Cooper Kupp used his ACL rehab to reinvent himself, become better than ever

LOS ANGELES — Maybe you don't remember, but Cooper Kupp missed the Los Angeles Rams' last Super Bowl due to a torn ACL.

It's OK if you don't recall it. Kupp played so well this season, and it's easy to forget that he suffered a devastating injury just a few years ago. Kupp doesn't forget it because he points back to that moment forcing him to become a better player.

There's never any guarantee a receiver or any other player returns seamlessly from a torn ACL, but Kupp has been unstoppable. In the regular season he had 145 catches and 1,947 yards. He has another 25 catches and 386 yards in the playoffs. It's perhaps the single greatest season for a receiver in NFL history, and he still has Super Bowl LVI to go. All on a reconstructed ACL.

To hear Kupp talk about the way he approached rehab, it's fair to wonder if this magical season happens if he doesn't tear his ACL. He looked at it as an opportunity, not a setback.

"At no point was there any doubt in my mind I was going to come back and be better than before," Kupp said this week. "I felt like I had been given an opportunity to rebuild myself exactly how I wanted to. I could run the way I wanted to run, I could run routes the way I wanted to run routes, I could cut the way I wanted to cut and eliminate bad habits, and move into a place where that stuff is efficient and dialed in as I could possibly make it."

The story has had a great ending. That doesn't mean there weren't difficult times along the way, especially during that Super Bowl three years ago.

Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp tore his ACL on November 11, 2018. (Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images)
Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp tore his ACL on Nov. 11, 2018. (Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images)

Cooper Kupp missed Rams' last Super Bowl

There are always a few players who are at the Super Bowl, a bit removed from the rest of the team because they're on injured reserve. They all say similar things: They're rooting hard for their teammates, they want to be a part of a Super Bowl-winning team even if they're not playing, but they're also crushed to get that close to a lifelong dream and not realize it.

It didn't help Kupp that the Rams lost that Super Bowl to the New England Patriots 13-3. Maybe the Rams still wouldn't have won with him on the field, but clearly he would have made a difference.

"Missing that Super Bowl, that’s one of the hardest things I’ve been through," Kupp said. "The conflict it creates in you, when you are both cheering and pulling for your guys — I have so much respect and love for the guys I get to play this game with, and you want them to succeed. You’re pulling for them, but every step of the way, every time they succeed it hurts you that more because you want to be part of it as well.

"So there’s a conflict within you that’s equally wanting them to succeed and do it but also wanting to be there and knowing you can’t be a part of it, like you want to at least. That’s a very difficult thing to go through."

He can help a teammate who is going through the same conflicted emotions.

Kupp has a bond with Robert Woods

Robert Woods tore his ACL during a practice in mid-November. His season was done, and he had to watch as the Rams moved on to the Super Bowl without him.

Injured players are generally distant from the team, going through rehab as teammates prepare for that week's game. Kupp has made sure Woods hasn't been left out.

"I miss him," Kupp said. "I text him all the time: ‘Wish we had you in the huddle with us still.’"

When the Rams beat the San Francisco 49ers for the NFC championship, Kupp had an emotional moment with Woods that NFL Films caught and made viral.

Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp shared a special moment after the NFC championship game. (Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images)
Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp shared a special moment after the NFC championship game. (Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images)

To Woods the moment had extra meaning. He said his father died last month and hadn't been around the team since that happened.

"Seeing Cooper, and I’m full of emotion telling him congratulations, and he’s like, ‘Come here brother, we’re not talking about football,’" Woods told Yahoo Sports on Radio Row in Los Angeles this week. "It’s bigger than football and you really realize that you have teammates who care about you as a person."

Kupp hasn't forgotten what missing the Super Bowl felt like. That experience has given him perspective to share with Woods and extra appreciation for this chance.

"I’m thankful for the opportunity to get that perspective of the importance of grasping on to your guys, grasping onto the people who have made it so important and enjoying every moment with those guys," Kupp said. "Being in this place, I carry that perspective with me of enjoying this process, enjoying the moments, enjoying each day I get to come in and prepare for this game."