Even with a ring, Matthew Stafford is not highly respected

The last time most in Los Angeles saw Matthew Stafford with his teammates, he appeared drunk.

When most Los Angeles residents last heard of Matthew Stafford, he was talking about his sore arm.

The last time most Los Angeles residents checked Matthew Stafford’s name in a quarterback poll, he was ranked number two.

The next time Los Angeles cheers on Matthew Stafford, Thursday night at SoFi Stadium, he’ll throw meaningful passes for the first time in seven months against the Super Bowl favorites Buffalo Bills.

The watered-down speech at a post-Super Bowl celebration will likely be mentioned on the TV show. The elbow tendonitis will be dissected. Odd rankings will be scrutinized. The heat will once again be on the Rams’ most important star to prove his greatness.

What a difference per year doesn’t Manufacture.

Shouldn’t all these questions have been answered?

Hello? Matthew Stafford led the Rams to a Super Bowl championship, remember? Sure, Aaron Donald was the muscle, Cooper Kupp the magic, but Stafford was the difference.

With Jared Goff, they couldn’t win. With Stafford, they won everything.

His 17 regular-season interceptions were his best in nine years, but he was unbeatable in the playoffs, leading them through the toughest moments of their run.

Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford stood and watched from the sideline during preseason games. He also rested his sore elbow a lot during camp.

(Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

With Stafford hitting Kupp on two long passes, the Rams charged downfield to beat Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the closing seconds of an NFC Divisional Round playoff game.

With Stafford connecting on all five assists, the Rams engineered a last-minute practice to beat the San Francisco 49ers for the NFC Championship.

With Stafford keeping his cool amid the thickest pressure of his career, he led the Rams 79 yards for the game-winning touchdown in the final minutes against the Cincinnati Bengals in the Super Bowl.

“It’s poetic, man,” Rams coach Sean McVay said.

Yet, for Stafford, the poem was just a verse.

You’re a champ, but what about all those interceptions? Could you have won it if the 49ers’ Jaquiski Tartt hadn’t dropped that pick in the fourth quarter? Could you have won without McVay? Can you win it again?

Although Kupp was the local Super Bowl MVP and Donald was the local Super Bowl star, Stafford was the grafted Super Bowl sidekick.

Kupp got the votes, Donald got the fame, and Stafford got the shrugs.

Surely that’s partly because many still associate it with Detroit. Take a look at his recent mentions. He stars in a national phone commercial, but, with a twist, it was as much about his 12 years with the Lions as his one year with the Rams. In another ad, he shouts, “Pizza! Pizza!” for a company based in – you guessed it – Detroit.

Like another local transplant named LeBron James, even a championship didn’t secure Stafford’s spot here.

His offseason began inauspiciously in February when, like many of his teammates, he was understandably gone by the time he took the stage in the Rams’ victory parade. Give him points for graciously agreeing to take the microphone under these conditions. But his loose tongue has raised eyebrows on social media.

“I’m so damn happy to be standing here with you guys celebrating this s—-,” Stafford shouted. “Let’s go! Let’s go! I’m going to bring a little southern hospitality to this. I appreciate you very much. You’ve been amazing. Amazing all year. And you know what? We appreciate you! … Let’s go -y!”

Before the “Let’s go!” he took a big sip from a long, dark bottle as the crowd roared.

It got worse. Later, while clearly still in a drunken daze, Stafford casually walked away from photographer Kelly Smiley after she fell from the stage and suffered a broken spine. The fury was so great that a day later Stafford and his wife Kelly, who cared for the injured Smiley, issued a joint statement.

“We have been in communication with Kelly Smiley since the incident yesterday and we are sorry for what happened,” the statement read. “As we told Kelly, we will cover all of her hospital bills and replace her cameras. We wish her a speedy recovery.”

    Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford is looking to pass during training camp.

Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford said the rest helped his elbow problem.

(Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times)

“I feel good, I feel like I can make all the throws.”

– Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford on concerns about his elbow issues

The next time most people heard of him wasn’t much nicer. It was this spring that the 34-year-old admitted to receiving an injection in his right elbow to combat the discomfort he felt last season. During training camp, McVay called the lingering condition “abnormal for a quarterback” and said, “Some of these things are things that MLB pitchers deal with.”

Wait a minute? Is Matthew Stafford Suddenly Walker Buehler?

Stafford quickly quieted the alarm bells, saying he was fine, noting, “I’m just going through something irritating right now, but I’m working on it.”

He then showed it during a recent practice with the Bengals by logging on every pass for the first 45 minutes of practice.

“I feel good, I feel like I can make all the throws,” he said.

There are still plenty of nonbelievers, as evidenced by Athletic’s annual survey of 50 NFL coaches and executives. Stafford was ranked in their second tier of NFL quarterbacks, seventh-best on their scale, even though he has the top five referrals.

Stafford ranks behind Joe Burrow of the Bengals, who he beat in the Super Bowl. He ranks behind Josh Allen of the Bills, who has never appeared in a Super Bowl. He ranks behind Justin Herbert of the Chargers, who has never won a playoff game.

This perception cannot be based on career statistics. It cannot be based on impact wins. Some of them must surely be personality based. Stafford is not flamboyant. He’s not a rock star. Like his high school teammate Clayton Kershaw, he goes out of his way to blend in.

Stafford has such a soft voice that he often gets lost in the shuffle. Asked by reporters this summer about his success, he said it was just the first step.

“Yeah, I’m just trying to lean on it,” he said. “Obviously, I had success last year and I want to continue my growth within the attack. I’m just trying to make sure I can keep finding ways to be better physically and mentally. How I can help the guys on our team.

True or false, one wonders if it can be better. Fair or not, there are doubts.

Was last season a brilliant fluke? Can he connect with new receiver Allen Robinson the same way he connected with free agent Odell Beckham Jr.? How well can he operate behind an offensive line without an Andrew Whitworth anchor? Can he narrow down all those choices?

Matthew Stafford has shown he is one of the champions. Now he has to prove he is one of the greatest.

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