Losing is a sickness, like cancer. It spreads through your system and transforms and defines you. It shuts down certain synapses in your brain, or something, imposes limits on you, and makes you the worst thing of all: a quitter.
That's why Matthew Stafford is the most amazing player in the NFL so far this season. Is he the best player in the year of the quarterback?
Sorry, Lamar Jackson fans. Kyler Murray fans. Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and Patrick Mahomes fans. But yes, he is.
From my view as a coach — a college tennis coach — I think the most amazing thing in the NFL this year is Stafford's ability to simply not be a loser. After serving a 12-year sentence in Detroit, how did he come out of there with the belief that he could beat Tom Brady and the world champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday in front of a star-studded audience? LeBron James, Jason Sudeikis, and Dr. Dre were all there Sunday.
In an era of player empowerment, when Stafford left the Lions for the Rams, it didn't come across as a petulant player leaving to form his own team with his buddies. No, this was more of a release after 12 years of good behavior.
"I'm enjoying every minute of it, trying to make the most of it," Stafford said. "We'll see where it takes us. ... I'm trying to be myself every single day, bring my best every single day and see where that takes us."
If that means taking the Rams to the Super Bowl, then he'll be 34 years old when he gets there. Until now, being himself hadn't gotten him anywhere, not even one measly playoff win.
We always knew that Stafford had the skills, but he was still a test case for the Rams. While he looked like a great player on a terrible team, at some point you start wondering if he was just a loser. We measure great athletes by the titles. Stafford couldn't even win once in the postseason.
From a coach's perspective, I'll say that Stafford's ability to step in and lead the Rams to a 3-0 start, including Sunday's 34-24 win over Brady, is testimony to incredible inner strength. Maybe faith. Maybe great coaching along the way.
I took over as Roosevelt University's tennis coach four and a half years ago in the middle of a winless season. Our women's team was unquestionably the worst team in the worst program in America.
After a year of recruiting, you could see the difference between winners (new players) and losers (old guard) in the program. My No. 1 player, a senior, wanted to miss the first week of practices and the first two matches for her annual family water-ski vacation. I told her that if she went on the vacation, her scholarship would be removed and she'd be off the team. She could not see why two season-opening matches meant so much to me.
She was a loser. She had been taught to be one. I couldn't let the incoming freshmen see that or feel it. She knew how to prepare to lose, how to practice to lose, how to expect to lose in matches. She was maybe the most talented player the program had ever had. She had been infected by all the losing.
The only way through that was to schedule down and openly celebrate minor improvements as victories. It was hard to scrub the losing from the program.
When Stafford left for the Rams, I wondered if he was a loser, too. He was the first quarterback in NFL history to complete 60% of his passes in a season, the youngest to reach 20,000 career passing yards, and 30,000, 40,000, and 45,000.
History is filled with losers with great stats. Stafford had a stellar college career at Georgia, but in his final year there, 2008, he went into the season as a Heisman Trophy favorite on the No. 1-ranked team. Georgia would lose three games that year. He threw for five touchdowns and 407 yards against Georgia Tech ... in a loss.
Some of the NFL's all-time legendary players have been on losing teams: Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers of the 1960s Chicago Bears come to mind. Archie Manning, Joe Thomas, Floyd Little.
None of those guys ever played in a playoff game. More teams make the postseason now, and you'd think a quarterback in this era could manage one playoff win all by himself.
In three games with the Rams, Stafford has already thrown nine touchdown passes. He had three more Sunday against the Super Bowl champs. His connection with coach Sean McVay was immediate, as the Rams tried to develop a downfield passing game. Stafford has three touchdowns of 50 yards or more this year, including a 75-yarder Sunday to DeSean Jackson.
"He pushes it down the field so easily," Tampa coach Bruce Arians said. "You're right up in his face one time he finds a guy wide open down the field and gets it to him. A lot of guys, they see it but they can't get it to him. He's a special player."Turns out, Stafford's a winner, too.