The father of Los Angeles Rams receiver Cooper Kupp stands nearly 6-foot-5, and he was teetering on a chair to peer over the people clustered at the front of a suite Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.
No one dared breathe.
“We were living and dying in that fourth quarter,” Craig Kupp said.
The Tom Brady-led Tampa Bay Buccaneers miraculously had clawed their way out of a deep abyss to tie the NFC divisional playoff game with 42 seconds left, and the Rams had one final chance to answer.
After Stafford was sacked for a one-yard loss – and a fleeting fumble that he frantically recovered – he connected with Kupp on pass plays of 20 and 44 yards to position the Rams for the winning kick.
How poetic that it was Kupp who made those plays, the former Eastern Washington standout who has carried the Rams this season, becoming just the fourth player since 1970 to finish the regular season with the most catches, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns to win the league’s “triple crown” in receiving.
No catch was bigger than that 44-yarder down the middle.
“Cooper was on a vertical route right down the pipe, and Matthew put great trajectory on it,” Rams coach Sean McVay said. “Cooper was able to dig out from underneath it, and the rest is history. It felt like that ball hung up for about 12 seconds.”
Ah, yes, 12. Brady’s jersey number. That could have haunted McVay even more than it already does, as the Rams lost the Super Bowl to Brady’s New England Patriots three years ago.
Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians told reporters they planned to blitz Stafford on that fateful final pass but that wasn’t communicated to the entire defense, resulting in the busted coverage.
Before that, though, Kupp scored a 70-yard touchdown in the second quarter but had an uncharacteristic fumble in the third that helped fuel Brady’s comeback.
“It’s obviously tough,” Kupp said of the fumble. “It’s an inevitable part of this game. No one has played this game and not had one of those. You felt like you let your team down, put the defense out there in a terrible spot. Never want to do that. Literally on the sideline before we go on that drive we’re preaching, ‘Ball security. Ball security. Ball security.’ That kind of started the slow trickle of what our offense turned into.”
But his chance for redemption would come, and he took full advantage. He finished with nine receptions for 183 yards, something of a routine day of work for a player the Rams – and many others – argue should be the league’s most valuable player. A receiver has never won that honor in the Super Bowl era.
“The way he produces in clutch moments for our team is incredible and something that can’t be praised enough,” punter Johnny Hekker said. “The guy just works tirelessly. Never for self-glorification but for the team.”
The last time the Rams got this far, Kupp was a spectator. He was recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament when his team made its march to the Super Bowl in 2018.
“That was one of the hardest things I’ve ever gone through,” he said. “One part of me was completely and fully invested in pulling for my guys and wanting to see them achieve success, achieve the pinnacle of success.
“And then on the other side, fully and completely wanting to be a part of it and not being able to. It can tear you apart a little bit. I think I would have the appreciation for this, regardless, but I know what the other side of this is. I have a ton of appreciation for every snap I get to play this great game.”
Meanwhile, his parents were watching from a suite rented by Kelly Stafford, the quarterback’s wife. Craig Kupp must have been 8 feet tall standing on that chair, and by game’s end felt even taller.
“We went from euphoria, to ‘What the heck’s going on here?’ and back to euphoria,” he said.
Afterward, he was basking in the afterglow. Among the greatest moments in a parent’s life.
“We have four kids,” Craig said. “And this makes the top five.”
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.