Quarterback Matthew Stafford has been pretty quiet since the Rams acquired him in a January trade with the Detroit Lions, where the former No. 1 overall draft pick spent the first 12 years of his career.
But he opened up on a range of topics Tuesday in a 45-minute interview with the Los Angeles Times, discussing the decision to ask for a trade, his future with the Rams, and what it was like having Dodgers star Clayton Kershaw snapping to him on their high school football team.
Excerpts from the interview:
After 12 years in Detroit, you asked the Lions for a trade. What brought you to that point?
It was tough. It wasn’t something that I thought about on a Friday and happened on a Saturday. It was something that I had spent some time thinking about. It started casually probably with just my wife and I. She saw everything I put into this game and that team and that city, everything I had given. She had a front-row seat for that. She would talk to me about it, we would talk to each other.
It’s one of those things in life where you’ve got to make a decision. It wasn’t something that was easy for me. It was something that frankly could have backfired in my face. I could have said, “Hey, this is what I’m thinking,” and the Lions could have said, “Well, we don’t really care. You’re our guy for two more years and you’re going to see us through this thing.” I have to give them a ton of credit for their, I don’t know what the word is, open-mindedness or respect for me? It was probably a little bit of both. They were understanding to let it kind of happen or at least get the wheels turning on it.
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It was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done as far as conversations go. I have so much respect for that organization, the Ford family, the guys who had played in that uniform before me. There was a lot that went into that that I had to think about.
I told them, “I’m not going to say a word to anybody that’s going to say a word. Not until you guys are ready.” It was vice versa. In this day of social media and everybody trying to get the scoop, that’s not something that happens very often. I’m obviously excited about the new opportunity and happy it shook out the way it did. I feel like both teams got a fair shake out of this thing, and we can move on with everybody feeling good about it.
Troy Aikman said he played golf with you before the 2009 draft and was impressed with the way you were excited to play in Detroit. There was no wavering on your part. What do you remember about that?
At that point, it was the only 0-16 team in the history of the NFL. Saddle up, here we go. But at the same time I was excited about the opportunity. One of our coaches asked us to write down on a piece of paper what your goals are, and I remember thinking about a Super Bowl parade in Detroit and how incredible that would be. I obviously didn’t get that done, something that still motivates me and is a big part of any reason why I’m still playing as anything. But I wanted that chance. I wanted that chance to take an organization that had never even sniffed that and give it a chance.
I felt along the way we got better as an organization, there’s no question about that, from when I got there until when I left. But I was barely 21 years old and just excited to get an opportunity. The bigger the challenge the better at that point. I was ready to take on whatever anybody had for me.
So now you’re in Los Angeles, joining an organization that’s only three seasons removed from reaching the Super Bowl. You’ve got a running game, a defense and a revered play-caller in Sean McVay. Can you remember the last time you were this excited heading into a season?
It’s been a while. We had some good teams in Detroit, and I’m excited every single year because I love playing this game. But those years we made the playoffs [2011, ’14 and ’16], I thought we had good teams. But I’m very excited about playing for this team, the Rams organization. I’m excited about trying to get to know these guys. To win as consistently as the Rams have won in the last four or five years, you’ve got to have good people. You can’t just have good players and good coaches. It’s a really fun thing for me to be a part of, just trying to immerse myself in the team.
“It wasn’t something that was easy for me. It was something that frankly could have backfired in my face.”
— Matthew Stafford on asking the Lions for a trade
When Rich Gannon went to Oakland and Carson Palmer went to Arizona, those quarterbacks were able to redefine themselves in their last stops. Do you think about that?
Absolutely. There’s no question. Different scenario, but even Tom Brady last year, going to a new team and a different coach and a new way of doing things, and having success. That’s something that makes you feel good after you make a decision to move on. I asked to move to another team, and then you look around and see there’s other people who have done it and have been successful. I’m going to have to work my tail off to make sure I’m ready to go, and catch up to the speed of everybody else who’s been in this offense for four or five years. It’s a lot of work for me, but at the same time it’s exciting, knowing I’m getting the opportunity to do some things I’ve always wanted to do.
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Archie Manning said that of all the quarterbacks who have come through the Manning Passing Academy, your arm was the most impressive. That includes virtually all of the best college quarterbacks in the past quarter-century. What was it like being there?
One of the coolest experiences of my life. I was just a young guy trying to soak up whatever I could. I got there maybe a day or two early, and Peyton and Eli were out there getting a workout on the field. They allowed me to jump in and throw with them. I’m sitting there just pinching myself after watching those guys be as good as they’ve been for such a long time.
Then the whole camp experience was great too. You get to see these guys as coaches, as players, and then you get to hang out with them afterward.
Then I’m in the airport and I’m trying to fly back to Atlanta and there were really bad storms so I’m stuck in New Orleans. Archie, somehow it gets back to him that I’m stuck at the airport. Archie invites me to dinner with the family. Peyton’s wife was out of town or something, so I was Peyton’s date to the family dinner at Ruth’s Chris. I’m sitting there like, wow. That just speaks to the character of that family.
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NFL Films put you at the top of the list when it comes to quarterbacks they’ve mic’d up, from you refusing to come out of the Cleveland game and throwing the winning touchdown pass despite a separated shoulder, to you fooling Dallas by pretending to clock the ball but instead reaching it across the goal line. There were a couple other shootouts, too. What’s with the mic’d-up games?
[Lions executive] Bill Keenist would tell me, “Hey, Films wants to mic you up.” I’d be like, “Be ready for a rollercoaster this week, boys.” It was a fun thing that we joked about. Those are such cool things. I grew up watching those. Hearing the music and seeing the old films and knowing that at some point down the road a kid who’s 8 or 10 is probably watching those thinking those are pretty cool. Maybe down the road being part of some kid’s journey to do what I do is pretty cool. Something I’ll always have forever. As crazy as they were in the moment, they made for some good TV.
What was it like having Clayton Kershaw blocking for you at Highland Park High School in Dallas? Didn’t he get booted from a game for fighting or something?
That was freshman year. I was playing quarterback and he was my center. Somebody hit me late and he took exception to that, and like waayyy after the whistle nailed this dude. He got ejected from the game. I was all cheers. I loved it. It was one of those things where he was just kind of retaliating and sticking up for me, which I thought was pretty cool.
Matthew Stafford and Clayton Kershaw grew up playing sports together in Texas, but in high school they eventually played just football and baseball, respectively, after sharing gridiron and diamond time.
He’s one of those guys that when you watch him pitch, in my mind, knowing what I do, he pitches like a football player. He competes his ass off. Certain guys are out there and can really throw, manipulate the baseball and the spin. But this dude competes. He can have a [bad] half-inning and the rest of the game he’s lights out because he doesn’t let it bother him. It’s something I’ve appreciated about him for a long time, since back when I was a little kid catching for him. Just how hard he plays.
I understand that when you two were kids, you had a contest to see who could tip the scales at 100 pounds first, and that you had a Taco Bell eating contest to push you over the top. Didn’t you get sick?
It was a long night, that’s what I remember. For a brief, fleeting moment I was over 100 pounds. It was just one of those silly childhood things. A little competition never hurt anybody until it did. We put away a bunch of tacos and then we had to reap what we sowed.
But I’ve known Clayton for the longest time. I’m just in awe of what he’s been able to accomplish at such a young age. I had the buffer of going to college, and he obviously didn’t do that. Next thing I know I’m sitting in college and watching him throw in the big leagues.
It’s that feeling that high school buddies of mine probably have when they watch me play, right? It’s, “Oh, I grew up with that guy.” It’s kind of that fun hometown thing. I don’t really have that, because I’m usually the guy playing. But when I see Clayton, I get that same kind of feeling. Like, “Man, I used to play on the Blue Bombers soccer team with this guy.” I grew up going to every baseball practice, every football practice, all that stuff with him.
To watch him do what he’s done, and to watch him have the unbelievable success he’s had, not only as an individual but also finally as a team this last year, I’m so happy for him. I’m in awe of the way he’s been able to do it.
And he’s as good a guy as he is a baseball player, which is tough to find these days. I’m just happy to be in that conversation with him, in that story with him, and it’s something that I know down the road we’ll look back on and think is pretty cool.
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In 2019, you spent the offseason tinkering with your footwork with Adam Dedeaux at 3DQB. What was the thinking behind that?
I’m always trying to find a way to be a little bit better. The common fan probably wouldn’t notice it, but I used to be in the shotgun with right foot forward, and now I’m left foot forward. It’s a little thing that helps me on certain throws to certain directions. The left side is a little bit easier to get to. I’m a little bit less busy on my drops, especially with the quick-game stuff. Gives me good tempo. It’s just finding ways to get a little bit better. I’ve really enjoyed working with those guys, trying to find little things here and there to help me out.
You said you’ve learned a lot in every stop along the way. What stands out for you in that regard about the years with the Lions?
Throughout my 12 years in Detroit I learned a ton, both about success and also about failure, how to keep coming back and deal with it. It’s a learning process every step of the way. I’m learning how to apply sunblock here in L.A. and what that’s like again. But I know I’ll learn a bunch here from a really smart coach and some players that have done it at a high level. Getting to be around the Aaron Donalds and Andrew Whitworths of the world is pretty fun for me.
You refer to your wife, Kelly, and your four daughters as “my support system.” How has this new chapter been for them?
They’re everything to me. The fact that my wife was so on board, it’s a big move for us. Four kids. Picking up and moving when we were so comfortable and so used to, and just giving me the “Hell, yeah, let’s do it. You’re only going to play football for however many years. Let’s go on an adventure and try to figure this thing out.” I’m just so appreciative and in awe of that. I don’t know if I could have done the same thing if I was in her shoes.
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