ALLEN PARK, Mich. – Matthew Stafford has always said, and for the most part always carried himself like, he is nothing more than a regular guy who happens to have an extraordinary job – NFL quarterback.
The 31-year-old has started 141 regular-season games for the Detroit Lions and earned about $200 million dollars, yet all along he tried to maintain a sense of family-focused normalcy that he grew up with in the suburbs of Dallas.
So in April of this offseason, when his wife Kelly underwent a 12-hour surgery to deal with an acoustic neuroma, a benign tumor in her brain, Stafford simply did what most people do. He leaned on his family to get through.
And after the surgery was successful (and despite a few hiccups, the recovery has thus far been so also) he has tried to juggle the demands of work (a new offense for a team in need of a bounce-back season) the exact same way ... by leaning on his family.
“Obviously, Kelly was a stud,” Stafford said. “She was a trooper and is continuing to get better and better.”
The couple met at the University of Georgia – he was the QB, she was a cheerleader – and have three young daughters. The stakes were high. The pressure enormous.
Now here on the eve of Lions training camp, Stafford described a hectic offseason but sought no special sympathy and setup excuses for the season ahead. This is life, he noted. This is how it is for everyone. There is nothing special here.
Fame and football don’t matter in the end. Figuring out how to balance it all does.
Same for you. Same for him.
“It was a challenging offseason for sure, a bunch of stuff going on here in this building and also at home,” Stafford said. “I don’t imagine it’s much different than a lot of people sitting out here.
“You guys asking me questions, you all deal with stuff going on with your job and then you’ve got things going on at home,” he continued. “It definitely put things in perspective, there’s no doubt I love spending time with my family but it’s also good to be back playing ball and seeing the guys too.”
Kelly Stafford is active on social media. Matthew is not. It’s possible that, if it was left up to him, he wouldn’t have made any of this public. He rarely seeks out traditional media, presumably more comfortable trying to prepare and then let his play on Sundays speak for him.
Heading into the 2019 season, he knows there is plenty that needs to be said. The Lions, after consecutive 9-7 seasons, backtracked to 6-10 last year. Stafford had, by his standards, a poor statistical season – down in yards, touchdowns and so on.
Now in Season 2 under head coach Matt Patricia, something has to give. Stafford, a decade into his NFL career, has still never won a playoff game. He wants to do better. This is the kind of stuff he’d rather talk about – breaking in a new offense, finding chemistry with new receivers.
The family stuff is the family stuff. He appreciates the outpouring of support, but he’s like a lot of people, trying to juggle work and home, only inside an NFL spotlight.
“I try to think I do a decent job separating the two,” Stafford said. “When I am at home, I’m home. When I’m not, I’m here and obviously all in.
“I was able to compartmentalize it,” he continued. “And obviously it helped a lot with the way the Lions treated me throughout that whole process. That made it easier for me to separate the two.”
Stafford is in an odd spot. The health scares were a reminder that football matters only so much. And he acknowledges that. Yet, football – or anyone’s life work – still matters. There is no lack of focus, ambition or effort, he said. That much, he says, is the same as ever.
“I feel like every year I come in here I am trying to prove myself,” Stafford said. “If you are coming in here feeling you have done everything you need to do and you’re just sitting pretty you are in the wrong sport and you are in the wrong job. It’s prove yourself every day. it’s prove yourself week in the season. This year is no different.”
Here at the Lions facility, he is all football. Once back home, he is all about family. Maybe that is how it’s always been. Maybe it’s just more pronounced, or publicized, now.
Stafford says that doesn’t make him special. There are hospitals and offices and factories full of people going through exactly what he is, only without some of the support or resources he has.
“Everybody’s situation is different,” he said. “Everybody’s family dynamic is different. I just know I had tons of support within my family, this organization and friends that made it doable for me.”
Just like you. Just like him.
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