround Matthew Stafford.
“He’s a great competitor, plays the position at an elite level … toughness, sees the field well ... great movement in the pocket, can make all those throws,” said McVay, who then got to the good part. “He’s got a great way about himself, where you can feel he’s got a great, quiet confidence but a humility that’s refreshing. I think his teammates are really going to love him.”
What’s not to love?
Stafford works well under pressure, with 31 fourth-quarter comebacks, including an NFL-record eight such heroics during the 2016 season. Not surprisingly, he credited those rebounds to his teammates.
“It’s knowing the situation and I think having a bunch of confidence as a team that no matter what the situation is, we can go out and get it done,” he said.
He also works well in pain. In spite of getting consistently hammered behind some awful offensive lines in Detroit, during one memorable stretch Stafford made 136 consecutive starts, playing sick, playing hurt, playing whenever with whatever. Once again, he gave all the credit to those teammates.
“I just walk through that locker room on Mondays after games and see guys beat up and know that they’re going to be out there on Sunday,” he said. “If they’re going to be out there, I sure want them to know that I’m going to be out there as well.”
Stafford seems to be that rare quarterback who huddles around his comrades, not vice-versa, an admirable trait which nonetheless leads to his two biggest challenges as a Ram.
First, no matter how much he attempts to deflect the attention, the weight of immediate Super Bowl expectations are clearly on his shoulders, and that’s a first. How will he handle it?
“Sometimes feeling that pressure is a positive thing,” he claimed. “I love that. I want to be playing in those big game and in those big moments so, for me, it’s an opportunity more than anything.”
Even as a sixth grader, and up through the ranks, Matthew Stafford’s hometown buddies in Texas realized the quarterback would be a star.
We’ll see. We’ll also learn about the veteran’s adaptability in the wake of potential pandemic restrictions that might force him to learn a new system and new teammates via Zoom. Few quarterbacks benefit more from personal interactions than Stafford, whose comfort in working from the trenches may suddenly be less of a blessing than a curse.
“I’ve got a lot on my plate to be honest with you, trying to learn this offense and learn the team,” he acknowledged, later adding, “With probably a limited if not zero offseason in-person style, that’s going to be a challenge for me. … I’m going to do everything I can to make sure I’m face to face with these guys if I can be.”
Here’s guessing no matter what communication issues arise, he’ll fight his way through them. He appears to be a walking cliché, but in the most wonderful sense of the word. Stafford claims, and has shown, he’ll do whatever it takes.
“Once the ball is snapped, do anything you can to help the team win,” Hollywood’s newest unlikely leading man said. “If that’s running, throwing, whatever needs to be done, I’m happy to do it. I want to get out there and lead by example if I can.”
Now, if the Rams can just acquire a deep threat to follow him.
Go beyond the scoreboard
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