'One helluva story': How Kelly and Matthew Stafford found happiness and a Super Bowl in LA
LOS ANGELES — As the Super Bowl approached this week, Kelly Stafford, wife of Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford, recalled a sobering moment.
It started with a phone call from Matthew midway through the season.
Said Kelly: “I was like, ‘Are you OK?’ He was like, ‘Honestly, no.’ "
Over the past 12 years, Kelly and Matthew have endured many challenging times. The hardships include: Kelly’s surgery in 2019 to remove a brain tumor; her struggles with infertility; Matthew’s surgery in 2011 on his right shoulder; the frustration of playing for the Detroit Lions, who did not win a playoff game during Matthew’s 12 seasons there.
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Then there was Matthew’s phone call to Kelly during the middle of this season.
During an interview with USA TODAY Sports, Kelly recalled Matthew told her, “I feel like the last person on your list right now. I’m the last person that you come to. I’m the last person that you respond to.’ "
Moreover, Kelly said, she thinks the call came after the Rams lost a game.
“So we were disconnected.’’
At the time, Kelly said, she had become overwhelmed by her responsibilities as the mother of four daughters, a weekly podcast she had started and, most of all, being inundated by calls from friends who wanted to visit them in Los Angeles and attend a Rams game.
“It came to the point where I would look down at my phone and have 50-plus texts in an hour and some of those would be Matthew, and I would just put my phone back down," she said. “I wouldn’t make him a priority. I was just, like, ‘OK, you know what, we’ll be fine. He’s at work, he’s doing his thing, he’s going to come home, we’ll talk then.' And just kind of like putting him on the backburner a little bit. So we were disconnected there for longer than I thought.
“Everything seems beautiful and fun on the outside, right? But people struggle in their relationships all the time. And that was a moment of struggle for us."
'The best advice I've gotten'
As the Rams prepare to play the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl 56, to be held Sunday at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Kelly said it takes a village – not just to raise a child, but to keep a marriage strong.
So a day after the phone call from Matthew, Kelly said, she got coffee with Melissa Whitworth, wife of Rams left tackle Andrew Whitworth, and Anna Kupp, wife of Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp.
Said Kelly: “Melissa was like, ‘You need to give that phone to somebody else. You need to get a new number, and you need to put the people who are most important to you on your personal (phone) and that other number can wait and you can go through that when you have time.
“Honestly, it’s the best advice I’ve gotten. It’s been a game changer for me. Because now when I look down at my phone, I have three texts, from Matthew and my mom, from people I love and people I want to respond to, need to respond to, rather than picking up my phone and saying, I can’t do this and not to deal with it.
“And we started setting up some boundaries for friends and family and everybody that wanted to come and visit and just really both of us made a very big attempt to make each other a priority. Because we know as long as we’re good, our kids will be good, our life will move a little smoother than if we’re at odds."
How things have worked looked clear after the Rams secured a berth in Super Bowl 56 with a 20-17 victory over the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC championship game. When it ended, Kelly got onto the field, ran toward her husband and jumped into his arms.
They shared a long embrace, after which Kelly smacked Matthew on the backside like a proud coach.
“She’s fired up,’’ Matthew said with a smile at his postgame press conference. “I couldn’t have done it without her. She’s an unbelievable part of my life. I’m so lucky to be with her and to have the children I have and the family that I have.
“It’s the best part of my life. This (the victory) is great, but that’s so much better. To share that moment with her was so cool. She’s been through a lot of that with me and we’ve leaned on each other at separate times to help ourselves get through whatever we were having to get through. She’s special to me and I’m just so happy I got to spend that time with her."
The next day, Kelly said, they reflected on that on-field embrace.
“It felt like it was a hug of just releasing the past 12 years," she said. “And like everything we have gone through, everything leading up to this moment, it was all for a reason.
“I don’t think Matthew would be the player he is today without being in Detroit for 12 years. I don’t think we would be the couple we are today without all the ups and downs we’ve had.''
Matthew, 34, and Kelly, 32, met at the University of Georgia, where he played quarterback from 2006 to 2008 and Kelly was a cheerleader. They married in 2015.
“It’s just so wonderful that they found each other," Matthew’s father, John, said. “I couldn’t be happier in watching them as a couple. They complement each other so well."
But the year after the wedding, Kelly said, her struggles with infertility strained their marriage.
“I think that’s the toughest test to our marriage that we’ve gone through," she said. “And we’ve obviously been through our fair share of things.
“He was like, ‘I’m struggling to know how to be here for you.’ Even hearing him say, ‘I’m struggling to know how,' made me feel comforted. Well, I know now you’re at least thinking about it and you are here for me.''
Eventually, the couple opted for in-vitro fertilization and in March 2017 Kelly gave birth to twin daughters, Sawyer and Chandler, who are now 4. They have two more girls – Hunter, 3, and Tyler, 18 months.
They survived the other crises, too. Kelly’s tumor was benign and earlier this year she wrote on Instagram, “Today celebrating the clean 2 year scan and all the new adventures my family and I are going to have in this next year!"
Of course, Matthew recovered fully from his surgery, and during his first year in Los Angeles led the Rams to a 12-5 record, the NFC West division title and to within one victory of the franchise's second Super Bowl title, with the first coming in 2000.
“It’s a big week for everybody right now,’’ Kelly said, referring not just to the Super Bowl but also to a cheer competition for which the Staffords' daughters are preparing. “One of the things the girls love to show (Matthew) is the new part of their routine. So they’ll all line up and do it for him probably way too many times, and that’s like his break from studying is watching his little girls."
Kelly shared photos, including some with the girls cuddled up with Matthew and one of Matthew wearing a blue wig the day before the NFC championship game. The spectacle unfolded after Kelly bought noisemakers, blue-and-yellow pom poms and blue and yellow wigs.
It was the girls who put the blue wig on their father.
“Matthew’s all for it," Kelly said. “If he pleases his girls, he will do anything. If that means painting his nails or putting on a dress, he doesn’t care. It’s true. He’ll do anything for them.
“It is kind of crazy to think this Saturday will probably be the same."
Said Kelly’s sister, Jenny, “It really is about their girls. And, yes, their dad is famous and is this big, star player. But at the end of the day, they are literally just trying to raise these four girls the best they can."
But Matthew still manages to squeeze in the occasional nap, Jenny said.
“They have a theater room," she said. “He’ll go in there and fall asleep and take naps with his girls. They’ll watch some Disney movie and you walk in there and the girls are running around and he’s out cold on the couch asleep."
'Not my best moment'
This week, the couple’s friends and family members lauded Kelly and Matthew for their loyalty to one another – but also noted that, in this case, opposites attract.
Kelly is the extrovert, Matthew the introvert.
Matthew is an accomplished cook, Kelly opened a box of Hamburger Helper and was surprised to discover there was no meat inside.
Kelly is the one who signed them up sky-diving and bungee jumping, Matthew is the one who would prefer a round of golf.
Matthew throws footballs, Kelly occasionally throws pretzels – at fans.
During Week 10, the Rams were playing at San Francisco. Kelly and a few friends were seated behind the Rams bench. During the opening series of the game, Matthew was intercepted. Not long after, Kelly tossed a piece of a soft pretzel at a 49ers fan heckling her husband.
“It wasn’t a whole pretzel,'' Kelly said. "It didn’t have mustard on it. I threw it over my head because he was behind me. I was like, 'Shut up,' thinking I wouldn't even hit him, and I guess I hit him.''
The fan got security and Kelly and her friends agreed to move to a different part of the stadium, according to Kelly. Later, she disclosed to Matthew what happened.
“Not my brightest moment, but Matthew knows exactly what he married, and he looked at me and he was like, ‘Well, he’s lucky he didn’t get a left hook,’ “ she said. “There’s usually probably once a season where I’d say, ‘I probably shouldn’t have done that.' "
Like in November 2020, on the same day Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced the state would begin a "three-week pause targeting indoor social gatherings and other group activities" in order to help curb the spread of the coronavirus, Kelly sounded off.
"I'm over living in a dictatorship that we call Michigan," she said. “I understand there's a pandemic, and I understand it's very scary. I'm scared of it, too. If you are at risk, do not leave your house until there's a vaccine. But shutting down all these small businesses –things that people have worked their life for – shutting them down again is not the answer, because they will not make it. So once we are able to leave our house, once this dictatorship decides to let us have some freedom, there will be nothing left."
Later she apologized, saying on her Instagram account that she "should never have used the word 'dictatorship.' "
On her weekly podcast, she is freewheeling, candid and entertaining while dropping the occasional f-bomb and other profanity.
It’s no surprise to the friends and family members coming in to watch Matthew play in the Super Bowl and cheer with Kelly. The entourage will include Shaun Chapas, who played football with Matthew at Georgia.
“Hopefully it has a storybook ending,’’ Chapas said. “But they’ve got one helluva story already.’’