They were born 41 days apart. They grew up together and found wild success playing together in football and baseball, as youngsters and then as Dallas high school stars.
Then they became highly drafted professionals. That’s when things changed.
In his 12th season as the Lions’ quarterback, Stafford has had a good career. But he’s earned few personal accolades and has yet to win a game in three trips to the postseason.
As the Dodgers’ ace for most of his 13 seasons, Kershaw has had a dazzling career filled with personal honors — three Cy Young awards, the 2014 National League MVP award and eight All-Star selections — while helping guide L.A. to 10 division titles and three NL pennants.
It might bother someone else to watch from the wings as his good friend basked in the spotlight so often. But not Stafford.
While Kershaw was leading the Dodgers to an 8-3 win over the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday night — not even 30 miles from their hometown, no less — Stafford watched from his Detroit home and cheered on his old friend.
“Honestly, I’m so happy for him every time he pitches well,” Stafford said Wednesday in a conference call with reporters. “I did catch most of that game. It was a little past my bedtime when he got pulled out of there. But I got to see the first four or five innings. I’m always happy for him. He’s an exceptional talent.”
Instead of brooding about the stark differences in their careers, Stafford instead has taken inspiration from Kershaw’s accomplishments. He often has lauded Kershaw’s accomplishments and he has even honored his pal by using “Kershaw” as an audible to change a play call.
“I’m definitely motivated by how successful he’s been,” Stafford said. “The guy’s incredible. He’s been doing what he’s doing for such a long time. He’s been arguably the best at his sport at his position for 10 years. So I’m a fan, No. 1. Just enjoy watching him do his thing, watching him compete.
“And I think if you’re any kind of athlete and you watch him go compete out there on the mound you’ve got to be inspired by it, you’ve got to be charged up to go and try to do your best when you’re out there.”
Because Stafford is preparing to dig the Lions out of a 2-3 hole as they prepare to play the Atlanta Falcons this week, he couldn’t watch all six innings of Kershaw’s masterful game Tuesday, in which the Dodger ace allowed one run on two hits with eight strikeouts. His 201 postseason strikeouts passed John Smoltz (199) for second on the all-time list and leaves him four behind Justin Verlander’s record of 205. If Kershaw makes another appearance in this series, he has a good chance of passing Verlander.
The possibilities are palpable for Kershaw. A World Series ring, a record and, eventually, a plaque in Cooperstown, N.Y.
For Stafford, not so much. Like Kershaw, Stafford is 32 and in the second half of his career. But he has a lot of catching up to do if he wants to match his friend’s success.
“I don’t really think about it too much,” Stafford said. “I’m stuck in the one-week-at-a-time mentality of playing NFL football trying to get ready for the next team. Maybe when it’s all said and done I’ll think more about that. But at the moment, just kind of grinding away.
“I’m obviously extremely happy for his success and no doubt a Hall of Famer and hopefully a World Series champion here pretty soon and a Cy Young Award winner multiple times. So always happy for him and always trying to give it my best to see what happens.”
Contact Carlos Monarrez at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Lions QB Matthew Stafford inspired by pal Clayton Kershaw