THE SU­PER BOWL WILL BE BIT­TER­SWEET FOR RAMS RE­CEIVER COOPER KUPP

The Tribune (SLO) - - Insight - BY BENJAMIN HOFF­MAN

To miss a Su­per Bowl be­cause of an in­jury is bad enough. To have it hap­pen in your first Su­per Bowl seems es­pe­cially cruel. In the case of Cooper Kupp, the stand­out slot re­ceiver for the Los An­ge­les Rams, it’s hard to say whether the an­guish this week­end will be greater for him or for his team.

Kupp, 25, en­tered his sec­ond sea­son as one of the Rams’ top three wide re­ceivers, along­side Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods, but in the team’s 5-0 start, he emerged as the one quar­ter­back Jared Goff would look for when things got par­tic­u­larly dif­fi­cult. Kupp earned that trust by catch­ing 75 per­cent of the passes thrown his way and scor­ing five touch­downs in those five games.

But Sun­day, as the Rams try to beat the New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots and win the fran­chise’s first cham­pi­onship since the 1999 sea­son, Kupp will be re­duced to a spec­ta­tor. A knee sprain cost him most of Weeks 6 through 8. A torn ACL in his left knee, which he suf­fered in Week 10, ended his sea­son. Sev­eral high­pro­file play­ers, like Car­son Wentz, Von Miller and Jeremy Shockey, have found them­selves in the same po­si­tion in re­cent years, all feel­ing a deep sense of loss even as they tried to share their team­mates’ joy.

While Los An­ge­les still has plenty of stars on of­fense, there is no get­ting around what the team lost when Kupp went down for the sea­son.

The num­bers are fairly stark. Goff com­pleted 68.4 per­cent of his passes through Week 10 and had a passer rat­ing of 113. In the six reg­u­lar-sea­son games Goff played af­ter Kupp’s in­jury, those num­bers were re­duced to 59.8 per­cent and 83.9.

Coach Sean McVay put things fairly bluntly to re­porters shortly af­ter Kupp’s in­jury. “Any­time you lose a player of Cooper’s cal­iber and what he’s meant to our of­fense, you don’t re­place guys like that,” McVay said.

But the Rams are in the Su­per Bowl any­way. Woods, who has largely as­sumed Kupp’s role in the of­fense, said he felt it was im­por­tant for Kupp to be in­cluded in ev­ery­thing lead­ing up the game be­cause he is a big rea­son the team got this far.

Play­ers miss the Su­per Bowl due to in­jury ev­ery year. Some stars make it back to the big game; oth­ers have not. Here is a look at other high-pro­file play­ers who were side­lined in their first shot at the sport’s ul­ti­mate honor:

Car­son Wentz, Ea­gles: Philadel­phia’s run to a vic­tory in Su­per Bowl LII over the Pa­tri­ots last year was fu­eled by out­rage about be­ing de­clared un­der-

dogs, in large part be­cause Wentz, the quar­ter­back and a can­di­date for the NFL’s Most Valu­able Player Award, was lost for the sea­son af­ter he tore a knee lig­a­ment in Week 13. With Wentz, the Ea­gles had been con­sid­ered a fa­vorite to win the cham­pi­onship.

In the weeks lead­ing up to the Ea­gles’ 41-33 tri­umph over New Eng­land, the play­ers and coaches ral­lied around backup Nick Foles, wear­ing rub­ber dog masks and rel­ish­ing the idea that no one be­lieved in them. Wentz did his best to project hap­pi­ness for his team­mates’ Cin­derella story, while not at­tempt­ing to hide his own frus­tra­tion.

“Ev­ery time the of­fense comes on the field on Sun­day, it’s tough,” Wentz said of the games he missed. “It hits me a lit­tle bit. But then I’m in it. I love these guys, and I’m a part of this team as much as any­body else.” Von Miller, Bron­cos: That Miller’s ca­reer sur­vived the 2013 sea­son is still a thing of won­der. The No. 2 pick in the 2011 draft, Miller was phe­nom­e­nal in his first two sea­sons, to­tal­ing 30 sacks. The out­side line­backer be­gan his third sea­son un­der sus­pen­sion af­ter vi­o­lat­ing the NFL’s sub­stance abuse pol­icy and ended it by tear­ing the ACL in his right knee in Week 16. He had to watch from the side­lines as his team­mates were trounced by the Seat­tle Sea­hawks, 43-8, in Su­per Bowl XLVIII.

He took full ad­van­tage of his chance two years later, ru­in­ing Cam New­ton’s day and earn­ing the Su­per Bowl 50 MVP award.

Mau­r­kice Pouncey, Steel­ers: Pitts­burgh had won two Su­per Bowls in the pre­vi­ous five sea­sons and were look­ing like some­thing of a dy­nasty. Draft­ing 18th in 2010, the team se­lected Pouncey, a cen­ter who stepped in as a starter from Day 1 and earned a Pro Bowl spot for his ex­cep­tional play.

Pouncey, then 21, was on track to be­come one of the youngest starters in Su­per Bowl his­tory, but he in­jured an an­kle in Pitts­burgh’s win over the Jets in the AFC Cham­pi­onship Game, forc­ing the Steel­ers to scram­ble to re­place him.

The Steel­ers ul­ti­mately lost Su­per Bowl XLV, 31-25, to Green Bay, and the two-time first-team All-Pro and seven-time Pro Bowl se­lec­tion has yet to get an­other chance at the big game.

Jeremy Shockey, Gi­ants: Shockey was in his sixth year with New York when the team un­ex­pect­edly made a run to the Su­per Bowl XLII in the 2007 sea­son. Shockey had been a key part of the team’s of­fense from his first day in the NFL, av­er­ag­ing 62 catches and 705 yards a sea­son from the tight end po­si­tion, but his 2007 sea­son ended when he broke his fibula in Week 15.

Shockey never played for the Gi­ants again. The team traded him to the New Or­leans Saints in the off­sea­son. Things turned out fine for both sides: Shockey caught a touch­down pass for the Saints in their Su­per Bowl XLIV win, and the Gi­ants up­set the Pa­tri­ots again in Su­per Bowl XLVI.

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