LOS ANGELES — Cooper Kupp’s extended family gathered inside Suite 4W-10 when everything came together on Monday night. They could not have asked for a better view (50-yard-line, fourth level), better stadium food (sushi, short ribs) or a better reminder of the stakes (SoFi Stadium will host Super LVI in just under four weeks). As the Rams playoff push began, with Cooper at the center of it, they couldn’t help but wonder. Imagine if …?
About 20 minutes before kickoff, only one problem remained: Cooper’s beard. His paternal grandmother is not a fan. Neither are his parents. But all understand why Cooper went full lumberjack this season, refusing to trim the hornet’s nest that spread across his cheeks and disappeared his chin. He kept waiting for a bad game to start the shearing, not wanting to mess with his 2021 mojo. “But he hasn’t had one,” that grandma, Carla Kupp, said inside the suite.
The Kupps need no reminder of Cooper’s season, but one materialized anyway. While Carla and her husband, Jake, chatted with their son, Craig, and his wife, Karin, the person who brought them all together Monday flashed across the largest video board on earth. It’s not really a video board, even, but more of a video ring, a series of boards connecting to form a marquee worthy of the Rams star-studded roster.
There was Cooper, his beard and his accomplishments, the list so long that only a board of that size would do. His receptions (145, second-most in NFL history for one season) flashed across the screen(s). His receiving yards (1,947, also second-most ever) did, too, along with his receiving touchdowns (16), his 100-yard games (11, tying an NFL record) and the words “Triple Crown.” The last one was in reference to Kupp leading the league in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns caught, becoming only the fourth player since 1970 to do so.
At that point, as bass thumped, towels whirled and the din drowned out conversations, nobody cared about the beard. In fact, the Kupps forced themselves to embrace it, if only because of what it meant and might mean, in about four weeks. Craig Kupp looked at all those video screens and, caught in a surreal moment, whispered, “It’s just crazy.”
Indeed. There were celebrities in the stands, franchise legend Torry Holt hyping up the crowd, Michael Buffer on the microphone, let’s get ready to rumble and all that. As Kupp found his coach, Sean McVay, for a quick embrace, it was easy for those assembled in Suite 4W-10 to see Monday night as the start of something more. The ground shook. The crowd roared. The beard remained, as did the Rams’ Super Bowl chances, which elevated Monday night.
This wasn’t the space to address concerns, to mention the stumble late against San Francisco in the regular-season finale, the injuries that decimated the depth at safety, or quarterback Matthew Stafford’s uneven, turnover-marred second half of the season. No, in what they called the Nemo Suite, nicknamed after its owner, a private equity titan named Ofer, there was one thing they were finding: hope.
Hope that Stafford would play like he was playing, after a season in which he ranked second in the NFL in passing touchdowns (41) and tied for the most interceptions (17), too. The pair of picks he threw in Week 18’s loss to the 49ers was part of how L.A. dropped to the fourth seed in the NFC, meaning they likely hosted their final game this season on Monday night. Against the Cardinals, though, Stafford was steady throughout and occasionally spectacular, with almost as many touchdown passes (two) as incompletions (four).
Hope that Odell Beckham Jr. will continue his speedy integration into the Rams high-powered offense, helping to overcome the devastating knee injury suffered by team leader Robert Woods in November. In only Game 8 since signing with L.A., Beckham caught his sixth touchdown pass in a horned helmet—and even threw for a 40-yard completion. "He did great," Stafford said, setting up the punchline, "both catching and throwing."
Hope that Von Miller can do Von Miller things, still, now, after arriving via mid-season trade, his impact growing with every game. Yes, the Rams boast two of the best defensive players in the league in Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey. But add in Miller (six tackles, three for losses, one sack Monday) and Leonard Floyd, and it’s a lot easier to overcome safety Jordan Fuller’s season-ending ankle injury, or safety Taylor Rapp missing Monday while in concussion protocol.
So here they were, the Rams, a presumed favorite turned wobbly contender turned, well, we’ll see. After all the trades, and all the signings, and all the various maneuvering that fashioned the Rams roster into one of the most talented in pro football, Monday night, for those in the Nemo Suite and beyond, served as a reminder of what’s possible. Likely? No. But possible. The Rams will travel to Tampa next week, to take on Tom Brady and the Bucs. The top-seeded Packers loom as a potential conference championship opponent. But after the Rams limited quarterback Kyler Murray to 137 passing yards, after they snagged two interceptions, after Stafford limited mistakes and the defense scored and a wideout completed a pass, there were reasons to believe. Kupp, of course, chief among them.
In the Nemo Suite, as Kupp’s grandparents celebrated the defensive Pick-Six with a long embrace, a 50-yard-line smooch and a series of fist pumps, it seemed possible. Anything. Everything. A deeper playoff run. An upset in Tampa. A miracle victory from the 49ers next week in Green Bay. A home conference championship game—same suite, same seats, a certain wideout’s beard still gloriously untrimmed.
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By the time Kupp scored (yet another) touchdown early into the third quarter, the Rams led, 28–0, and the party at SoFi Stadium kicked into overdrive. Kupp finished with a modest (by his standards) five receptions for 61 yards and that score. But the attention he drew, the decoy he became, and the way the offense functioned against a scheme the Rams will likely see again—all positives, all wins, all enough to look forward and at least consider what could happen over the next month. “A huge challenge,” Stafford said, which is true but not debilitating, not after Monday night.
There’s no reason to read too deeply into one playoff win, against a struggling opponent absent its best receiver (DeAndre Hopkins), on the road. But this is Stafford’s 13th NFL season, and Monday night marked his first—his very first!— postseason victory. It’s hard to win playoff games in the NFL, which means there’s also little reason to diminish the Rams’ chances, not after what those crowded in the Nemo Suite were finding. And not after a best-case-scenario start to playing the game that matters most in SoFi Stadium, the one with roman numerals, scheduled for Feb. 13.
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