THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – Getting to one Super Bowl is difficult. A repeat trip, let alone a second appearance at any point in the future, even harder.
That perspective is fresh on Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald's mind as he prepares for his second – Super Bowl LVI on Feb. 13 at SoFi Stadium.
"This time around, I could honestly say you appreciate it that much more," Donald said during a video conference with reporters Friday. "Not saying I didn't appreciate it the first time, but you get there the first time, you're kind of thinking you're going to get back the following year, (but) it don't work like that. Having an opportunity to battle and find a way to get here, you just appreciate it that much more."
It has been a challenging, but ultimately rewarding path back to the Super Bowl for Donald.
As he alluded to, the Rams followed their appearance in Super Bowl LIII with a 9-7 season in 2019 that included being eliminated from the playoffs in Week 16 via a loss to the 49ers. In 2020, they returned to the postseason with a win-and-in victory over the Cardinals in Week 17, but lost to the Packers in the Divisional Round, with cameras capturing an emotional Donald on the sidelines as the final seconds ticked away.
Which brings Los Angeles to this year, a 12-5 campaign that Donald contributed a team-high 12.5 sacks to as they captured they No. 4 seed and knocked off the Cardinals, defending-champion Buccaneers and rival 49ers to reach Super Bowl LVI.
The biggest difference between each of the Rams' Super Bowl teams, according to Donald, is simply experience.
"A lot of players (have) been at this game, that was with us when we went. Got guys like (outside linebacker) Von (Miller) that have won a Super Bowl. You've got guys that have got that experience, you've got coaches that have got that experience, so that definitely helps."
Along the way, Donald has found his voice – or at least used it more than he did in the past – in his quest to achieve the ultimate goal.
"His voice speaks volumes, and when he actually speaks to us, we all listen – from a coaches standpoint, from a player standpoint, just in the whole organization," Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris said.
"Having them conversations with Von, and certain things he's telling me to motivate me, and the things he's trying to do to help not just get me a ring, (but) get us a ring, it's definitely been special," Donald said.
Miller and other teammates know Donald's work ethic. They also know what this means to him, which is part of what's driving them to help him and the team succeed.
"Selfishly, I want to be the guy that helped Aaron Donald get a Super Bowl," Miller said Thursday. "When he walks across the stage in Canton and he says, 'Man, when Von Miller came to the team, things changed,' that's what I do it for, that's it."
After finding a way to battle back and return to the Super Bowl, Donald knows not to take this journey for granted.
"Blessed to have the opportunity to be playing in my second Super Bowl," Donald said. "Hopefully we have some success and find a way to win this game."