Rams star Cooper Kupp earns the MVP that counts most

Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp breaks a tackle to get past Cincinnati Bengals safety Jessie Bates.
Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp breaks a tackle to get past Cincinnati Bengals safety Jessie Bates during the first half of Super Bowl LVI on Sunday at SoFi Stadium. Kupp was named the game’s MVP after the Rams’ 23-20 win.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Cooper Kupp saw the future.

He envisioned being most valuable player of the Super Bowl.

The vision didn’t come in a usual way. This wasn’t the case of the prescient Rams receiver reading what a defender is going to do.

No, the crystal-ball moment for Kupp came in Atlanta three years ago, when a knee injury had reduced him to a spectator in the Super Bowl against New England.


“I wasn’t able to be a part of that thing,” Kupp said after his two-touchdown performance in Sunday’s 23-20 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. “I don’t know what it was, but there was this vision from God that we were going to come back, we were going to be a part of a Super Bowl, we were going to win it, and somehow I was going to walk off the field as the MVP of the game.”

Never bet against Kupp. That came to be on his home field in Super Bowl LVI, as he reeled in a one-yard touchdown pass with 1 minute 25 seconds to play to put the Rams ahead for good.

Kupp had kept that winning 15-play drive going with a jet-sweep run for seven yards on fourth and one, and later put the Rams within point-blank range when cornerback Eli Apple — draped all over him — was flagged for pass interference in the end zone.

It was the kind of performance Kupp had turned in all season, when he won the receiving triple crown — most catches, yards and touchdowns — and offensive player of the year. Super Bowl MVP was his third piece of hardware.

The only other player to win all three of those was Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice, and those were collected over the course of his career. Kupp achieved it in one season.

His father, Craig Kupp, who had a brief NFL career as a backup quarterback, watched in disbelief and admiration as his son played huge in the biggest moments, even as the Bengals gave him extra attention with Rams receiver Odell Beckham Jr. out of the game with a knee injury.

“I was talking to Matthew’s mom in the suite near the end of the game,” Craig Kupp said, referring to quarterback Matthew Stafford. “We just thought, put the ball in Matthew and Coop’s hands and let them win this thing. I’m biased. That’s the thinking of a dad and a mom. But that’s what we were saying.”

Sure enough, that’s what the Rams did. There were others who made key plays, of course. Stafford also connected with tight end Brycen Hopkins and running back Cam Akers on that nickel-and-diming drive. As the clock wound down and the Rams neared the goal line, however, it became a two-man game of catch.

Fans celebrate the Rams’ first Super Bowl victory in Los Angeles, a 23-20 triumph over the Cincinnati Bengals at SoFi Stadium.

With 1:44 left, Stafford hit Kupp for an apparent touchdown in the back corner, and the receiver held on despite a crushing — and illegal — blow to the head from safety Vonn Bell. A holding call on Rams tackle Rob Havenstein wiped out that play.

After a quarterback sneak for no gain consumed more clock, Stafford found Kupp for the touchdown. The Rams defense closed out the game for the win.

On the winning touchdown pass, the Rams were in position to run but would throw if they got the defensive look they wanted.

“Eli Apple had been playing me well the entire game,” Kupp said. “Really came up and challenged me … I tried to weave to his leverage, make him move in a little bit. Jab him one time and give Matthew some room to put the ball where he wanted to. He made a great back-shoulder throw and I was able to come down with it.”

As a result, Stafford was able to rewrite his legacy. No playoff wins after 12 seasons in Detroit. After one year in Los Angeles? A ring.

Kupp is just the second receiver to be named Super Bowl MVP in the last 13 years, joining New England’s Julian Edelman.

Inglewood, CA - February 13: Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp (10) catches the ball for a touchdown.
Cooper Kupp catches the ball for a touchdown in front of Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Eli Apple during the second half of Super Bowl LVI.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

The Rams wideout sat at a carnival-booth-style podium for postgame interviews, with his infant son, Cypress, on his knee and comically grabbing at the microphone.

Two booths over was fellow receiver Robert Woods, who suffered a season-ending injury earlier in the year and drew inspiration from Kupp. Now, both have missed Super Bowls because of knee injuries.

“He’s such an amazing player,” Woods said. “So elusive.”

More elusive for the Rams was that coveted ring. And, like everything else up for grabs, Kupp wrapped his hands around it and pulled it down.

Rams receiver Cooper Kupp celebrates after a touchdown catch during the first half of Super Bowl LVI.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)