Had it been a text message with a cocktail glass and a thumb’s up, Drew Stanton would have thought nothing of it. But when Stanton looked down at his cell phone Christmas eve morning and saw a missed call from Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians, he figured something was up.
Arians called Stanton’s phone a second time later that morning, and when the semi-retired quarterback picked up, he had no idea he was about to get on the ride of his football life.
The Bucs lost practice squad quarterback Josh Rosen to the San Francisco 49ers two days earlier and were looking for a replacement. Insurance, Arians explained, in this COVID-19 world.
Stanton, the former Farmington Hills Harrison and Michigan State star who was a second-round pick by the Detroit Lions in 2007, was a natural fit. He played one season for Arians with the Indianapolis Colts and five more for him with the Arizona Cardinals. He knew Arians’ offense well enough to run it blindfolded. And he was tight with most of the Bucs’ offensive staff.
Stay home and enjoy Christmas with your family, Arians told him, then come help us win a championship.
Stanton, who adores Arians, had stayed in shape out of habit, but had not picked up a football in months, since Larry Fitzgerald phoned him over the summer in need of a throwing partner. He never officially retired from the NFL, but was content living the dad life and watching football on TV.blob:https://high5ivefoundation.org/aed6847f-7971-4871-b800-c13846a44614
Stanton told Arians he’d have to talk with his wife, Kristin, who gave birth to the couple’s fourth child in July. When she signed off, and with his 8-year-old son, Asher, gung-ho about seeing his dad in the NFL again, he called Arians 20 minutes later and told him he was in.
Forty-five days after that fateful phone call, Stanton has a chance to cap his career with the most unlikely of Super Bowl rings when the Bucs play the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday in Super Bowl LV.
Stanton likely will watch the game from the press box, and be thankful he’s there.
“I don’t take it for granted and I know what a special opportunity this is,” Stanton said by phone last week. “To be around it’s really neat. To be around the guys and that type of an atmosphere, especially for a team that’s playing extremely well, it’s great and it’s funny cause I’ve gotten a lot of texts from people that are, ‘Oh, this is so awesome. I’m so happy for you,’ especially when we won the NFC championship game. I was like, ‘Guys, I did as much as you did. I’m a fan on Sundays.’ ‘Oh, no, this is great. You deserve it.’ I go, ‘I don’t deserve anything. This is just icing on the cake for me.’ ”
One of the best prep quarterbacks to come out of the metro Detroit area in the past 20 years, Stanton thought his NFL career was done when the Cleveland Browns put him on injured reserve with a sham knee injury last fall.
In some ways, it felt like his career had come full circle: In 2007, the Lions buried him on injured reserve in training camp after minor knee surgery.
If last year had been his swan song, Stanton would have been completely content to walk away from football.
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He won a state championship in high school, started the better part of three seasons at MSU, played with a slew of future Hall of Fame players as a pro — Calvin Johnson, Adrian Peterson, Reggie Wayne and Fitzgerald, to name four — and experienced the highs (reaching the NFC championship game in 2015) and lows (an 0-16 season with the Lions) of the NFL.
A backup most of his career, Stanton won 11 of the 17 games he started with the Lions and Cardinals, and was held in high enough esteem that two franchises — the Colts and Browns — brought him in to help tutor their No. 1 draft pick quarterbacks, Andrew Luck and Baker Mayfield.
Stanton watched proudly this fall as Mayfield led the Browns to their first playoff berth since 2002, and he would have spent January rooting for his friend in the playoffs had Arians not picked up the phone.
“I went to Cleveland to just kind of be a mentor and left there feeling like I wasn’t able to accomplish everything that I wanted to, to try and help Baker before I left,” Stanton said. “But the season he had this year was really gratifying to see from afar and see from a fan, and to get this opportunity to come and just be a fly on the wall in the quarterback room has been really neat for six weeks. So it’s an opportunity that I was never expecting and I’ll kind of just ride off into the sunset.”
At 36, Stanton said he has not made up his mind about his future, though he is not actively looking to play in 2021, and has started to consider his post playing career.
He spoke late in the season with Lions senior vice president of football and business administration Mike Disner about joining the franchise. Disner was director of football administration in Arizona when Stanton played for the Cardinals, and Stanton played with new Lions coach Dan Campbell in Detroit and for new executive John Dorsey in Cleveland.
And he’s a doting dad of his four kids. During Tampa’s NFC championship game win over the Green Bay Packers, Stanton, who has been apart from his family due to COVID protocols since he arrived in Tampa on Dec. 27, said his son FaceTimed in the fourth quarter to discuss the game.Get the Lions headlines newsletter in your inbox.
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“He’s like, ‘We’re going to do it, Daddy, I know we are. All we got to do is we got to score and we got to stop them and then we’ll win the game,’ ” Stanton said. “And I was like, ‘That’s actually pretty accurate, yeah.’ So he was like super fired up. And he’s all in right now for the Buccaneers.”
Stanton is, too, naturally.
As the Bucs’ No. 3 quarterback, he gets only a smattering of reps in practice, though he does take part in all meetings in person, socially distanced and wearing a mask.
He has watched 43-year-old Bucs quarterback Tom Brady in amazement, admiration his preparation and attention to detail.
And if he’s called on to play by some strange circumstance Sunday, he’ll be ready for his moment.
“My arm feels great,” he said. “I feel like if I absolutely had to, which I don’t think anybody wants to see, I would feel confident doing that.”
Regardless if he plays or not, Stanton is in position to end his career with a Super Bowl ring should the Bucs beat Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs.
If that happens, he said he’ll keep it on his mantle or in his office, a conversation piece over wine about his fulfilling career and this crazy season.
“I got here Week 17,” Stanton said. “These guys have been working hard and doing a lot of work put into that. So to be quite honest, it’d be really neat and it’s going to be a heck of a story, but beyond that, I can’t speak too much to it because like I said, this was not even on the table until literally Christmas Eve. This was a good Christmas present and I’ll look at it as such.”
Contact Dave Birkett at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.