By Kyle Kelly
LOS ANGELES — About 21 full days.
That is the amount of time Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp estimated he spent working with quarterback Matthew Stafford outside of mandated practice time to develop their chemistry.
Kupp won the Pete Rozelle Trophy as Super Bowl LVI MVP in Inglewood, California, on Sunday night, thanks to a performance that featured eight receptions, 92 receiving yards and two touchdowns in the Rams’ 23-20 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. The most important grab of them all came with 1:25 to play, which became the go-ahead touchdown that ultimately secured the Super Bowl title.
Last week, Kupp was named NFL Offensive Player of the Year after leading the league during the regular season in receptions (145), receiving yards (1,947) and receiving touchdowns (16). Each stat was a career-high and a reflection of Stafford. Of the nine touchdown passes the 13-year veteran and former Pro Bowler threw this postseason, six of them went to Kupp.
All the remarkable stats aside, it was the final catch that brought all the dedication to success during the season to the forefront.
“I think I was actually adding it up in the car on the way here,” Kupp told reporters at Monday’s MVP news conference. “The extra time, outside of the obligatory time, is north of 500 hours this season. You spend that much together being able to talk football, the preparation and time you have — focusing on that kind of stuff. When you get in those moments, it just becomes second nature.”
The time commitment has not gone unnoticed.
Head coach Sean McVay said Kupp was a “foundational piece” in the Rams winning the Lombardi Trophy. He was selected 69th overall in the 2017 NFL Draft, the same year McVay started at the helm of Los Angeles. In those five years, the Rams have had several key roster changes in the receiving room, such as the departure of former first-round picks Sammy Watkins and Brandin Cooks, and the addition of former All-Pro receiver Odell Beckham Jr.
Through it all, Kupp remained constant. He led the team in receptions during two of the previous seasons and finished second by just two catches as a rookie.
Off the field, he has flourished too. He has been a team captain for the past two seasons, and his relationship with McVay has grown personal. That bond is one of the many reasons the Rams are Super Bowl champions.
“Guys like Cooper epitomize what’s right about this team,” McVay said Monday. “I am better as a coach and a person for being around Cooper Kupp. … This year especially, there has been a stillness, peace and a joy that he was playing with. … He’s made such an impact on me. Guys like Cooper Kupp are why you coach.”
Kupp’s impact on the Rams has been felt leaguewide. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell acknowledged in Monday morning’s news conference that he is only the second player, joining Joe Montana in 1989, to win NFL Offensive Player of the Year and Super Bowl MVP in the same season. Kupp also set an NFL postseason record with 33 receptions.
But Kupp’s presence is felt most by his starting quarterback.
“He’s an unbelievable player,” Stafford told reporters in his postgame news conference Sunday night. “I’m so proud of him, all the work that he puts in, the sacrifice, the time, the effort. It’s just so fun to get to go to work with him every single day and do what he does and watch him do his thing. It’s pretty special.”
Kyle Kelly is a sports media graduate student at Medill. You can follow him on Twitter at @ByKyleKelly.