It's been almost three months since Rams wide receiver Robert Woods sustained a torn ACL in a November practice, sidelining him for the remainder of the season. During that time – last month, to be exact – his father suddenly passed away.
Throughout it all, though, Woods has been able to stay positive, thanks to reinforcement from both himself and his teammates.
"I feel like recently I was able to like overcome that feeling of like, 'Ah, man, not being a part of it,'" Woods said during a video conference with reporters Tuesday. "I feel like the team has been really really big on like, 'You're part of this, you're part of this, you're part of this.' Initially, you're fresh out of being injured, fresh out of surgery and you're like 'Man, I was just doing that a few weeks ago, just making plays.' But really, I feel like I was able to get past that and able to really enjoy this whole playoff experience."
"Man, you're going to make me get emotional on here."
Rams offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth was asked about Woods during his Super Bowl LVI media session on Monday, and acknowledges it's "a tough one to even talk about."
"Robert is one of those guys that is so special. He puts his heart and his soul into everything he does..."
Whitworth has to take a brief moment to collect himself.
Prior to the injury, Woods had tallied 45 receptions for 556 yards and four touchdowns, including seven for 98 against the Titans in the game that preceded the injury, as the Rams went 7-2 through their first nine games. However, his influence went beyond the numbers he put up.
Quarterback Matthew Staffordsaid Woods "is the L.A. Rams" and was an "unbelievable guy" when it came to getting to know his new Rams teammates, as well as getting in extra throwing sessions and work together during the offseason. That work ethic set the tone for many players, including Stafford.
"When I think about him, I think about toughness, I think about attention to detail, I think about unselfishness, I think about all the things that we talk about as a team that we want to be, bottled up into one person," Stafford said.
In mid-January, wide receiver Cooper Kupp said he was grateful Woods' rehab sessions took place at the team facility in the morning because it allowed him to spend extra time with Woods talking through what Woods was seeing in their games. Woods' circumstances gave him a unique outside-in perspective on what was happening that Kupp values. And even before the injury, Kupp said he owed a lot to Woods because of the way he's invested in his development and enabled him to succeed over the last five years.
No teammate knows how it feels to be in Woods' shoes more than Kupp, whose season-ending knee injury in November 2018 sidelined him for the Rams' run to their first Super Bowl appearance under head coach Sean McVay. Kupp on Monday said it was "one of the hardest things I've been through" because of the conflict it creates internally – equally wanting teammates to succeed, but also wanting to be there and knowing he can't be a part of it like he wants to.
Even when Woods was managing those emotions, he still managed to be there to support his teammates, attending both of the Rams' home playoff games to this point. He and Kupp embraced and shared an emotional moment following the NFC Championship that was indicative of the support he was receiving.
"Being able to have Rob out there (at the NFC Championship), just the emotion he had," Kupp said on Jan. 31, when asked about his postgame embrace with Woods. "He sits right next to my wife, my family, and being able to hear from her how loudly and how crazy he was cheering for us and pulling for us, and 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. He's a very special person."
Staying connected to the team in those ways and others – Woods also sat next to Kupp and wide receiver Van Jefferson on the bus ride to Monday's Super Bowl Opening Night Fan Rally at Oaks Christian – has helped him during these challenging times.
"I'm hurt, tore my ACL, but still having joy in seeing the team's success in getting this far, and still feel a part of it," Woods said. "I feel like it's just, it's an emotion of up and down, but when you really look at the joy and the accomplishments that I have accomplished, my teammates have accomplished, there's so much joy. It overshadows the pain."
Whitworth and Woods have had a strong bond since being the first two players to sign in Los Angeles after McVay became head coach. Whitworth remembers his kids wearing Woods' newly-made Rams jerseys to the joint press conference at the facility, the start of a five-year that now has two NFC Championships and two Super Bowl appearances.
Players like Woods are what make every in the Rams locker room appreciate playing the game of football "just a little bit more" because of who he is, according to Whitworth.
"He'll be on our hearts this week because his leadership and who he's been for this football team over the last five years is nothing short of just excellent and unbelievable," Whitworth said.
Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald likewise echoed similar sentiments about Woods' leadership, and said they want to win a Super Bowl for Woods as much as they do those other veterans on the team seeking their first one.
"We're trying to win a Super Bowl for Robert Woods, too," Donald said Monday.
Stafford said Woods should take pride in the number of ways both on and off the field that he's helped get the team to where it is today.
With those those conflicting emotions behind him, Woods now certainly does.
"I could sit here and mope about it and say, 'Oh, man, I wish I was out there. The team is winning a Super Bowl ring without me,' but I'm a part of this, man," Woods said with a smile. "I feel like that's just being able to look at it from that perspective and not really feel out of it. It's almost flipping it, like, you're' right, the team wouldn't be here without some of the plays I contributed on, some touchdowns, some blocking. Yeah, I didn't play all 17, but I'm a part of this championship team. Hopefully we win it, but there's gonna be a stone in there for me, for my work. We all going to be a part of this. We're all going to get a part of that ring whatever it is."