How Eric Weddle went from retirement to Super Bowl starter in 4 1⁄2 weeks

Eric Weddle bad been happily retired for two years, living in the northern suburbs of San Diego, coaching the 12-and-under Rancho Bernardo Broncos football team and playing cutthroat five-on-five pickup basketball once or twice a week.

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Super Bowl LVI - Los Angeles Rams Practice & Media Day

Rams safety Eric Weddle conducts an interview Friday after practice in Thousand Oaks, Calif.

Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — Eric Weddle had been happily retired for two years, living in the northern suburbs of San Diego, coaching the 12-and-under Rancho Bernardo Broncos football team and playing cutthroat five-on-five pickup basketball once or twice a week.

Then the Rams called last month. One of their safeties, Taylor Rapp, was in the concussion protocol. Another, Jordan Fuller, had an ankle injury.

Defensive coordinator Raheem Morris asked whether Weddle, who just had turned 37, was in shape — and whether he wanted to play football again.

Weddle, a six-time Pro Bowl player, had spent the first nine seasons of his career with the Chargers and then three with the Ravens. He played for the Rams in 2019 before retiring, so they knew what he could offer.

Weddle told the Rams he was in shape, but it was more complicated than that. Weddle couldn’t even sleep on the offer: The Rams gave him six hours to make a decision before they would move on with their search.

He said yes and joined the team Jan. 12, five days before the Rams’ wild-card playoff game against the Cardinals. Weddle played about a third of the Rams’ defensive snaps in that victory. He was on the field for 85% of their defensive plays against the Buccaneers and every single one in their NFC Championship Game victory against the 49ers.

On Sunday, he will start at safety in his first Super Bowl and will be responsible for relaying all the Rams’ defensive calls.

‘‘I’ve already won,’’ Weddle said as the Rams finished preparations Friday to play the Bengals. ‘‘Nobody gets a second chance like I did five weeks ago, especially a guy that retired two years ago. This never happens.’’

Someone asked whether he had seen the 1978 movie ‘‘Heaven Can Wait,’’ in which a Rams quarterback, played by Warren Beatty, is taken away by an overzealous guardian angel and returns to earth as a rich businessman. Weddle said he hadn’t, but he wanted to in retirement.

His own story isn’t that far off: a dad plucked off the pickup basketball floor — where Weddle calls himself ‘‘Mamba 2.0’’ — and thrust back into a Rams uniform.

For that reason, Weddle will be as compelling a story as any of the Rams’ big-ticket defensive players.

Tackle Aaron Donald is the best defensive player in the league and will be looking to avenge his Super Bowl performance against the Patriots three years ago, in which he was limited to one quarterback hit. Outside linebacker Von Miller will be looking to repeat his effort from his last Super Bowl appearance six years ago, in which he recorded 2½ sacks against the Panthers and was voted MVP.

Both will be eyeing Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow, who was sacked nine times by the Titans in the divisional round of the AFC playoffs.

‘‘We already had a solid group, then you add Von Miller,’’ Donald said. ‘‘It’ll take a triple-team off me.’’

If anyone benefits from the pass rush, it will be Weddle and his teammates in the Rams’ secondary.

‘‘This is why you play,’’ Weddle said. ‘‘This is why you put everything into it. It started 15 years ago, when I first got into the league. You play this game to win a championship.’’

Weddle retired two years ago because he said he couldn’t devote his entire being to the sport.

‘‘I didn’t want to deal with the pain,’’ he said. ‘‘I didn’t want to deal with the time.’’

He was willing to try again — but only for a few weeks. Had the Rams lost their first playoff game, his comeback would have lasted only five days.

‘‘The course of the last five weeks reminded me why I hung it up in the first place,’’ Weddle said. ‘‘It’s tough to do this, especially the older you get.’’

He’ll feel better with a victory Sunday. Then he’ll walk away — again.

‘‘When the stars aligned to be here in this moment,’’ he said, ‘‘I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t take that chance.’’

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