Football Morning In America: Rams, Bengals Advance to Super Bowl LVI


INGLEWOOD, Calif. — A few minutes after the confetti flurried around Matthew Stafford at his new home Sunday night, and it began to sink in that he was going to the Super Bowl, he started thinking of how ridiculous and incredible this situation with the Rams has been. And how lucky he is that he went on vacation in Mexico a year ago.

A year ago, at this very moment.

True story: The trade between the Lions and Rams, spawned when Stafford and Rams coach Sean McVay met (by chance, they both insist) at a resort while vacationing, happened quite literally a year ago this night—the same night Stafford was digesting that he was finally going to play in the game he’d always dreamed of playing.

Agreement to send Stafford from Detroit to the Rams for Jared Goff and picks and money: Jan. 30, 2021, 6:45 p.m. Pacific Time.

Confetti landing on Stafford at Randy Newman’s “I Love LA” blared at SoFi Stadium: Jan. 30, 2022, 6:45 p.m. Pacific Time.

“It’s crazy,” Stafford told me in between hugs with euphoric teammates in a hallway outside the Rams’ locker room. “I mean, crazy. It’s a story that, to this day, I feel like a lot of people still can’t believe.

“Sometimes, still, I can’t believe it. And now this.”

Pause. Stafford is a practiced interviewee, but the weird irony of this moment might make the most programmed person pause.

“I never thought that was ever gonna happen, not in a hundred years.”

That’s the kind of Championship Sunday it was. Not in a hundred years. How about 100 days? Who could have envisioned a Bengals-Rams Super Bowl as the season neared the halfway point in late October? One hundred days ago, who would have predicted:

• Cincinnati, losers to the Jets in Week 8, would be AFC champions?

Von Miller, languishing in Denver, would be dealt to L.A. at the trade deadline, and end up in the Super Bowl?

Odell Beckham Jr., scorned in Cleveland, would be dumped by the Browns in November and turn out to be a key piece to the McVay offense, and end up in his first Super Bowl?

• A rookie kicker, Evan McPherson, who missed two field goals in an overtime loss to Green Bay, just a guy in midseason, would go 4-for-4 in all three playoff games and kick Cincinnati to its first Super Bowl in 34 years?

• Football’s current jewel franchise, Kansas City, would flop around at home and lose the AFC title game to a team that hadn’t played in one in three decades, to a team KC’s Frank Clark called “the best team and smartest team” in Arrowhead? The Cincinnati Bengals.

It might take a few days for Midwesterners to digest this one: Matthew Stafford is going to the Super Bowl. His quarterbacking foe will be Cincinnati savior Joe Burrow, the quarterback who lost the Ohio State starting quarterback job to Dwayne Haskins less than four years ago.

Yes, this is a weird one. Weird, but quite compelling.


Oddities:

The NFL never had a home Super Bowl team for 54 Super Bowls. Now we’ve seen two in a row: Tampa Bay last year, the Rams this year.

Never has a Super Bowl featured such low seeds. Cincinnati (13-7) and L.A. (15-5) are both four seeds, and this is the first Super Bowl since the NFL went to 12 playoffs teams in 1990 that two teams below the third seed have met. It’s a sign of what this season was like, really. Just as we couldn’t see the Bengals in this game in midseason, we also couldn’t see the Ravens losing their last six, Miami finishing 8-1 and firing its coach, Sean Payton walking away from the creation he built in New Orleans, and Tom Brady verging on retirement. Just an odd year.

Another oddity: Matthew Stafford never won a playoff game in 12 seasons in Detroit. Now he’s won three in 20 days. I am not prescient on reading looks on people’s faces, but when I looked in Stafford’s eyes last night, I am sure I saw relief.

There was so much on the line for the Rams here, and it started one year ago last night, when a Rams delegation (GM Les Snead, COO Kevin Demoff and VP/Football Administration Tony Pastoors) got on a Zoom call with a Lions delegation to work out details of a Goff-for-Stafford trade. Stafford quietly had gone to the Lions begging for his freedom after 12 years of bad teams there, and the Lions quietly acceded to his request, and now it was matter of finding a deal that worked for both teams. McVay and Stafford and partners saw each other at a Mexican resort, and the men started talking football, and the next thing they knew, they wanted to be football-wed.

Was it the truth that it was a coincidental meeting in Mexico? Totally unplanned?

“One hundred percent,” Stafford reiterated Sunday night. All innocent, he meant.

New Lions GM Brad Holmes had other suitors for Stafford—Carolina, Washington, Chicago, New England (sort of), so the offer would have to be good. The Rams made it very good, and the deal got done,…



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