By Carol Cain
With the start of the NFL regular season, it’s anything but business as usual for Matthew Stafford as he takes his place in the midst of the huddle tonight as starting quarterback for the Detroit Lions for a sixth year.
Buoyed by new head coach and quarterback guru Jim Caldwell and offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, expectations are high as they take on the New York Giants. Much is tied to success of the 26-year-old Stafford’s ability to raise the bar. We talked about that and things off the field at the team’s practice facility in Allen Park. Blessed by one of the best arms in the NFL, Stafford’s end game has been a mixed bag. Stafford clearly has the talent many hope Caldwell can develop to translate into more “W’s.”
“This off season was a challenge for me,” Stafford told me.“I’m learning a whole new language, learning with some new teammates.” “We’ve got a lot of talent on this team,” Stafford said. “The expectation is the Super Bowl.” The Detroit Lions front office also went to work during the offseason to help the cause by bringing on a new head coach and others to give Stafford support.
“This is anything but a rebuilding year,” Lions President Tom Lewand told me. “We went out and hired a new coach — the perfect person in Jim Caldwell. And we brought in some other coaches and players.” “This is about winning,” Lewand added.
Stafford’s been playing football his entire life. He was a star player in high school and highly regarded quarterback at the University of Georgia. As the team leader, Stafford’s mantra is — lead by example.
“I get in there early, they know I am working hard. My voice is heard in the huddle. I may help a guy, or correct a guy. I have no problem doing either.” He also goes out of his way to maintain a low profile off the field.
The quintessential nice guy, Stafford is very involved in helping the community. He works through the Detroit Lions community programs including helping kids in school.“ My parents raised me this way,” Stafford told me if his focus on helping others. “I love playing,” he said. “But the celebrity side isn’t my favorite part of it.”
Stafford likes to water ski and also golf during the off-season. Though having a handicap of 10 actually told me he isn’t very good. One of his best friends is Clayton Kershaw, Cy Young winning starting pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers. The two grew up playing baseball,football, soccer and basketball for and against each other at various times. “I try to catch every game I know he is pitching in and he watches my games,” Stafford said. “It’s fun having a friend in a similar position. He’s the starting pitcher and I’m the starting quarterback.”
Stafford enjoys living in Detroit and is impressed by all he sees developing in the downtown area. “I think it is exciting what’s going on, with people are buying up real estate and young people moving in,” he said.
Though growing up in Dallas where the NHL Dallas Stars play, he admitted he did not follow the sport. “I quickly learned you had to know about hockey here,” he said. “Some of the Red Wings (players) are my friends.”
His parents and sister – who is 18 months older than he — still live in Dallas. They often come to see him play. He and fiancé, Kelly Hall, a former cheerleader he met in college, are planning to marry this April. Though focused on the coming season, I asked if he ever thought about what comes next after football. “I’m only 26 years old,” he said. “I hope to have another 10 to 11 years playing!”
Carol Cain is the Emmy Award winning Senior Producer/Host of “Michigan Matters” which airs 11:30 am Sundays on CBS 62. She also writes about business and politics in Sunday’s Free Press. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.