As if his 40 touches in Houston's wild-card win didn't designate him as a focal point of Sunday's divisional playoff between the Texans and Patriots, Arian Foster on Monday thrust himself in front of whatever faction of New England's football consciousness wasn't already thinking about him. After apparently reading a Dan Shaughnessy piece that asked of the Patriots' path to the AFC championship game, "Could this get any easier?" the Houston running back cut out the column's lede and pasted it into his Twitter avatar -- effectively inviting onto himself all the pressure his Texans face as they attempt to pull off an upset few foresee, and thereby making himself something of a public enemy in these parts.
Though, based on what we know about him beyond the gridiron, Foster is someone Patriots fans might find difficult to dislike.
His on-field story is admirable enough, having risen from the ranks of the undrafted, and a rookie year spent primarily on the practice squad, to gain 4,264 yards and score 41 touchdowns en route to a trio of Pro Bowl appearances over his first three full seasons. But off the field the "Most Interesting Man in the NFL," as dubbed by The Sporting News, may be just as impressive.
A philosophy major at the University of Tennessee, one need only scan the timeline of his much-ballyhooed Twitter account to get a sense of how thoughtful he is as "an aspiring human being" -- and that's not the only place he puts his thoughts into writing. Foster also fancies himself a poet, posting some of his impressive work at his personal website, and keeping the rest handwritten, in spiral-bound notebooks. That was a detail noted in a story by the Washington Post, which featured him while he romped his way to the NFL rushing title in 2010, adding that he also writes songs and has an interest in writing children's books.
"They can't stereotype me. I'm not a jock who does this, this and this. I'm kind of a free spirit in the way I live my life," he told the Post. "I always stray away from fitting into the football player mold."
Even his touchdown celebrations are a reminder of that. When he scores, Foster stands in the end zone with his hands together at chest height, and offers a "namaste" bow that's reflective of his interest in and dedication to yoga. Two weeks ago, in fact, that was the celebration he brought to a banner touting the "#chuckstrong" mantra at Indianapolis' Lucas Oil Stadium -- in homage to Colts Coach Chuck Pagano, who was making his return to the sideline that day after he missed much of the season while fighting leukemia.
Foster has studied yoga, studied the teachings of Hinduism, studied the merits of becoming a vegan -- and even adopted that as his diet this past summer, though he makes an exception for meat every now and again. In a league full of macho, muscle-bound carnivores that decision brought headlines, but it's hardly the only way in which Foster is different.
It's doubtful many of them were thinking what it might sound like to hear Lou Holtz read a Shakespeare sonnet as the BCS Championship game approached on Monday night, just as its doubtful many of the others were quoting astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson just two days before a playoff game. It's doubtful, too, that many of the others would feature the work of artist Jean-Michel Basquiat as their Twitter avatar -- yet that's one of the images he used before Shaughnessy's words occupied the spot.
Sunday his Texans will try to make Shaughnessy eat those words, and if they can do that it's almost certain that Foster will be a big part of it. In that case, there's a good chance he'll leave Foxboro loathed by much New England, if only for his success. Even if he says he's not entirely sure of what success is, according to this excerpt from The Sporting News.
He explains this by telling a story about a talk he gave to eighth-graders in San Diego, where he spent his last two years of high school. “I asked them, ‘What is success to you guys?’ One of them said, ‘A lot of money.’ One of them said, ‘Big house.’ Another one said, ‘A whole bunch of girls.’ They were trying to make their friends laugh, but that’s really what some of them think. To me, that’s not what success is. Success to me is providing a stable, emotionally and financially, home for my daughter and my kids to grow up in. To be the best husband I can be. To be the best father I can be. To be the best man I can be.”
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