Late in the 4th quarter of the NFC Championship, against one of the most fearsome teams in the NFL, Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford executed down the stretch with an urgency and grittiness well known to Detroit fans. With a chance at his first-ever Super Bowl on the line, Stafford hurled a perfect spiral to Cooper Kupp around the 30-yard line of the 49ers red zone. In turn, Kupp ran it within field goal range—setting up what would eventually be the game-winning field goal for his Rams over the San Francisco 49ers.
Hence, this Sunday, the beloved former Detroit Lions quarterback, long underappreciated by the nation, will finally be playing in the Super Bowl. Unlike Brady’s Patriots fanbase, Stafford’s former Detroit family was not divided. And in spite of leading—what they likely consider—the wrong team to glory, unanimous love and support has been palpably emitting from the Motor City and its sports fans as their quarterback does them proud.
THE MAKING OF A DETROIT LEGEND
When Stafford arrived in Detroit in 2009, he had major aspirations for himself and the Lions. He wanted to become the first quarterback to lead inarguably the worst professional football organization of all time to its first Super Bowl—a lofty ambition for a quarterback of any talent. Standing at 6’ 3”, around 215 pounds, and with a cannon for an arm, Detroit fans had every reason to believe Stafford just might be able to lead the deprived franchise to that ever-elusive glory.
Though he never got the Lions to the Super Bowl, Stafford laid his body (literally) and soul on the line to lead Detroit to two post-season runs in 2014 and 2016—the former run being the first playoff appearance for the Lions since 1999.
Over the years, Stafford gained immense respect and gratitude from the Detroit fanbase. Today, not many organizations, or indeed cities, have that kind of relationship with a quarterback. Stafford had every intention of ending his career in the city that had grown to be home. A city where he became a man, married, and eventually became the birthplace of his children.
On March 18, 2021, Stafford was traded to the Los Angeles Rams for quarterback Jared Goff and two first-round draft picks in 2022. With two years still left on his contract with the Lions, and allowance for a trade in no way guaranteed, Stafford was torn throughout the lead-up to the move. More importantly, he was concerned his teammates and Detroit fans would feel let down. However, the QB’s fears would turn out to be unfounded.
With the announcement, an overwhelming deluge of love, respect, and well-wishes poured in from his former Detroit teammates and the fanbase. Detroit fans knew they would miss the hell out of the quarterback that had given all of himself to the franchise for over a decade, but seemingly understood that a trade to the Rams would be his best shot at the Super Bowl.
To see a major player part so amicably with an organization and fanbase is rare indeed. In an era of social media exhibitionism, betrayal, and grotesque self-interest, this sort of loyalty is an anomaly. When so much money is involved and competing interests are at play, we are often witness to ugly departures and burned bridges. In the unique case of Matthew Stafford, he has moved on with gratitude, admiration, and love from his Detroit Lions in pursuit of that Super Bowl ring.
On February 13th, Detroit will be rooting right alongside LA Rams fans.