LORAN SMITH COLUMN: ‘The Drive’ now belongs to Matthew Stafford

Published 9:30 am Saturday, February 19, 2022

For years John Elway’s taking his Denver team 98 yards in the American Football Conference championship game in Cleveland in 1987 to tie the Browns and subsequently win the game with a field goal, 23-20, in overtime, has long been known as “THE” drive. No more.

“THE” drive now belongs to former Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford, who took his team 79 yards in 15 plays for a touchdown with 1:25 left on the clock to win Super Bowl 56.

There was time enough for the Bengals’ Joe Burrow to maneuver the Bengals in position to tie the game with a field goal to force overtime or win it outright with a touchdown.

Defense still wins games as the Rams showcased millions of football fans around the world, but the toast of the City of Angels today is the Bulldogs’ Matthew Stafford and the newly minted, “THE” drive. Matthew has one of the best pure arms in the National Football League. He can rifle it into the smallest of windows, but the most famous toss of his career will be for only one yard. He’ll take it.

The monkey will never be on his back as a result of that drive and that pass. Furthermore, winning the Super Bowl means that the monkey won’t climb aboard Coach Sean McVay’s back. Think of the laments that now surround Zac Taylor and the Bengals.

Winning a ring is never easy and sometimes, those who miss out in the big game, never have another opportunity. Stafford’s many friends are grateful for that.

Think of the pressure Stafford has lived under since that trade back on March 18! He was expected to get his team into the playoffs. He was expected to get his team to the Super Bowl, and he was expected to bring Los Angeles a championship. That he delivered is one of the feel-good stories of the ’21 NFL season.

Two other players and two assistant coaches will soon be fitted for Super Bowl rings. While the Bengal defense was a challenge for running back Sony Michel, he, nonetheless earned his second ring. Interestingly, the first came three years ago in Atlanta when he and the Patriots defeated the Rams at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

For linebacker, Leonard Floyd, it was a productive night. He made five tackles and was credited with a sack. Offensive assistant Nick Jones and running backs coach Thomas Brown are two Rams’ coaches with a Bulldog pedigree. Sean McVay, the Rams’ head coach, played high school football at Marist High in Atlanta for one-time Bulldog quarterback, Alan Chadwick who will be inducted into the State of Georgia Sports Hall of Fame Saturday night in Macon.

A guest of Stafford’s for the game in Los Angeles, was his former Georgia teammate, Sean Chappas, who is now a member of the UGA athletic development staff. He remembers, when he played for Cowboys that he and Stafford attended the Super Bowl in 2012, being invited by a sponsor with which Stafford had a connection.

Stafford enjoyed the corporate parties, but would not stay for the game, noting that he did not want to attend the Super Bowl unless he was playing in it. It didn’t look promising until this year when the Lions agreed to trade him to the Rams even though there was no guarantee that it would fall in place.

Just as there were a number of Georgia connections with “THE” drive in Super Bowl 56, it was the same with Elway and the Broncos back in 1987.   Clarence Kay, former Bulldog tight end, was a member of that Bronco team. Dan Reeves, from Americus, was the Broncoss head coach.

The backup quarterback for the Browns was Gary Danielson, who has made countless trips to Athens, calling Georgia games with the CBS Network. Sitting in the stands with his father was a passionate 15-year-old Browns’ fan by the name of Mel Tucker, now the Michigan State head coach, who would become Kirby Smart’s first defensive coordinator in Athens.

When he was at Georgia, I remember a conversation with Mel about that game. “I could not believe Elway could go 98 yards in that game,” he said.  “I was devastated. I am still mad about the outcome of that game.” Truth of the matter is that the percentages are not in favor of the team facing such challenge to do what Stafford and the Rams did.

The second guessing of the play calling of the Bengals’ coach, Zac Taylor, began before he took off his headset.  Technology, for all its good, has many evils — the prime one the giving of a forum to the critics. The less they know, the louder they shout.