ATHENS — I’ve written a lot about Matthew Stafford over the years.
I wrote about him when he was still a recruiting prospect from Highland Park, Texas; I wrote about him when hype finally met potential and he led Georgia to an upset of No. 5 Auburn on the road in 2006; and I wrote about him when his decision to leave UGA as a junior was validated by becoming the No. 1 pick in the 2009 NFL draft.
I’ve also had occasion to write about him here and there in the 10 years since as he has become somewhat of a polarizing figure as quarterback of the Detroit Lions.
As far as I know, I have never written about Kelly Stafford. I plan to change that today.
Kelly is, of course, the wife of Matthew. The two of them are in many ways the first family of UGA football, or at least they were there for a while.
She was a UGA cheerleader and he the starting quarterback for the Bulldogs during some heady times for the football program when they started dating. And their lavish wedding Easter weekend in Atlanta in 2015 not only was a cool happening in the Bulldog Nation but was actually voted “Party of the Year” in America by The Knot, a national wedding publication.
Since then, the couple has had three daughters and Stafford has signed three record-setting contracts with the Lions. I’m sure there are many out there like me who have wondered, “could any two people have a more perfect life?”
But as all of us grownups are so acutely aware — or will be made so sooner or later — nobody anywhere has a perfect life. We’re all flawed and broken in different ways, some just more visibly than others.
That is not to say that Kelly Stafford having to deal with a life-threatening illness makes her in any way flawed or broken. What it makes her — and Matt — is human. They’re vulnerable and susceptible to life’s perils like all of us.
I don’t know Kelly or her family personally, and it’d be presumptuous of me to say that I really know Matt. He was forced to know me by vocation and association many years ago and I believe that we went our separate ways on mutually respectful terms.
But while I’ve always admired Matt’s athletic gifts and what I believe to be an under-appreciated intelligence and grit as a football player, it is Kelly with whom I’m most impressed at this moment.
There is the cold fact she has had this terrible challenge not of her choosing thrust upon her. In such cases, the only choice one has is in the way they deal with it. To me, Kelly Stafford could not have handled it with more grace and courage than she already has.
Often, when people rise to a certain station and status in life, they tend to insulate and isolate themselves. With very public figures such as the Staffords, sometimes that’s just necessary from a logistics standpoint.
As his star rose at Georgia, Stafford quickly learned that he could not just go out on the town and cut up like everybody else. Aaron Murray and now Jake Fromm have both since received the same indoctrination as the starting quarterback at Georgia.
But while Kelly and Matthew Stafford can’t just venture out into public and expect to go about their business without drawing attention, it is possible to invite others into their lives from time-to-time. And that’s what Kelly did here. Instead of going the traditional route of saying something like, “we would appreciate it for everyone to respect our privacy at this time,” she invited the world in.
Not only did Kelly publicly announce on Instagram she has been diagnosed with a brain tumor, but she included details about how they came to discover it, exactly where and what it is and how doctors plan to treat it surgically and otherwise. All those are great and important things, for they draw attention to the illness and raise awareness as far as symptoms and treatments for this particular disease.
Even more important, however, is what I believe to be the true purpose in Kelly Stafford going public — she asked for prayers. This appears to be a woman who truly believes in that power, and by virtue of her heartfelt words, truly knows how to pray:
“I am telling y’all this to ask for prayers and support. Things to pray for: calmness in these next 2 weeks as I know anxiety will run high in myself & my whole family leading up to the day of surgery; that God be in the room with the surgeons & give them all the guidance, steadiness, & confidence they need; my safety during and after surgery; please pray for Matthew, as I know his nerves will be high during this surgery. I couldn’t imagine being out in that waiting room. Thank u. Thank u for reading this novel. Thank u for all your support and most importantly, thank u for your prayers.”
No, thank you, Kelly Stafford, for sharing the weight of your burden.
I’ve seen the power of prayer at work in my own life, as well in the lives of those with whom I’ve had the pleasure of crossing paths in this job. I’ve seen wonders worked when people like Kristen Eargle and Devon Gales went public with their needs. The rally factor, my friends, is real.
As it long has been written, “for where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”
That’s why I’d like to use this platform today to ask the DawgNation family to circle in prayer. It doesn’t matter to whom one prays, just pray.
Kelly Stafford does not deserve this honor more than anybody else. We all have persons and things we need to pray for, even ourselves. It’s something I believe should be practiced regularly, always.
But Kelly has asked for our prayers, so let’s give them to her. Tonight, when we’re all ready to turn in, try to remember to toss in a request for this young woman, who by association with UGA we all feel like we know. Surely terrified at the journey that’s ahead of her, she also is courageous to invite us to walk alongside for it.