His father was a fireman and, in a way, Jared Goff is one too.
Consider his career as a quarterback. Time after time, he has gone into a bad situation and ultimately made it better, extinguishing the wrong kind of fire and eventually igniting the right one.
“It’s not the most fun way to do it, I guess,” Goff told The Times in a phone interview this week. “Everyone would love to go and just win, win, win. But it’s a very rewarding and fulfilling way to go about it. Proud of myself, certainly, and all those teammates on those teams for being down in the gutter and being able to come out on top.”
Check the history. At the University of California, his teams went from 1-11 to winning a bowl game. His Rams went from 4-12 his rookie year to the Super Bowl two years later. And with the Detroit Lions, Goff’s team went from 3-13-1 to now, a season and a half later, 6-2 and one of the NFL’s top franchises.
The Lions, who play at the Chargers on Sunday, have generated at least 325 yards of offense in each of their first eight games, the first time they’ve done that since 1954. From Week 10 of last year through Week 6 this season, they scored at least 20 points in a franchise-record 15 games in a row.
“They really force you to defend everybody on the field,” Chargers coach Brandon Staley said. “They have a lot of different guys who touch the football. Jared has a lot of experience playing that way. That is how he played with Sean [McVay] with the Rams, and that is how he is playing now. He is playing really smart football and he is getting the ball to his play-makers.”
The last eight years have been a winding odyssey for Goff, 29, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 draft. The Rams made dramatic moves to get him, then, just five years later, worked just as hard to replace him with Detroit’s Matthew Stafford — even though they had signed Goff to a $110-million deal just two years earlier.
So two quarterbacks taken first overall swapped cities, and Goff, even though he already had been to a Super Bowl, had huge cleats to fill in Detroit.
Stafford was enormously popular in the Motor City and remains so, and his legend only grew when he went to Los Angeles and won a Super Bowl in his first season. They might as well have been the Detroit Rams with the way those Stafford-loyal Lions fans were pulling for them.
Meanwhile, Goff’s teams were really struggling. In his inaugural season in Detroit, the Lions didn’t win their first game until Week 13. Last season, despite glimmers of promise, they got off to a 1-6 start before turning a corner, winning eight of their final 10 games.
Initially, there was a strong belief outside the franchise that Goff was merely a placeholder keeping the seat warm for the next great Lions hope, but clearly the club’s decision-makers had something else in mind. One of those people was general manager Brad Holmes, who came from the Rams and had been with Goff in L.A.
“The narrative when he got here was a little skewed,” Holmes said. “People thought he was a throw-in because of his contract. That was not the case. There were other quarterbacks who were on the carousel that year, and [Rams GM Les Snead] and I had a conversation specifically of, 'Do you want Jared in the deal?’ And I was like, 'Absolutely.’ ”
That turned out to be a shrewd decision, even though it took patience for coach Dan Campbell and the Lions to stick with Goff through the early turbulence while the foundation was being poured for the ground-up rebuild.
The lanky and laid-back Goff, a California kid out of Central Casting, initially seemed like a mismatch for the hard-edged grit of Detroit. Much of that was based on superficial appearances.
Though he’s 6 feet 4, Goff doesn’t have that prototypical bulk of the Chargers’ Justin Herbert or Buffalo’s Josh Allen. The Detroit quarterback is deceptively durable, however.
“I remember when Jared came out, and I want to say he was playing versus Washington,” recalled Holmes, director of college scouting for the Rams at the time. “And he takes this shot, this blitzer comes right down the pipe and just smokes him dead in the face. Jared just uncorked this dime deep for a touchdown. I was like, 'Oh, this kid’s tough.’”
Goff has made 39 of 42 possible starts with Detroit.
“You’re not going to get me off the field unless I can’t move or can’t function,” he said. “I owe it to my guys. I owe it to my team. We trust each other.”
Of the perception he’s a sleepy-eyed West Coaster who lacks intensity, he said: “I’ve kind of been misperceived my whole life that way. I don’t think I’m much different than a lot of quarterbacks around the league. A lot of us get labeled as some things, certain perceptions.
“It’s a lot easier for someone to create a narrative of you than it is for you to break that narrative of yourself. That’s not ever my goal. I’m not worried what people are writing or whatever. But at some point you’re like, well, that’s not even close to the truth.”
The middle of the country wasn’t an unfamiliar place for the family. Before becoming a fireman, Jerry Goff was a Major League catcher for the Montreal Expos, Pittsburgh Pirates and Houston Astros. He and his wife, Nancy, thought their son had a chance to develop a special connection with fans in Detroit.
“Nancy and I mentioned to him that the Midwest is beautiful,” the elder Goff said. “I lived out there a lot during my playing days and I loved it. That was our focus to him, 'Fans are unbelievable. Culture is wonderful.’ And he’s really taken that on.”
That’s not to say the transition was easy.
“He went through some real dark times at first in a rebuild,” Jerry Goff said. “He really learned a lot about himself, he and his fiancée being out there by themselves, away from L.A. and really just digging in on the football side.”
For Jared Goff, a key part of moving on to the Lions required getting some closure from the Rams. In the weeks after the Stafford trade was done, instead of walking away without a word, Goff went back to McVay so he could understand the specific reasons why the team parted ways with him — and what Goff could glean from the experience to make himself a better player.
“He wanted the full breakdown of why,” recalled former Rams tackle Andrew Whitworth, a close friend of Goff. “I thought that really showed his toughness.”
Goff showed up at Whitworth’s house in the days after the deal was consummated to get his thoughts. Then Goff informed him he was moving on for an exit meeting with hiis former coach.
“I’m like, 'Wait, what?’ ” Whitworth recalled. “And he’s like, 'I told Sean I still want to do our exit meeting…’ And I was like, 'You’re crazy. Why would you want to do an exit?’ And he said, 'I want him to tell me right to my face what I did wrong. I want to hear it from him. How do I get better?’ He wanted closure.”
Recalling that two years later, Goff didn’t go into details about what was said in his final meeting with McVay, saying only: “I got some answers and gained a lot of closure. He was forthright.”
Clearly, Goff is deep into the next chapter, as are the Rams, who this week signed quarterback Carson Wentz as their backup. He was drafted second overall by Philadelphia in 2016. There was much speculation before that draft about whether the Rams would take Goff or Wentz.
“It’s very ironic he’s there,” Goff said of Wentz. “But I’m really happy for him.”
Likewise, Goff and the Lions are gaining fans around the country by the week.
“He’s a winning quarterback who has taken a team to the Super Bowl and has a chance to do it again,” said ESPN’s Joe Buck, who called Detroit’s win over Las Vegas in Week 8. “The Lions are the de facto America’s Team. Everybody roots for Detroit. And I think if you knew Jared Goff, everybody would root for Jared.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.