DETROIT – For 12 years, Kelly Stafford has been the first lady of the Detroit Lions franchise.
The wife of quarterback Matthew Stafford has made headlines of her own and captured attention of fans here in the Motor City.
The mother of four shared her brain tumor battle, working to raise awareness, and always shared her mind on social media if she thought the home team wasn’t being treated fairly.
As the Staffords prepare for the next step, Kelly is talking about life in Detroit and the plans to help those who need it most in the city. Leaving isn’t easy for her.
“I mean, it’s hitting all the emotions, right now. Again, I think the first time I came here I was 19,” she said.
One last goodbye
Kelly, Matthew, and their girls went to Ford Field one last time to say goodbye. While the girls were running around the field and cheering “go Lions,” I asked Kelly what she wanted to say to the fans who supported her husband for 12 years.
“I mean, I obviously thank you. They have supported my husband, my family, no matter what’s going on, on or off the field, through everything,” she said.
The fans, many of whom follow Kelly’s every move on her Instagram page, have watched her grow up here in Detroit. She has transformed from girlfriend, to wife, to mother of four, to brain tumor survivor.
The transformation is not lost on Kelly.
“We really grew and evolved as a couple here, as a family here and I really couldn’t have pictured us doing it anywhere else,” she said.
Kelly Stafford and Matthew Stafford in an Instagram post on Jan. 25, 2021.
‘Here, it’s all everyone just wants -- what’s best for the city’
Kelly often shared -- and sometimes, she admits, she overshared -- her Lions opinions, especially if she thought the referees were unfair. Saying goodbye to Detroit will be tough for her.
“The people here, I mean, there’s just like a genuine soul to the people here. You know, even where I’m from, where Matthew’s from, sometimes you don’t know people’s motives, but here, it’s all everyone just wants -- what’s best for the city,” she said.
She watched fans sometimes go after her husband. She admits he does a better job of blocking out the noise. But Kelly’s connection to the fanbase shifted when she was faced with a medical crisis -- a brain tumor. Thankfully, her 12-hour surgery and recovery have been a success. In that moment, though, regardless of what was happening on the field, Detroiters did what they always do. They rallied around her.
“When we announced what was going on with me, health-wise, I really wasn’t expecting the support,” she said, tearing up. “The support I got from here. I got, we got, tons of letters and 99% of them were from people in Michigan.”
Matthew appreciated the support for his wife as well.
“I mean, every time we know ran into people, they’re just genuine and they cared about the Lions and us trying to win as many games as we possibly could, but also cared about Kelly and my family and everybody, so it’s something that, you know, we don’t take for granted,” he said.
Kelly and Matthew are now focused on helping the city that lifted them up so many times. They are teaming up with Mitch Albom. The investment they are making in Detroit will change lives for years to come.
It is important to the couple.
“We wanted to just leave something that shows how grateful we are to this place,” said Kelly.
FILE - In this Dec. 20, 2020, file photo, Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) passes the ball during the second quarter of the team's NFL football game against the Tennessee Titans in Nashville, Tenn. The Lions are trading Stafford to the Los Angeles Rams in exchange for quarterback Jared Goff, two future first-round picks and a third-round pick, a person with knowledge of the deal tells The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity Saturday night, Jan. 30, because the deal has not been completed. (AP Photo/Brett Carlsen, File)