Aaron Donald leaves a legacy of greatness

What can you say that hasn’t already been said about Aaron Donald? Defensive Rookie of the Year. Pro Bowler. All-Pro. Team leader. Super Bowl champion. 

With Donald, one superlative triumphs another. That’s how great he was as a player in the National Football League (NFL). With his announcement that came via the social media platform “X” (formerly known as Twitter), that he has decided to hang up his cleats for good, Donald leaves behind some big shoes for the Los Angeles Rams to fill. 

Los Angeles Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald (99) chase down Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Rondale Moore (4) during an NFL game played at SoFi Stadium on Oct. 15, 2023. Photo credit: Sammy Saludo/News4usonline
Los Angeles Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald (99) chased down Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Rondale Moore (4) during an NFL game played at SoFi Stadium on Oct. 15, 2023. Photo credit: Sammy Saludo/News4usonline

Rams head coach Sean McVay will no doubt miss Donald’s presence.   

“The great players in our league elevate the people around them and Aaron has modeled the way for our team as long as I’ve been with the Rams,” McVay said in a statement. “He’s an elite competitor, someone who leads by example in a way that’s authentic to him, and an exceptional teammate who inspires everyone around him to be the best version of themselves. 

“As great of a player he is, he’s an even better person. He is truly one of one and epitomizes everything that’s right about sports. I will forever cherish the memories we’ve made and will always be grateful for how he poured everything into this game and into our team. He’s meant a lot to me personally and to my family,” McVay added. 

Donald started his career with the Rams when the team was known as the St. Louis Rams. That lasted two years before the former Orange County-based franchise relocated to Southern California and became the Los Angeles Rams. 

It didn’t matter where the Rams played, No. 99 was always going to be present, always going to be the dominant force that has made him a future Hall of Famer. When Donald played, you knew that he was giving every ounce of dripping sweat to try to win a football game. 

Family time. Aaron Donald with his family. File Photo/Mark Hammond/News4usonline

In his case, the best way Donald could do that was to sew a lot of chaos in the opposing team’s offensive backfield and track down the quarterback. Donald did much of that during his amazing 10-year career in the NFL. 

During a decade-long career of playing grit and grind football, Donald became enemy No. 1 for opposing quarterbacks. At the time he announced his retirement, Donald wrapped up his career with 111 sacks. 

Considering the number of times that he was often doubled-teamed and triple-teamed throughout his career, Donald became football’s version of “The Equalizer.” Whenever the Rams’ defense encountered some difficulty, Donald was always the solution. Just ask Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals. 

It was Donald who sealed the deal for the Rams to win Super Bowl LVI when he brought the heat to Burrow and forced the Cincinnati quarterback into a harmless incomplete throw on 4th-and-1 with seconds remaining in the game. 

“We are so grateful for Aaron’s dedication to greatness and for leading our franchise on and off the field for the past decade,” said Rams Owner/Chairman E. Stanley Kroenke. 

“He has left his mark on generations of football fans and his accomplishments, coupled with his work ethic and passion, continue to inspire his teammates, coaches and athletes across the globe. It is a privilege to have witnessed one of the greatest players of all time and we are proud that Aaron Donald will forever be part of NFL history as a member of the Rams,” Kroenke added. 

The moment was never too big for Donald. Perhaps more impressive than Donald’s ferocity in which he played is the fact he was there. Despite the relentless physical punishment he absorbed over the years by just being in the trenches, Donald was almost always present and ready to go on game day. 

Aaron Donald (99) played his entire career with the Rams organization. A three-time Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year, Donald retired from the NFL with 111 quarterback sacks. Photo credit: Mark Hammond/News4usonline

In that regard, Donald proved to be a true Ironman. He played in 16 regular season games in eight of the 10 years he played in the NFL. During that period, Donald became the chief disruptor, claiming double-digits in sacks in six seasons, including registering 20.5 quarterback takedowns in 2018. 

Hyperbole and numbers don’t fully tell the impact of Donald in the middle of the Rams defensive front over the years.  He was voted All-Pro eight times. He was named to the Pro Bowl 10 times. And there is the matter of Donald being tapped to win the Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year award three times (2017, 2018, 2020). 

You just don’t replace Aaron Donald. But the Rams are now tasked to do just that as the team prepares for the 2024 NFL season. That’s one gaping hole to fill. At 6-foot-1 and 280 pounds, Donald was the embodiment of a physical warrior. 

And if this is possible, Donald’s relentless motor came with a desire to be the best at what he does. 

“There will never be another Aaron Donald,” said Rams general manager Les Snead.

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