Paying respect to Arian Foster

There perhaps has never been a Tennessee Vol football player as polarizing to his own fan base as Arian Foster. Forget the fact that he finished his career as a Vol with just a little more than a hundred yards shy of being the all-time leading rusher in Tennessee history. We all remember the perceived selfish insular behavior, rumored faked injuries, and fumbles — oh the fumbles. Even though Foster only lost five fumbles on a school-record 650 rushing attempts, all five occurred at game-changing locations/times. Games against Penn State, Florida, UCLA, and Auburn still burn darkly in the memory. The slings and arrows with their ultra-sharp edges rained down on Arian like an Oklahoma hailstorm.

The whole swirl of negativity surrounding Foster caused him to remarkably go undrafted in the 2009 NFL draft. He could have easily given up, just like he nearly did when his early high school football coach told him he simply wasn’t good enough to play running back. But, he eventually signed with the Houston Texans as a free-agent, the equivalent of a college walk-on. His rookie season was uneventful, spent mostly on the practice squad, and could have been career-ending if not for a final-game performance that included 100 rushing yards against the Patriots.

But it was the 2010 season opener that created shock waves throughout the football world. Foster carried the ball 33 times for 231 yards and 3 touchdowns. The nation asked, ‘Who is Arian Foster?’ Many in the Vol Nation asked ‘That fumbling fool rushed for 231 yards?’ By the end of the season, every football fan knew who Arian Foster was — he finished that campaign by winning the rushing title with over 1,600 yards (and over 600 receiving yards). It was the most yards from scrimmage by an undrafted player in the history of the NFL. He was a Pro Bowler. And for perhaps the first time in his football career, he was universally loved by the footballing world. But more importantly, he gained the respect of the football world.

There are some pretty mean-spirited fans of this game, and they infiltrate every fan base. The Vol Nation are not without them. And that faction of our own little football world will likely not forget that what they perceive, and they will not forgive Arian Foster for things that these people perceive as an affront to themselves. In the fourth quarter this afternoon, as Arian Foster salted away the Houston Texan’s first-ever NFL playoff victory with a 42-yard tight-roping tackle-busting touchdown run against the Cincinnati Bengals, I couldn’t help but think about his days as a Vol, when he was widely treated in a way that his detractors would not themselves like to be treated.

Standing in the endzone, Foster put his stamp on his second touchdown this afternoon by assuming the namaste pose, bowing to pay respect to something bigger than himself — to “the God in you… to the game of football” as he was quoted after that record-setting 2010 season opener. This is his own unique form of celebration — about life as much as about a singular scoring play. The former UT philosophy major and current student of Buddhism as well as other cultures and religions is his own man now, one who has earned his success with hard work fueled by a sense of belief and culture of respect as much as technique and physical strength.

It’s time for those who still harbor a hatred for Arian Foster to beat their swords into plowshares and cultivate a sense of respect to one of the shining examples of how personal growth through hard work, on his game and on himself, can result in stunning success.

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