Cooper Kupp is looking to add the finishing touches to one of the top seasons ever put together by an NFL wide receiver.
But on a deeper level, the Los Angeles Rams star is just grateful he will be on the field for this Super Bowl.
Kupp missed the team’s appearance in the big game four years ago due to an ACL tear, so he’s thrilled to be in uniform when the Rams face the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl LVI on Sunday at Inglewood, Calif.
Kupp severely injured his left knee during a game against the Seattle Seahawks on Nov. 11, 2018, causing him to be sidelined for a 13-3 loss to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LIII.
“Missing that Super Bowl, that’s one of the hardest things I’ve been through,” Kupp said. “The conflict it creates in you, when you are both cheering and pulling for your guys. … You’re pulling for them, but every step of the way, every time they succeed it hurts you that much more because you want to be part of it as well.”
Kupp will play a lead role in this Super Bowl after a season that merited MVP consideration.
The 28-year-old Kupp became the fourth player since the AFL-NFL merger to win the receiving triple crown, leading the league in receptions (145), receiving yardage (1,947) and touchdown catches (16). The others are the San Francisco 49ers’ Jerry Rice in 1990, the Green Bay Packers’ Sterling Sharpe in 1992 and the Carolina Panthers’ Steve Smith in 2005.
“I’ve gotten a full year with Cooper and his greatness,” Rams first-year quarterback Matthew Stafford said. “His ability to affect the game with the football — any kind of way you can affect the game, he does it.”
Kupp is enjoying a strong postseason with 25 catches for 386 yards and four touchdowns. He needs seven receptions to surpass the postseason record set by Travis Kelce of the Kansas City Chiefs last season.
Kupp’s rise to one of the NFL’s top receivers has been stunning. Not one major college offered a scholarship to the Yakima, Wash., native. His family tried to get the University of Washington to take a chance, but the Pac-12 school passed.
Kupp went to Eastern Washington of the Big Sky and racked up pinball numbers over four seasons, setting FCS career records of 428 catches, 6,464 yards and 73 touchdowns. He won the Walter Payton Award as the top FCS player in 2015.
When the 2017 NFL Draft rolled around, his college accomplishments were overlooked. The Rams landed him in the third round with the 69th overall pick.
Kupp was an immediate hit with 62 catches for 859 yards and five scores. He was on his way to a bigger season the following season before the ACL injury ended his season after eight games. He had 40 catches for 566 yards and six touchdowns.
Kupp returned in 2019, motivated to display that the injury was merely a setback. He proved it by catching 94 passes for 1,161 yards and 10 touchdowns.
“At no point was there any doubt in my mind I was going to come back and be better than before,” Kupp said. “I felt like I had been given an opportunity to rebuild myself exactly how I wanted to. I could run the way I wanted to run, I could run routes the way I wanted to run routes, I could cut the way I wanted to cut and eliminate bad habits.”
The Bengals had trouble covering Kupp in 2019 in London. Kupp racked up a career-best 220 receiving yards on just seven catches, including a 65-yard scoring reception in the Rams’ 24-10 win.
Cincinnati cornerback Mike Hilton, who wasn’t part of the 2019 Bengals, is expected to have most of the coverage duties on Sunday.
“He’s just deceptive,” Hilton said of Kupp. “He knows how to switch tempos, slow his feet down and create separation for himself. That’s their go-to guy, and he’s expected to win his one-on-one. But I know what I can do. That’s going to be my mission this week.”
–Field Level Media