Stafford takes lessons from Lions years into the Super Bowl

Vikings Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton was 33 years old with 174 starts over 13 seasons before he won his first playoff game, beating Washington 27-20 at Metropolitan Stadium on Dec. 22, 1973.

Forty-eight years later, The Scrambler still clung to that record for dogged persistency among the NFL quarterbacks. Then along came another Georgia Bulldog who survived 12 years of Detroit Lions dysfunction before his story shifted to Hollywood as fairytale leader of an all-in Rams team that gambled its future on him winning Super Bowl LVI at their home stadium on Sunday.

Stafford was 33 years old — he turned 34 on Monday — and had reached 186 starts when the Rams beat the Cardinals in the wild-card round. Now he’s played in as many playoff games with Los Angeles (3-0) as he did while throwing for over 45,000 yards and 282 touchdowns with Detroit (0-3).

Asked this week what he got out of going 74-90-1 in Detroit that was helpful, Stafford said, “The ability to overcome adversity.” He admitted that sounded “cliché,” but said all the tough times really did harden his resolve and trust in the process. And that, he said, came in handy during the Rams’ three-game losing streak in November.

“I wasn’t playing particularly good football, but we just continued to work,” Stafford said. “If I helped turn one guy’s attitude on this team, maybe it helped us get to this point. That’s things you don’t really learn unless you go through some tough times. There were some times in Detroit that really taught me, and I ‘ve carried it with me.”

Brian Callahan was Stafford’s quarterbacks coach in 2016-17. He’s now in his second season coaching Joe Burrow as an offensive coordinator of the Bengals team that will play the Rams in the Super Bowl on Sunday. He sees a lot of similarities in the two quarterbacks that were drafted No. 1 overall 11 years apart.

“In my experiences, there aren’t too many guys, at any position, that are tougher than Matthew Stafford,” Callahan said. “Then I got a chance to work with Joe, and he’s right there with him.”

Stafford’s physical toughness is unquestioned. As a rookie, he snuck back into a game with a separated shoulder and threw a touchdown pass. Later, he played through multiple injuries while going eight straight seasons without missing a game.

Mentally, the losing was tough, but the hardest part might have been the tearful trade request he made last year when he just couldn’t stomach another Lions reboot at coach and general manager. Detroit obliged when the Rams seemed to overpay with two first-round draft picks, a third-round pick and quarterback Jared Goff, another No. 1 overall pick who’s six years younger and had played in a Super Bowl.

“I think it worked out for both sides,” Lions General Manager Brad Holmes said last week.

The Rams are one win from proving that beyond a doubt. The Lions are years away from realizing the possibility of proving they can build the kind of team they never could around Stafford.

“I really enjoyed watching Matt growing up,” Burrow said. “I always thought he didn’t get the credit he deserved for what he was doing. He’s been one of the best players in this league his entire career. Just because [Detroit] didn’t have the team success, that kind of overshadowed what he was doing.”

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