Detroit Lions teammates are living their dream through Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford

Rob Sims was watching the NFC Championship Game on television and could feel his emotions starting to boil. For years, Sims has pinned Matthew Stafford as a Detroit Lions guard. Now retired, he was watching his former quarterback do something they never could have done in Detroit.

He saw Stafford – with his bright smile and scruffy beard – reach the pinnacle of sport with the Los Angeles Rams after languishing with the Lions. To the Sims and so many others who have played Stafford over the years, his journey felt, in some ways, like their journey.

“Man, me and [Calvin Johnson] I’ve had a lot of conversations about how great it is to be in this position, “said Sims.” Me and [Dominic Raiola] they’re like, ‘What we believed was true. This guy is the real deal and he’s proving it. ‘

“It’s just good for us, to see someone who comes from where we come from, to take that next level and prove it.”

They looked to Los Angeles and the Detroit suburbs, cheered in Texas and Connecticut, and even in Paris. They played alongside Stafford and shared so much with him. Some were co-captains and others close confidants. They all have one thing in common: a quarterback who once led them to get to the place everyone wanted to go.

The Super Bowl.

“This might be weird for people to hear,” said former quarterback and current ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky. “It will be like watching a family member.”

Orlovsky, who has long been a staunch supporter of Stafford, is not alone. The group of players who worked with Stafford from 2009-20 in Detroit have spoken openly about Stafford’s journey this season.

The quarterback, who turns 34 on Monday, may be a Ram now, but his ties to Detroit run deep. Lions fans cheered their former quarterback on social media. The Detroit local sports radio station, which often beat up Stafford with the Lions, held a “StaffordCast” during the Rams’ first playoff game, Stafford’s first playoff win. One of the co-hosts, who bet against Stafford and the Rams, lost and had to drink a shot of Jagermeister and mayonnaise.

The fact that they were still talking about Stafford, who played 12 seasons with Lions, a year after he was traded to Los Angeles shows the attraction he still has in a city that hasn’t won a division title since 1993 or a game. of playoffs since the 1991 season.

In a way, Stafford’s playoff run was also Detroit’s. Lions hope they will one day get there. For now, some are indirectly experiencing its success.

Distant time zones

Nine hours before Pacific Time in Paris, former Lions wide receiver Kris Durham uploaded the international version of the NFL Game Pass on Sunday night to see the Rams live. Durham and Stafford met at 16 and became teammates and close friends in Georgia before spending two seasons together in Detroit.

It was Stafford who gave Durham John Grisham’s book “Playing for Pizza,” about a former NFL player who goes to Italy to play professional football that eventually became the reality of Durham. Durham has been with Stafford for a long time and has aimed to watch at least parts of Rams’ 12 games this season. Durham stayed up until 5am to watch Stafford reach the Super Bowl. After the match, he was part of a short FaceTime celebrating the win.

“He’s probably one of the only people I’ve been really, really close to who has been able to play this game and possibly win it and to be a quarterback, especially after the last 12 months have been special,” Durham said. “I’m really excited for him and I’m excited for [Stafford’s wife] Kelly and her family and they only have a small minor part. “

Earlier this season, Durham traveled to Los Angeles – in any case he was in the US on business at the time – and went to the Rams v Detroit game and surprised Stafford. Stafford’s wife Kelly and their college friend Steven Cundari helped get a Durham worker uniform from SoFi Stadium.

When Stafford walked into the suite after the game, he walked past his 6ft, 6ft friend dressed in disguise and took a double take before realizing it was him and wrapping him in a big bear hug. Durham said he plans to return to Los Angeles this week for the Super Bowl.

“It’s surreal,” Durham said. “This guy has worked for it all his life.”

I’ve seen it “a million times”

The most Stafford moment of his entire playoff series came in Tampa Bay, in what proved to be the last game of Bucs quarterback Tom Brady’s career. Stafford caught the ball at his own 25-yd-line in a tie with 42 seconds left.

Orlovsky sent a message to his NFL Live group chat and told him he had seen it “a million times before”. Sims, who blocked for Stafford from 2010-14, knew when Stafford got the ball back with so much time what would happen. So did Glover Quin, co-captain with Stafford for half a decade in Detroit.

“Stafford has always shown that he is good in that scenario and that’s why he has so many wins or draws or any other game in the fourth quarter, right,” Quin said. “So if he caught that ball in the fourth quarter with so much time left, shoot, that’s just the thing for him. So I knew, oh yeah, Stafford is right for something to happen.”

Don Muhlbach, who has resided in two Stafford lockers for most of their shared careers, was on a flight to Michigan during the Buccaneers game. Half of the flight was cheering for Brady. The other half were Lions fans.

Muhlbach witnessed this 38 times in person, a winning Stafford drive in the fourth quarter (he has 42 all-time regular season, ranking seventh all-time). He expected what would happen next.

“When we had Stafford, we never ran out of anything. He’s proved it many times,” said Muhlbach. “Everyone always likes to never leave [Aaron] Rodgers or Brady too long – as soon as they scored I thought there was enough time left. This won’t shock people when that happens. “

After Stafford dumped a 44-yard completion on Cooper Kupp to set the eventual winning field goal, the quarterback was running around the field screaming. Quin and Sims had flashbacks. In 2013, Stafford was miked against Dallas – in a game in which Calvin Johnson had 329 yards in reception – and was frantically rushing down the field to set up a play for a last-second win. In that scenario, he gave up and yelled at the tackle Riley Reiff to get ready.

He wasn’t yelling at Reiff, who now plays for Super Bowl opponent Cincinnati but is injured this time but he was still greeting the players on the pitch with an eerily similar motion to the 2013 game. Stafford’s comeback, faked a spike and dove into a pile of Cowboys and Lions for a winning touchdown.

Here, he hit the ball to set a Matt Gay winning field goal.

“It’s the same thing,” Sims said. “I’ve been here a million times. He knows what he’s doing. Just a few flashes of it is really cool.”

This was the moment when Stafford erased the belief that he could not win an important game. Eliminating the reigning Super Bowl champions away in the playoffs was a decisive victory.

When this happened, Sims texted Stafford to congratulate him. Fifteen minutes after the game ended, with so many swirls around the quarterback, Sims saw his phone turn on.

“That guy could do anything and he’s saying, ‘I appreciate you,'” Sims said. “Those are the kind of relationships we’ve built over the years in Detroit and more than anything else, he’s just my boyfriend.”

“I wish I did it here”

For over a decade in Detroit, despite all the setbacks and coaching changes, regime changes and inability to succeed, Stafford has never publicly blamed. He never criticized openly. What did it matter then and still is.

He explains why after every Rams win after the season, there have been cheers from a segment of former Lions players on social media. They had lived through the pain of football with him – given the criticism he received – and had rejoiced at what he was doing now.

“I wish we had done it here,” Muhlbach said. “It would have been better if we could all do it together, but I think a lot of his old teammates are thinking the same thing as I do. We are all so happy for him.

“He took a lot of things here, right or wrong, however you want to say it.”

Former Lions teammates Sam Martin and Marvin Jones Jr. went to the NFC Championship Game. Many others watched from afar.

And they became fans of the Rams thanks to Stafford. Orlovsky’s boys are wearing Rams ‘jerseys and, since last week, he’s been trying to figure out whether or not he could fly from Los Angeles, where he’ll be doing TV, to Connecticut for his kids’ basketball games on Saturday and then back to watch. Stafford at the Super Bowl.

“Once in a lifetime, man,” Orlovsky said. “It’s once in a lifetime.”

Orlovsky believes that if Stafford wins a Super Bowl, he could cement an eventual induction into the Hall of Fame. Which happened last summer when Raiola, Sims and Stafford all met in Canton to enter Calvin Johnson’s Hall of Fame. As they went out and remembered, Sims said Raiola suggested that the next time they would be there it was for the introduction of Stafford. Sims said Stafford’s reaction at the time was, “Dude, I have to get a Super Bowl to do that.”

“And here we are,” Sims said.