LOS ANGELES — On Feb. 6, 2020, Los Angeles Rams safety Eric Weddle announced his retirement after 13 seasons in the NFL. Just over two years later, he entered his Super Bowl postgame press conference screaming, “World champs, baby! Best in the world!”
Weddle returned to the Rams in January following the news that Jordan Fuller would miss the playoffs with an ankle injury. The 37-year-old signed with the practice squad but within a week was elevated to the active roster. The rest was history.
“It’s really something you hear out of a book, a story, a fiction, a fairy tale,” Weddle said. “You only wish that your name would be a part of it. Lucky me…I’m a world champion.”
Weddle and the Rams’ defense were critical in the team’s 23–20 win over the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl LVI on Sunday night, matching a championship game record with seven sacks on Joe Burrow.
“Guys were asked to step up,” Rams coach Sean McVay said. “I just can’t say enough about how much I love this group. They played for one another.”
In a postseason full of nail-biting endings, the finale lived up to that intensity and ended with a bevy of Rams earning their first championship rings.
Burrow—the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year—was pressured all night long, with the likes of defensive tackle Aaron Donald and linebacker Von Miller charging at the second-year quarterback across SoFi Stadium. Donald and Miller each finished with two sacks.
The defining moment for Donald came on a fourth-and-1 with under a minute remaining in the game.
With Cincinnati trailing by three points, Bengals receiver Ja’Marr Chase made a key 17-yard pickup to put his team near midfield. The Rams needed to halt the Bengals or risk a loss or the threat of overtime.
A nine-yard pickup followed by two neutral plays left the Bengals with two options on fourth down: Get a first down or go home. Burrow dropped back, but Donald brushed past his blocker and hurled the quarterback to the turf.
Burrow managed to get the ball downfield before he hit the ground, but his throw was well beyond Samaje Perine’s outstretched hands.
Donald took off down the field toward the end zone. He held his hand up and pointed at his ring finger. He was about to get his first piece of championship jewelry.
“I wanted this so bad,” Donald said in a postgame interview. “I dreamed this, man. I dreamed this and it’s surreal.”
The ninth-year Ram was not the only member of the championship team to claim that elusive first ring. The receiving duo of Cooper Kupp and Odell Beckham Jr. were instrumental in getting Los Angeles to the promised land.
The Rams struck first, using a 20-yard catch from Kupp to get deep in Bengals territory. Soon after, Beckham managed to reel in a highly-contested floater to give the team an early lead, with a moonwalking celebration to boot.
Los Angeles earned the next trip to the end zone as well, although the team did concede a field goal to the postseason-perfect Evan McPherson between its back-to-back scoring drives.
Early in the drive, Beckham ripped through the heart of Cincinnati’s secondary for a 35-yard reception. On the very next play, quarterback Matthew Stafford found Darrell Henderson on a wheel route to his left for another substantial gain. All of that led to Stafford finding Kupp wide open in the back corner of the end zone.
However, Beckham suffered a non-contact injury to his knee at the end of the first half. The injury kept him sidelined for the entire second half, and without him, Los Angeles’s offensive production wore thin.
When it came down to it, though, nothing could keep the receivers or the Rams from a Super Bowl win.
Trailing 20–16 with just over six minutes remaining, Stafford and Kupp connected four times for 39 yards on the game-winning drive. The fourth catch was a one-yard touchdown grab that put the Rams in front for the first time since Cincinnati’s Tee Higgins burst out for a 75-yard touchdown on the first play of the second half.
On the same drive, Kupp broke Travis Kelce’s 2020 record for most catches in one postseason. Kupp ended with eight catches for 92 yards and two touchdowns in the game, and with a record 33 receptions in the postseason.
For his efforts, Kupp was named Super Bowl MVP, the culmination of one of the best seasons by a receiver in NFL history.
“It’s just been the perfect team, the perfect setup,” Kupp said. “I’m just so thankful for everyone that’s been around me.”
After Kupp’s go-ahead touchdown, the Bengals still had just over a minute to try and retake the lead, but Donald’s stop ended their season at the final hurdle.
As Stafford entered victory formation, a weight was lifted off his shoulders as well. In his first season with Los Angeles, he reached his first championship game and led the game-winning drive.
It was a storybook ending for the Rams—and during his postgame press conference, Weddle wrote one final page. He announced he would be re-retiring and going back to his daily life. This time, however, he’ll do so with a Super Bowl ring.
Jacob Richman is a senior at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism. He is covering the Super Bowl for the Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism in partnership with the Sports Business Journal.