The photos and videos have been repeated in recent years and are impressive: Aaron Donald, the Los Angeles Rams defensive star, facing up to three players at the line of scrimmage of the opposing team.
For many fans, those images are like those in cartoon comics or comics where the super hero has to face multiple monsters or villains to once again save the planet.
But now that it’s just a matter of hours before the start of Super Bowl LVI, the most reoccurring image of Aaron Donald is one in which the defensive lineman celebrates the decisive play in the NFC Championship Game against the 49ers, signaling to his left hand…pointing to the ring finger.
Winning an NFL championship ring is really the only thing missing for Aaron Donald to round out his impressive career full of achievements and accolades: 17 trophies, seven selections as the best player at his position (All Pro) and three NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards. All that and much more in eight campaigns.
The Rams will face the surprising Cincinnati Bengals this Sunday (3:30 pm/NBC, Telemundo) at SoFi Stadium for the Vince Lombardi Trophy, and among all the great stories that could be written at the end of the game, perhaps none is more significant than the of Aaron Donald reaching that coveted championship ring. No one deserves it more than him.
“The best way I can explain it is that all the good things I could say about him would not do him justice for what he means to me and to the organization“head coach Sean McVay said of his great defensive leader.
“He is unique, he is very special. He had already established himself as one of the best players in this league before I came here five years ago. All he has done since then is get better,” added McVay.
This season, Donald recorded 12.5 quarterback sacks, 19 tackles behind the line and 84 tackles. Those are pretty good numbers even though there isn’t a defensive player who has to face more double-blocks in the league, and often triple-blocks, which is a bit ridiculous and at the same time a tribute to his greatness.
Though not an especially big athlete as an interior lineman (6-foot-1, 280 pounds), Donald is a nightmare for offenses seemingly easily overpowering men 30 or 40 pounds heavier.
The brute force of the man born in Pittsburgh 30 years ago is combined with an unprecedented speed for a player in his position and a superior technique that he keeps at the top with tireless work sessions, including not always conventional methods such as when he practices hitting knives (non-cutting) with both arms.
Donald and McVay’s Rams got their first shot at the Super Bowl three years ago, but the Patriots dominated a defensive battle to win 13-3 in Atlanta.
He says the lesson from having played in a Super Bowl before is that he now knows to try to keep things like a regular-season game.
“Not making it bigger than it is, being in our same regimen of things that we do on the field, understanding that it’s the Super Bowl, understanding that it’s the biggest game of my career, but at the end of the day it’s football. , be ready like any other week,” Donald explained this week to reporters.
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Last year, the Rams were eliminated in the conference semifinals by losing to Green Bay. Donald, playing that game with broken ribs, was unable to make any significant moves to make a difference and when time was running out TV cameras caught him on the sidelines crying while being held by one of his coaches.
That moment portrayed the great competitor who knew the mission had failed. A year later, things have been different largely due to the arrival of reinforcements to the Los Angeles team.
One of them has had a special impact on Donald: linebacker Von Miller, acquired mid-season in a trade with the Denver Broncos, with whom he won Super Bowl 50 in which he was awarded ‘MVP’.
It didn’t take long for Donald and Miller to build a brotherhood that is based on mutual respect for each other’s greatness. From that special relationship emerged a new competitive seasoning.
Miller, a veteran of 11 seasons, advised Donald to talk more with his teammates, be a more vocal leader and that he not only lead by example, because the results are better.
And so it has been. When Los Angeles was down against San Francisco in the NFC Finals, Donald rallied his defense and made himself heard like never before. The result was that the 49ers never scored or were dangerous on offense again.
“You look at what Aaron Donald does and he’s the epitome of all the good things about the Rams,” coach McVay said. “But he’s also used his voice and he does it at the right times to really challenge his teammates to raise their level of play and that’s one of the reasons we’re here.”
Miller, in explaining that interesting challenge for what was already the best defensive player in the NFL, made an interesting revelation: “Being selfish, I mean I was the guy who helped ‘AD’ win a Super Bowl… and being able to tell my son when he’s older that I played with ‘AD’ and helped him complete his entire to-do list.”
The presence of veteran players on the team like Miller, who as an outside linebacker has helped to prevent rivals from being able to focus too much on Donald, is something that “AD” sees as an advantage over other seasons.
“Many players have been in the Super Bowl, from the time we played it. We have guys like Von (Miller), who have won the Super Bowl. There are experienced people, there are experienced coaches, so that definitely helps,” he said.
The great Donald and his Rams are just one win away from him having his ring and Miller fulfilling his special goal. Everything will be defined this Sunday during three and a half hours of fighting against the talented, but young, Bengals. “AD” accepts that it is the perfect opportunity.
“Obviously we did what it took to get to this point and have the opportunity to be in another Super Bowl, but this time at home, in our own stadium, practicing in our own facilities and being able to be in our own homes with our families. It definitely keeps the stress level down,” he commented.
Two Sundays ago, shortly after the Rams sealed their spot in the Super Bowl thanks to an excellent defensive play in which Donald caused an intercepted pass, he took a shower and returned to the field with his partner and their three children. The five of them sat on the confetti covered court and Aaron began to hug each one of them living a touching moment.. But the most special of all is still missing.
“I’m ready,” Donald said. “Excited to go out on the court on Sunday and compete.”
Ricardo López Juárez is the official Spanish-language analyst for the Los Angeles Rams.