Matthew Stafford’s twin daughters, Sawyer and Chandler, went to school last Monday eager to share some exciting family news.
Their father was going to the Super Bowl.
“Their teacher said, ‘I know, we’ll all be cheering for him,’” Stafford told Nickelodeon. “And that kind of threw them off; ‘How did you know that?’”
The twins turn five next month. At that age, perhaps the world just naturally seems small, even one where their father is the quarterback of the Los Angeles Rams and plays on television every Sunday. Maybe it’s all just too much to connect.
Or it could also be this: few NFL players can match the efforts Stafford has put on being as normal of a person, friend and family man as possible. No, he isn’t the only one. Plenty of professional athletes attempt, as best as they can, to treat their job like a job, not a life.
But it’s hard to imagine anyone is more committed. Even many of the stories produced about the so-called “normal guy sports star” originate from a public relations company pitching said story to a media outlet.
Matthew Stafford and wife Kelly have tried hard to make life as normal as possible for their family. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
“Not once did Matthew ever come to me looking for more media or more promotion or more anything,” said Bill Keenist, who spent 33 years working for the Detroit Lions, Stafford’s former team, mostly as its chief public relations executive. “Never. He never sought any attention.”
As a result, it may not be that surprising if, around the Stafford home (wife Kelly and four young daughters) even his biggest accomplishments – such as reaching Sunday’s Super Bowl against the Cincinnati Bengals – are treated in such a ho-hum manner that his kids are stunned that others know about them.
Stafford, 33, has no verified social media accounts (although Kelly is quite active). There’s a Twitter account that may have once been his, but it has three total tweets and none since 2011. He’s done just a handful of television commercials across his career and most of those local spots back in Detroit, where he played for a dozen years.
He appeared on the Jimmy Fallon Show before the 2009 NFL Draft, where he was selected first overall, but there’s no record he’s ever been back. He has no podcast or YouTube channel or TikTok. He isn’t on the Pat McAfee Show every week.
Stafford is probably a Super Bowl victory away from becoming a Hall of Fame quarterback, yet it’s hard to imagine anyone of such accomplishment that fans know less about. That’s on purpose.
Some of that comes from playing in Detroit, where Stafford joined a team coming off the NFL’s first-ever 0-16 season. Despite his talents, the Lions made just three playoff appearances (losing in the wild card round each time).
Other than the annual Thanksgiving Day appearance, there was a decided lack of big, nationally televised games. Detroit was mostly regulated to 1 p.m. Sunday kicks shown regionally. He put up huge stats, but commanded little hype.
Yet he was fine with that part of his pro football life.
Keenist spent decades dealing with a thousand-plus players. Most sought out publicity, either to get their name out there or just to enjoy the brief spotlight of the NFL. Newspaper features, magazine spreads, ESPN hits, local radio shows … whatever. It’s the business. Just not with Stafford.
“Matthew knew he couldn’t avoid the media or the attention since he was playing quarterback,” Keenist said. “He would fulfill all of his obligations. He would also do anything we asked of him that we thought were important for the franchise and he’d do anything involving a charity. But he never sought the spotlight.”
Local reporters in Detroit spent years getting polite but matter of fact answers when cameras or tape recorders were on. Once the official interview was done, though, Stafford would often relax and just hang out off the record. There was some depth to him, he just didn’t want to show it.
“He would never give us anything in interviews,” said Dave Birkett, who covered Stafford for 11 of his 12 seasons in Detroit. “Then on a Friday, you could just walk up to him in the locker room and he’d be relaxed and open.”
He didn’t gave his cell phone. He wouldn’t privately contact local or national reporters to try to spin narratives. Keenist said he never asked the Lions to try to push back on a story, which is common with many players. Stafford could be getting ripped for a bad pass or bad decision that was actually the fault of his wide receiver, yet he’d say nothing.
He either didn’t care or didn’t even know about it.
“I always found him to be a normal guy who happened to have tons of football talent,” Birkett said. “Someone comfortable just grilling in his backyard or having a neighbor over for a beer. He just happened to have a $30 million a year arm.”
The move to Los Angeles, and the success of the Rams season, has changed the dynamics, of course. Stafford asked for a trade last January rather than endure a fourth new coach and another rebuild with the Lions.
In LA, everything is bigger and brighter, especially for a star quarterback trying to win the Super Bowl. He’s automatically more famous than ever. Yet, even living near Hollywood, he’s mostly just fulfilled his required media and marketing obligations and nothing else.
He has a job. And he has a private life.
The Super Bowl tends to destroy those divisions, of course. These days, he’s become an unwitting big deal, even down at the preschool.