When Robert Woods walked down onto the SoFi Stadium field last month to congratulate the Los Angeles Rams on winning the NFC championship, nobody wanted to talk football with him amid the confetti and celebration.
Instead, the injured receiver had one emotional moment after another with teammates and friends who would never allow Woods to go alone through the past three tough months, which also included the unexpected death of his father.
“They were all just, ‘Come here, Ro, we’re not worried about all that,’" Woods recalled. “It meant so much for my teammates just being there for me. They have so much going on with the football and the Super Bowl, and they just stayed supportive and included me.”
Woods won't get to play in the Super Bowl this weekend just a few miles from where he grew up. His torn knee ligament sidelined him for the season in November, depriving the Rams of a cornerstone element of their offense for all five seasons since coach Sean McVay's arrival.
Woods believes he has come to terms with the enormous changes in his life over the past three months. He will be able to watch Sunday's game from the sideline knowing the Rams needed him to get to this stage, even if he can't join them for the final act.
“I could sit here and mope about it and say, ‘Oh man, I wish I was out there,'” Woods said. “'The team is winning a Super Bowl ring without me.’ But I’m a part of this. ... It’s almost like flipping it. You’re like, ‘You’re right, the team wouldn’t be here without some of the plays I made, some touchdowns, blocking.’ Yeah, I didn’t play all 17, but I’m a part of this championship team. Hopefully we win it. But there’s going to be a stone in there for me, for my work. We’re all going to be a part of this. We’re all going to get a part of that ring.”
Woods has racked up 4,626 yards receiving, 485 yards rushing and 28 total touchdowns in his half-decade with the Rams and McVay, who has leaned heavily on Woods' polished skills and athleticism in nearly every aspect of his offensive game plans. Woods and Cooper Kupp — a third-round pick in 2017, several weeks after Woods signed with LA — have become one of the NFL's most productive and most professional receiving duos for both Jared Goff and Matthew Stafford.
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But Woods also plays a significant role in the Rams' locker room as a leader, a mentor and an on-field example of professionalism. With the USC product's extensive ties to his hometown, Woods is among Los Angeles' most popular players inside and outside the locker room.
Stafford put it best when he said Woods “is the LA Rams.”
“When I think about him, I think about the toughness,” Stafford said. “I think about the attention to detail. I think about unselfishness, and I think about all of the things that we talk about as a team that we want to be. That’s bottled up into one person.”
Odell Beckham Jr. agreed to join the Rams only a day before Woods' noncontact injury in practice — and Beckham said Woods' personal campaigning for him was one major reason he chose Los Angeles over his other suitors. Beckham has picked up the slack along with second-year pro Van Jefferson, but McVay would prefer to have his full complement of playmakers.
“You don't ever replace a player like Robert,” the coach said. “Figuring out the identity that we want to operate with on a weekly basis has been fluid, to say the least.”
Every Rams player and coach seems to feel Woods' absence acutely, but his bond with Kupp is clearly special.
Their parallel careers in LA and their similar playing styles make them inseparable, and Kupp clearly has been emotionally affected by Woods' struggles. While Woods hasn't provided details about his father's sudden passing, Kupp has repeatedly spoken for his teammates in expressing their empathy with Woods' mourning.
Woods and Kupp share more than a friendship. Their injury histories have a sad symmetry: Kupp missed the Rams' Super Bowl run three years ago after injuring his knee at nearly the exact point in the regular season at which Woods got hurt.
The hug that Kupp shared with Woods after the NFC title game was a viral sensation because of the clear, honest emotion flowing through both players. They won't suit up together Sunday, Woods will be with his teammates.
“He sits right next to my wife, my family, and (I heard) from her how loudly and how crazy he was cheering for us and pulling for us," Kupp said. “Being able to see him out there on that field, it’s a special thing having someone like Rob on your team. Having him as a friend, and just what he means for this team, even when he’s not able to be out there with us, it’s a special thing.”