ATLANTA -- This Sunday could be personal, but Brandin Cooks doesn't come across as a vengeful person.
The Los Angeles Rams wide receiver and onetime New England Patriot is proud to admit his affinity for SpongeBob SquarePants. Cooks also isn't discreet about his spirituality, reciting Scripture as if the Bible is his most important playbook.
But when reporters tried to nudge Cooks about playing his former team in Super Bowl LIII, Cooks refused to take the bait, despite the fact that the Patriots opted to trade him to the Rams rather than extend his contract. He made his feelings clear without a tirade.
"You think you can be somewhere for a while, but at the end of the day, you don't hold on to that," Cooks said of his one season in New England. "It's unfortunate. But at the same time, I'm blessed. [God] sent me somewhere that's so special. All I can do is be thankful for that fact."
Cooks also expressed gratitude for time spent around coach Bill Belichick and the rest of the Patriots. It was 19 games and 1,141 offensive snaps, yet he matured during his short stint with a perennial championship franchise.
"I became a smarter football player, there's no doubt about it," Cooks said. "Learning from a guy like Coach Belichick and Josh McDaniels, just becoming more of a student of the game. I've learned a lot from them. Just being disciplined and doing my job the best way that I can, and the little details, it's huge over there and I learned that as a player.'"
Oh, and playing alongside quarterback Tom Brady wasn't too bad, either. That's why unlike Rams teammate Nickell Robey-Coleman, Cooks refused to say age has deteriorated the skills of the 41-year-old Brady. In fact, Cooks said he "learned a lot" from Brady.
Has Brady lost his step?
"Absolutely not," Cooks said. "No, no."
Again, this is not a Cooks vs. Patriots main event, although Cooks admitted getting traded always adds "fuel to the fire," being that the New Orleans Saints traded him to New England.
But if Cooks is fighting against anything come Sunday, it's himself. He was brutally honest reflecting on last year's Super Bowl disappointment as a Patriot, when a concussion knocked him out of the game in the second quarter. Cooks had one reception for 23 yards before exiting, and the Patriots went on to lose to the Philadelphia Eagles 41-33.
"I feel like, personally, I disappointed my team not being able to be out there and finish the game," Cooks said. "But it also gave me that hunger, that motivation to have a better offseason, to work harder no matter what the circumstances are, and to understand that I’ll be back on this stage. And I’m blessed to be here just the following year.”
Cooks, with his 4.3-second speed, is a player capable of breaking open for a big play at any moment as he prepares to face the same secondary he once battled daily in practice. One of those defensive backs, safety Patrick Chung, was bold enough to tell Patriots fans, "We're gonna go out there and kick their ass, baby!" during the team's send-off rally. Chung's confident claim led to Cooks' response of, "Hey Chung, we heard you talking that talk back there in Foxborough ... let's get straight," during the Rams' rally.
"That's my guy," Cooks said of Chung. "It's one of those things, it's all about the emotions that's building up to the game and understanding that we're getting ready to go against a great team. But we're a great team as well. So it's just more of back-and-forth, having fun with that, and let everything else take care of itself."
Cooks feels more than prepared for the challenge, for many reasons. For starters, he has an offensive-minded head coach he firmly believes in with Sean McVay, the guy he called a "modern day Einstein" on McVay's 33rd birthday.
"From the moment that I met him, I knew it was something special about him," Cooks said. "And the bond we were able to create from coach to player, so far it's been amazing.
"He's probably one of the most stylish coaches out there. Seeing his 'swag,' he can relate, for sure. I know he loves his Chelsea boots."
Naturally, Cooks has a strong connection with his quarterback, Jared Goff, a player Cooks called "special" because Goff never flinches under pressure. And Cooks is thankful for Rams general manager Les Snead, who pulled the trigger on the trade in exchange for the first-round pick the Patriots used to select injured offensive lineman Isaiah Wynn.
Snead is just as grateful for Cooks and showed it by signing him to a five-year, $80 million extension.
"We lost Sammy Watkins in free agency, and we felt it was best to replace him and what he brought to the table with a veteran like Brandin Cooks, instead of doing it via the draft with a rookie," Snead told ESPN. "We wanted Brandin the year before. We didn't have a first-round pick, and I think New England had the 32nd pick, so they beat us by about five slots.
"We've always loved the human being. Obviously, we love the skill set. We traded him for a [first-round pick] and signed him before he played a down for us."
We'll see how much of a significant role the speedy Cooks plays for the Rams in Super Bowl LIII.