By: Will Burchfield
No Detroit athlete faces as much scrutiny as Matthew Stafford.
And through nine years in the spotlight, the Lions’ franchise quarterback has never lost his cool.
His grace in handling outside pressure, from both the media and the fans, is something NBC’s Mike Tirico admires.
“Matthew Stafford reminds me of Eli Manning in New York. In no way is the media or the negative energy in Detroit the same as it is in the New York media world, but Eli has stayed completely nonplussed about the whole thing and just gone on about his business for almost 15 years now. I see the same kind of thing in Matthew, especially as he’s gotten older,” Tirico told 97.1 The Ticket.
In the wake of Aaron Rodgers’ season-ending injury, the cries for Stafford to lead the Lions to their first division title in 24 years have grown louder. There’s a clear opportunity before him, especially given the level of quarterback play elsewhere in the division.
Stafford’s taking it all in stride.
“I think the momentary, ‘Oh my gosh, you have to do this, this is now your division. If it’s not you it’s nobody’ — he’s learned that comes with the job and the paycheck. I really admire him for his ability to handle that,” Tirico said.
Tirico will be part of NBC’s broadcast team for Sunday night’s game between the Lions and the Steelers. When he chatted with Stafford earlier this week, he came away with the impression of someone who’s grown to love the place he calls home.
“He has a true passion and affection for the city. To this point, can you think of an interview you’ve seen where he hasn’t been wearing his Tigers ball cap? Not one,” said Tirico, who himself lives in Ann Arbor.
Stafford, whose wife Kelly gave birth to twin girls in April, resisted going to downtown Detroit when he first joined the Lions in 2009. That’s changed in the years since.
“He said, ‘We’ll go downtown to go out now. We love the city and we love the people of the city. He’s really become one of us, for those of us who live there,” said Tirico.
With Justin Verlander no longer around and the Pistons and Red Wings lacking star power, it could be said that Stafford is the face of Detroit sports. It’s a responsibility he can handle.
“All the pressure that’s around the job he’s handled really well. With Cabrera not being as outwardly public a figure as Verlander was, he’s become the face of sports in this city, and I think he’s accepted that role,” said Tirico.