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First person: Andrew Whitworth says COVID absences have strengthened Rams’ resolve

Rams offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth walks back to the locker room.
Rams offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth walks back to the locker room after the team defeated the Detroit Lions on Oct. 24 at SoFi Stadium.
(Kyusung Gong / Associated Press)

When you’re 40 years old, there are plenty of weeks you don’t feel great going into an NFL game. But Sunday was weird. In 16 seasons, this was the first game I missed for something other than an injury.

But there I was, in my living room, while the rest of my Rams teammates were in Minnesota getting ready to play the Vikings.

I tested positive for COVID, even though I’m vaccinated and received the booster, so I had to sit out this critical road trip. That had me in the strange position of watching my team from afar, and there was some anxious anticipation before kickoff. I got up early and got in the sauna at my house and tried to calm myself down. I texted with some of my teammates — checked in with Matthew Stafford, Cooper Kupp, Rob Havenstein and others — then sat around for an hour waiting for the game to start.

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Andrew Whitworth stands in his home watching the Rams play the Vikings because of COVID test results.
Andrew Whitworth stands in his home watching the Rams play the Vikings on Sunday, Dec. 26, 2021, because of COVID test results.
(Courtesy of the Whitworth family)

No pregame shows for me. I don’t like them. If I watched any of those shows it would be Fox, because I know most of those guys and know they do a great job. It’s not really about them. But those shows create chatter and stress. I don’t think it’s good for players to listen to that. You don’t want to be listening to narratives or having those things dictate your thoughts about the game.

Just like a regular game day, I didn’t eat anything. I’ll have some coffee in the morning, but I won’t eat. At most, I’ll have a piece of toast with some peanut butter on it, but otherwise I wait until after a game to have my first meal of the day. I’m hungry then.

Sunday, I felt like a coach. I couldn’t sit down. My wife, Melissa, was on the couch scrolling through social media, but I asked her not to tell me about that. She always tells me she doesn’t write anything on Twitter, but then I’ll end up seeing people and they say, “Man, your wife’s hilarious.” So I know she’s tweeting.

My kids mostly played outside. They’d come through every once in a while, but they knew I couldn’t talk to them during the game. I felt like I had a headset on, thinking through all the situations defensively, offensively, the critical points. I was looking for the little things, the indications that would show me what kind of day it would be for us.

For instance, after we scored on our opening possession, I was really watching for how our kickoff coverage team would do. We pinned them back on their eight-yard line. Those young special teamers — Jake Funk, Travin Howard, guys like that — you want to see those guys make strides, and I think we saw that. People might overlook that, but those guys make plays that really send a message about the kind of team you’re building.

We’ve learned a lot about our team these last couple of weeks, especially when some key starters have been unavailable because of COVID. You forget sometimes in football when you’re just worried about having a perfect team, or having all the “right” guys, that it’s really about overcoming adversity. The true idea of a team is when guys step in, take on their roles and execute them.

The Rams clinched a playoff spot and moved into first place in the NFC West with a win over Minnesota.

It’s really about, regardless of what happens to us, can we find a way to win? That’s the deal with really good football teams. It’s not about can they put the most talented team out there. It’s about finding a way to win. That’s the greatest trait you can have.

Stafford is that way. Statistically, fans would say he didn’t have his best performance Sunday, yet what I saw was a quarterback who came through down the stretch when his team needed him. I feel really fortunate to be in the twilight of my career with him as my quarterback. He’s an elite leader and a really special human off the field.

I know what it’s like to make a move late in your career. I did the same thing when I came to the Rams from Cincinnati. That first year is a whirlwind. To be a veteran player and change teams after you’ve been in one place for forever, you go through all the emotions of expectations, pressure and sadness that you’re leaving all your teammates and the people in the building you’ve built a relationship with.

Los Angeles was a big adjustment for me. I think about the first time I came out of the tunnel at the Coliseum, playing Indianapolis at home in 2017, walking into that stadium and thinking, “There’s no one here.”

Rams offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth blocks Indianapolis Colts linebacker Darius Leonard.
Rams offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth blocks Indianapolis Colts linebacker Darius Leonard during a game on Sept. 19 in Indianapolis.
(Zach Bolinger / Associated Press)

Remember, I played at West Monroe (La.) on one of the best high school teams in the country at that time. We were 10,000 people deep in a little tiny stadium every Friday night.

I went to LSU, where we won a national championship under Nick Saban, won multiple SEC championships and really built what they still are today. I remember going to our first national championship and it was like we were rock stars. We literally couldn’t get into our hotel because there were so many people outside trying to touch us, cheer us on, all that.

And then when I got to Cincinnati, regardless of our success, you’ve got an awesome fan base where every week it’s sold out. You’ve got that hometown feel, and then when we started winning it was just insane.

We’re starting to see that in L.A., starting to get the feeling that we’re really building something. I’ve seen people that when I first got here had no interest in the Rams. Around town now, there’s always somebody who has something to say about us. People are having fun watching us.

That didn’t make it any easier for me to be a spectator Sunday. I was watching the clock, looking at down and distance, talking about the game situations. Of course, I was watching the offensive line, and I thought Dave Edwards and Alaric Jackson did a really good job filling in for me. Dave started at left tackle, but moved to left guard when Brian Allen got hurt, and Alaric played left tackle.

Injuries and issues with COVID-19 couldn’t stop the offensive line from playing an oversized role for the Rams in their 30-23 win over the Vikings.

I knew Dave would do a good job. He’s played a lot of football. Alaric is a guy that Rob Havenstein and I have poured into all year and really think a lot of. We think he can be a really good football player, so it was awesome for me to see him go out there and execute. I’m really happy for him, and I reached out to him after the game and told him so.

The guys Facetimed me after the game, and that felt good. I don’t like being a spectator, but winning really helped. I hope I can test out of the COVID protocol for Sunday’s game at Baltimore.

Somebody recently asked me about the accomplishment of being the first left tackle to start at 40, and I think my answer kind of shocked them a little bit. It doesn’t make me think of the good times in my career, it makes me think of the bad times.

It makes me think of every time I’ve had to overcome an injury, every time I thought my career was probably done, every time I had to fight through a setback. That really built me into who I am.

To me, that’s what these couple of weeks have done for us as a team. They’re almost molding us into a group that just believes that if we go out and execute our style of football and play the game a certain way, we’ll win.


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