Rams Quarterback Matthew Stafford Is One of a Kind
Matthew Stafford has been one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL over the last decade, even if he hasn't always gotten the credit he deserves.
Stafford has had no problem receiving credit since coming to the Los Angeles Rams from the lowly Detroit Lions in a trade before the 2021 season. With his new team, Stafford guided one of the franchises in America's biggest media market into Super Bowl LIII to face the upstart Cincinnati Bengals on the Rams' home field at SoFi Stadium and came away with the win.
It's the stuff Hollywood movies are made of. Only the Stafford story is stranger than fiction. This is how the record-setting Rams quarterback became one of the toughest players in NFL history.
A Quarterback Is Born in the South
John Matthew Stafford — he would go by Matthew — was born in Tampa, Florida, on Feb. 7, 1988, to John and Margaret Stafford. He spent the first part of his childhood in Dunwoody, Georgia, while his father was in graduate school at the University of Georgia.
It wouldn't be the last time the family would have ties to the University of Georgia. But first, they had to make a stop in Dallas, where Matthew's football fortunes started to come into sharper focus.
Fates Collide in Highland Park
It's been rehashed over and over but we will point out again here how absolutely bizarre it is that future NFL star quarterback Matthew Stafford and future MLB star pitcher Clayton Kershaw were childhood friends, playing soccer, baseball and football together as children and in high school at Highland Park.
In an interesting twist, Stafford was the catcher for Kershaw in baseball, and in football, Kershaw was blocking for Stafford on the offensive line. Little did the two childhood friends know that at one point they would be the highest-paid players in both Major League Baseball and the National Football League.
Leading Highland Park to a State Championship
Legendary Highland Park High football coach Randy Allen approached Matthew Stafford when he was in eighth grade and asked him what his goals were as far as football.
Stafford told him he wanted to be a varsity quarterback and lead his team to a state championship.
"Well, that's what I want as well," Allen said, smiling. Give credit to Allen for knowing exactly what he had. Stafford became the varsity starter as a sophomore and as a senior led Highland Park to a 15-0 record and a Class 4A state championship.
In Highland Park's playoff run, Stafford and the Scots won close games over future NFL quarterback Ryan Mallett and Texarkana High and future University of Texas quarterback Jevan Snead and Stephensville.
Stafford Becomes Once in a Lifetime Recruit
It didn't take a recruiting genius to realize Matthew Stafford was a special quarterback. Almost based solely on his arm strength. But when you added in the intangibles, it went to another level.
By the time he was a senior and leading Highland Park High to a state championship, he was a national recruit — a five-star prospect who could make every throw on the field.
Stafford was the No. 1 quarterback recruit in the Class of 2006 — just ahead of No. 2 quarterback prospect Tim Tebow, who became one of the greatest college quarterbacks of all time at the University of Florida.
Mel Kiper Jr.'s Greatest Prediction Involved Stafford
There's a reason Mel Kiper Jr. has been an expert on the NFL draft for over 40 years — the man knows what he's talking about.
In 2006, Kiper made perhaps the most outlandish prediction of his career. He predicted Stafford would one day be the No. 1 overall selection in the NFL draft before Stafford had ever played in a collegiate game and when he was still at Highland Park High.
It would prove to be perhaps the greatest prediction of Kiper's career.
Stafford Decides to Take His Talents to Georgia
Matthew Stafford had his choice of the nation's elite college football programs to go play for and had a final six schools of Florida State, Michigan, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas and Georgia, where his father had gone to graduate school.
Stafford was a different type of recruit. After leading Highland Park to the 2005 state championship, he graduated early and was eligible to enroll in college early.
He landed on the campus at the University of Georgia in January 2005 as an early enrollee, where he played spring football and learned right away under head coach Mark Richt.
Making History During His Freshman Year at Georgia
Matthew Stafford shined in spring football as an early enrollee and was named the backup to starting quarterback Joe Tereshinskii III to start the 2006 season. After Tereshinskii was injured in the third game of the season, Stafford came off the bench to close out a win over South Carolina.
Stafford became the first freshman to start for Georgia at quarterback since Quincy Carter in 1998 and the first true freshman — right out of high school — to start for the Bulldogs since Eric Zeier in 1991.
Stafford’s Georgia Career Goes by in the Blink of an Eye
Matthew Stafford showed glimpses of greatness late in his freshman year, leading Georgia to back-to-back upsets over No. 5 Auburn and No. 16 Georgia Tech before guiding his team to a comeback win over Virginia Tech in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl.
It was the first of three consecutive bowl wins for Stafford. Georgia went 11-2 in 2007, their best record since 2002, then went 9-3 in 2008 as Stafford was named an All-American and set SEC records for pass attempts and pass completions.
In a surprise to absolutely no one, the 6-foot-3, 225-pound Stafford announced he would forgo his senior season and enter the NFL draft.
No-Brainer as No. 1 Overall Pick in 2009 NFL Draft
With the Detroit Lions owning the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 NFL draft, there was little doubt Matthew Stafford would be the player the Lions would select.
There was enough of a certainty that the Lions were able to reach out to Stafford and his agent and begin negotiating before the draft and agreed to terms for a contract before they officially made him the No. 1 overall pick on April 25, 2009, at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.
Stafford was one of three quarterbacks taken in the first round that year, followed by No. 5 Mark Sanchez (New York Jets) and No. 17 Josh Freeman (Tampa Bay Buccaneers).
Detroit Lions Made History by Going 0-16 in 2008
There was no way to predict exactly how historically bad the Detroit Lions were going to be in 2008. They'd gone 7-9 in 2007 and even been undefeated in the preseason.
What happened next made NFL history. Led by head coach Rod Marinelli and general manager Matt Millen, who both were fired by season's end, the Lions became the first team in NFL history to go winless during the regular season since the NFL expanded the schedule to 16 games.
What happens when you go 0-16? You get the No. 1 overall pick.
Stafford Signs Record Rookie Contract With Lions
Before the NFL set limits on rookie contracts (copied directly from the NBA), there were some pretty amazing deals signed by first-year players.
Following Matthew Stafford's selection as the No. 1 overall pick by the Detroit LIons in 2009, he signed one of those deals. Negotiated before Stafford was even chosen, he signed a six-year, $78 million contract with $41.7 million guaranteed.
It was an NFL record for the most guaranteed money of all time, broken one year later when Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford was selected No. 1 overall and received $50 million guaranteed.
First Lions Rookie Quarterback to Start Week 1 in 40 years
Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz made the no-brainer decision to name Matthew Stafford the team's Week 1 starter, and Stafford became the first rookie quarterback to start a season opener for the Lions since Greg Landry in 1968.
Stafford's rookie year was defined by a 38-37 win over the Cleveland Browns on Nov. 22, 2009, when he became the youngest quarterback in NFL history to throw for five touchdowns in a single game and set an NFL rookie record with 422 passing yards.
More than that, Stafford won over the hearts and minds of NFL fans everywhere when he returned to the game on the final play, despite pleas from doctors not to because of a separated shoulder, and threw the game-winning touchdown pass as time expired.
Stafford Named NFL Comeback Player of the Year in 2011
After going 2-14 as the Lions' starter in 2009, Matthew Stafford's second year barely got off the ground in 2010 — he only played in three games before he was put on injured reserve and ended up needing surgery to repair his AC joint and clavicle.
Stafford returned in 2011 to lead the Lions to a 10-6 record and became the second-youngest quarterback in NFL history with 5,000 career passing yards, behind just Dan Marino.
Detroit made the NFL playoffs for the first time since 1999, where they lost the New Orleans Saints in the NFC wild-card game, and Stafford was named NFL Comeback Player of the Year.
Making His First and Only Pro Bowl
The Lions took a couple of big steps backward in 2012 and 2013 with back-to-back losing seasons that led to the firing of Jim Schwartz and the hiring of Jim Caldwell.
Under Caldwell, the Lions bounced back in a big way, making it to the NFC wild-card game, where they lost to the Dallas Cowboys.
Stafford made his first Pro Bowl and was named Pro Bowl Offensive MVP, throwing for 316 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
Setting Records With Calvin Johnson
What's amazing about those two terrible seasons in 2012 and 2013 is that in 2012, Stafford connected with wide receiver Calvin Johnson for the single-greatest season for a wide receiver in NFL history when Johnson had 1,964 receiving yards.
Johnson, who had 1,681 receiving yards in 2011, also led the league with 122 receptions. A closer look at his numbers shows why the Lions went 4-12. Johnson only had five touchdown receptions.
Most Clutch (Regular Season) Player of All Time?
If you want to blow someone away with your football knowledge, go ahead and share this stat with them. In 2016, Matthew Stafford set the NFL single-season record for fourth-quarter comeback wins by a quarterback by leading the Lions to eight wins after trailing in the final quarter.
No player was more important to his team than Stafford in 2016. The Lions went 9-7, meaning there was just one game during the year where he didn't have to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat at the end of the game.
For his efforts, Stafford was rewarded with another loss in the NFC wild-card game, the third of his career.
Stafford Becomes Highest-Paid Player in NFL History
The Detroit Lions rewarded Matthew Stafford's historic 2016 season by making more history. On Aug. 28, 2017, he signed a five-year, $135 million contract extension with $92 million guaranteed.
It was the biggest contract in NFL history and got Stafford $27 million per year, topping the $25 million per year deal for Raiders quarterback Derek Carr.
The Curse of Matt Patricia
Over the years, we've seen many, many of New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick's assistant coaches get opportunities as college and NFL head coaches, with those programs and franchises desperate to get any fleck of the legendary head coach's success on them.
Few have been worse than Matt Patricia, who was hired by the Detroit Lions after six seasons as Belichick's defensive coordinator.
Patricia was hired after back-to-back 9-7 seasons by Detroit head coach Jim Caldwell, then went 14-33-1 in three seasons with Detroit.
Playing With a Fractured Spine
We knew Matthew Stafford was as tough as any NFL player in recent history when he returned to a game his rookie year to throw the game-winning touchdown pass as time expired despite having a separated shoulder.
We got more evidence of Stafford's toughness — and pain tolerance — when he was put on injured reserve on Nov. 10, 2019, and the Lions revealed he'd been playing with a non-displaced fracture in his spine. The injury ended Stafford's streak of 136 consecutive starts dating back to 2010.
He did not return that season.
Final Season With the Lions in 2020
Despite being put on COVID protocols three different times during the 2020 season, Matthew Stafford returned from a spinal fracture that ended his season in 2019 to start all 16 games for the Detroit Lions in 2020.
Stafford, now 32 years old, went 5-11, and the Lions missed the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season. The overwhelming sentiment was the franchise hadn't done much to build around him.
The consummate professional, he still threw for 4,084 yards, 26 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
Signs of Trouble in Detroit?
As far as NFL quarterbacks go, it's hard to think of one who is less controversial than Matthew Stafford. It's hard to say the same for his wife, Kelly, a former University of Georgia cheerleader who Stafford married in 2015.
Kelly Stafford bashed former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in 2017 when he decided to kneel for the national anthem in a peaceful protest against police violence. While Kelly Stafford later apologized for her remarks, she was in the headlines again in November 2020.
That's when she went on Instagram to say "I'm over living in a dictatorship called Michigan," in response to pandemic restrictions. It may have been the first sign the Staffords were done with their time up north.
Blockbuster Trade of Former No. 1 Overall Picks
The Los Angeles Rams and Detroit Lions pulled off one of the bigger NFL trades in recent memory when the Rams shipped quarterback Jared Goff, the 2016 No. 1 overall pick, plus two first-round picks and one third-round pick, to the Detroit Lions in exchange for 2009 No. 1 overall pick Matthew Stafford.
The deal was a huge benefit to both franchises. Detroit got some potential building blocks for the future with the bevy of draft picks. And the Rams not only got rid of Goff's dreadful contract — he still had four years and over $100 million left — but they got a quarterback they thought could take them to the Super Bowl.
Los Angeles Rams Find the Missing Piece
Sean McVay became the youngest head coach in modern NFL history when the Los Angeles Rams hired him at just 30 years old in 2017, but since then, he's proven to be one of the best coaches in the NFL.
McVay is now also the youngest coach to win a playoff game, win AP NFL Coach of the Year and make multiple Super Bowls. One thing McVay did not do, however, is draft Jared Goff No. 1 overall in 2016. That was his predecessor, Jeff Fisher.
When the Rams lost a close game to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LIII, it was glaringly obvious their biggest weakness was on offense and at quarterback. McVay finally remedied that when he brought in Stafford.
Rams Hit Jackpot With Stafford
In their first season without Matthew Stafford since going 0-16 in 2008, the Detroit Lions went 3-13-1 with Jared Goff playing quarterback.
The Los Angeles Rams did much better. With Stafford under center, they went 12-5 and easily qualified for the playoffs.
Stafford broke or tied several franchise single-season records set by Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner when the franchise was in St. Louis, including pass completions, pass attempts, passing yards and passing touchdowns.
Milestone Season for Rams Wide Receiver Cooper Kupp
It shouldn't go without mentioning that the two greatest seasons by a wide receiver in NFL history came with Matthew Stafford throwing them the ball.
In 2012, Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson set the NFL record with 1,964 receiving yards on 122 receptions.
One decade later, Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp posted the No. 2 receiving season of all time, coming up just short of Johnson's record with 1,947 receiving yards on 145 receptions to go with 16 touchdowns.
Stafford's First Deep Playoff Run
Stafford was 0-4 in postseason appearances over his 12 seasons with the Detroit Lions, losing in the NFC wild-card game each time.
He got off the snide quickly following the 2021 regular season with the Los Angeles Rams, starting with a blowout 34-11 win over the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC wild-card round followed by a thrilling 30-24 road win over the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the divisional round.
Stafford and the Rams capped things off by rallying his team from a 17-7 fourth-quarter deficit against the San Francisco 49ers for a 20-17 win in the NFC championship game.
No NFL Team Has Hosted the Super Bowl and Lost
By winning the NFC championship, the Los Angeles Rams earned the right to play Super Bowl LVI on their home field, at SoFi Stadium, becoming just the second team in NFL history to play a Super Bowl on its home field.
It's also the second consecutive year a team has played the Super Bowl on its home field. Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeated the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LV at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. It's also the second consecutive year the home team has won, with the Rams taking down the Bengals in Super Bowl LIII.
Stafford Becomes Super Bowl Champion
A few years ago, the idea of Matthew Stafford as a Super Bowl champion seemed born in a different universe separate from the reality in which we live.
Well, guess what? Matthew Stafford is now a Super Bowl champion after he quarterbacked the Los Angeles Rams to a 23-20, come-from-behind win over the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl LVI in Los Angeles.
Stafford finished the game 26-of-40 passing for 283 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. His 1-yard touchdown pass to Super Bowl MVP Cooper Kupp with 1:25 remaining in the fourth quarter proved to be the game-winner.
Stafford's Hall of Fame Debate Immediately Heats Up
Less than 48 hours after the Los Angeles Rams won Super Bowl LVI, the hot takes started flowing in about Matthew Stafford's Hall of Fame potential, and whether winning the Super Bowl puts him over the threshold to be a Hall of Famer.
Perhaps the best take came from Stafford's wife, Kelly, who went on her Instagram Stories to point out that Stafford A) should be allowed to enjoy winning the Super Bowl for a minute and B) still has a lot of football left to play.
Excellent point, Mrs. Stafford. We defer.
What NFL Records Does Matthew Stafford Hold?
Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford probably has more NFL records than most casual fans realize:
- Fastest player to reach 20,000 career passing yards
- Fastest player to reach 30,000 career passing yards
- Fastest player to reach 40,000 career passing yards
- Fastest player to reach 45,000 career passing yards
- Most fourth-quarter comebacks in a single season (8)
- Most passing attempts in a single season (727)
- First player to complete more than 60 percent of passes in every game (2015)
Finally ... the Story About Matthew Stafford, Matt Ryan and Leonardo DiCaprio
Talk all the trash you want about Kelly Stafford. Without her, we wouldn't have this gem of a story about Oscar-winning actor Leonardo DiCaprio's wild night of partying with NFL quarterbacks Matthew Stafford and Matt Ryan and their wives.
Stafford told the story recently on her podcast, "The Morning After With Kelly Stafford." It involves DiCaprio, a large group of friends, a tropical island resort in the Bahamas and a game of Picolo — a drinking game that is essentially "Truth or Dare" with drinks instead of truths.
Anyway, it's an amazing story. Ryan's wife, April, confirmed all the best parts, and if you want more details, just hit the link.