BOTH FLESH AND NOT
Arian Foster, running back for the Houston Texans, listens to Queen and Patsy Cline, is a huge fan of Neil deGrasse Tyson, recently invested in a company that makes chia bars, and performs a “namaste bow” whenever he scores. Last year, he also found himself on The Vegan Sellout List, ExVegan.com’s blacklist of famous former vegans.
“I’ve had meat since I said I don’t eat meat anymore,” Arian told NFL.com in November 2012. “I like to stay with the plant-based foods,” he says, but adds, “I’ve been dabbling back and forth.”
Arian’s brief conversion to an exclusively vegan diet in 2012 confused the hell out of his teammates. “I told him, if this doesn’t work, I’m going to kick your ass,” Houston Texas linebacker Brian Cushing said. “I told him that because he’s going too far. He thinks he knows more than me, but he doesn’t, especially about nutrition. We have a good relationship, but I told him this better be right.”
Brian went on to suffer a season-ending injury five games into the 2012 season. Arian played in all sixteen games that year and scored seventeen total touchdowns, the most of anybody in the NFL, while being vegan for part of the season.
Though Arian wasn’t the first vegan in the NFL—current Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez earned that title in 2007—the handful of other NFL players who have since experimented with a vegan diet also exhibited no drop-off in performance. “I have more energy right through the fourth [quarter],” Tony Gonzalez told Men’s Journal. “It can be a matter of seconds if you catch the ball or miss it. The guy who’s eating the steak is sluggish in the fourth quarter. I want to be 100 percent.”
Tony, Arian, and the other vegan NFL players have experienced a lot of hazing from their colleagues, and some assume them to be holier-than-thou. “I’m not trying to change people’s diets,” Arian told Bloomberg.net. “I’m just trying to get people thinking about what goes into your body and how that fuels your day…because things like obesity and heart disease that are killing people are very preventable.”
Arian, for his part, remains “mostly vegan,” he told GQ. “Supplemented with the occasional chicken or fish dish.”
His typical menu:
Breakfast: Oatmeal and fruit.
Lunch: Assorted vegetables, potatoes, rice.
Dinner: Vegetables, quinoa, kale.
What’s remarkable about Arian isn’t just that he’s been one of the highest-scoring players in pro football while being “mostly vegan,” but also that every NFL team passed on him. In the 2009 NFL Draft, 256 other players were picked instead of him. He signed with Houston as an undrafted free agent and first made the team as a backup.
Around this time, his daughter Zeniah was born. Earlier this year, after his daughter turned four, he wrote an essay for Yahoo.com titled “6 Things I’ll Try To Teach My Daughter,” which included observations like the following:
- “How could I teach her to be a loving kind human spirit when at the time I was so bitter at life (I had just been passed on by every team in all seven rounds of the NFL draft) that my motto was ‘turn your back on the world and let them stab.’ Hypocrites don’t make good superheroes.”
- On the value of a dollar: “How do I teach the daughter of a millionaire what money even is? The best way I’ve found for now came up after she asked for a Dora the Explorer video game that cost $34. I explained to her as best I could that daddy and mommy work hard to get these things that we call dollars. If she wanted it, we’d get it for her, but she had to earn it. We told her she had to do ‘chores’ and every time she completed a task we marked a tally on a piece of paper hanging on the fridge. When she got to 34 ‘chores’, we’d buy the Dora game. She was so excited, and so was I.”
- On motivation: “Know your Why … Nine times out of ten, if someone’s why is to make money, they’ll fail at what they are trying to do. Here’s why I believe this: ‘Successful’ people are usually self-vindicated people. They don’t need pats on the back. They don’t need compliments. The merit of their work is endorsed by what they see in the mirror. They drive themselves until they are satisfied.”
- On “The Flying Spaghetti Monster” (his words): “I will never tell her what to believe in. I know parents are very influential on kids’ spiritual beliefs and that can be a positive or negative thing. I can give her a basic understanding of religions when she starts showing interest and asking questions. But I will remain silent otherwise.”
- On kindness: “Humble yourself to the fact that you know very little. I’m no different. I know very little, but I do my best to learn. I’ve learned things from a man with a PhD, a man who lived under a bridge, and a child. Treat everyone with kindness. It goes a long way. I was taught that people will rarely remember what you tell them, but they will always remember how you made them feel.”
“Everyone should smile,” he tells GQ. “Life really isn’t that serious. We make it hard. The sun rises. The sun sets. We just tend to complicate the process.”
Last week, even before Eli Manning’s three-interception game against the Chicago Bears, Stephen Elliott asked me, “What happened to Eli?”
“Offensive line,” I said.
“I saw that game [the 36-21 loss to the Eagles on October 6],” Stephen replied. “That line was good enough for [running back] Brandon Jacobs.”
He had a point. However, even though it doesn’t explain everything, the New York Giants’ offensive line is indeed much worse this year.
According to Pro Football Focus, a site that figures out this kind of stuff so you don’t have to, the Giants offensive line ranked eleventh out of thirty-two teams in offensive line play in 2012, and have collapsed to twenty-ninth this year. Some of this startling disappointment is due to raw, cold inexperience; they’re starting an undrafted backup at center and a rookie at right tackle.
At least the kids are definitely trying. Their left tackle, Will Beatty, was an obsidian bulwark of conspicuous beauty last year, and signed a huge contract extension in the off-season. Perhaps now that he’s no longer playing for the big payday, he’sas flaccid as a wet cheese sandwich.
Amidst all of this, the New York Giants are 0–6. Eli Manning, who has two Super Bowl rings, is currently, as Stephen put it, “sucking hard.” He’s leading the league with fifteen interceptions, already matching his entire total from last year. This is real bad. Imagine if there was one thing at your job that your boss specifically asked you never to do, and you started doing it at a rate of once per hour. That’s what Eli is doing this year.
What else? Besides that one improbable game from Brandon Jacobs, the Giants’ running game has been like a Halloween party at a nursing home: quiet, perfunctory, and pretty much over before it begins. Off-season darling David Wilson never did figure out how to run with the ball in his hands and is now out for a few weeks with injuries. The situation is so grim that Peyton Hillis, who had one good year for the Browns three years ago, signed with the team on Wednesday. The Giants will learn, like the Chiefs and Buccaneers before them, that quite often, competence in Cleveland is its own, private language that has no direct translation into English.
So, what’s wrong with Eli? He hasn’t played the Minnesota Vikings yet, which he will on Monday night. So far in 2013, the Vikings have only won once, which is what happens when a team gives up 34, 31, 31, 27, and 35 points to their opponents over five games. If you’re a Giants fan, wipe the six previous Sundays from your brain, go to sleep, and open your eyes at approximately 5:30 PM PST next Monday evening. It will be, for three ephemeral hours, as if nothing has changed. Give yourselves that.
THE NATURE OF FUN
Detroit Lions rookie Joseph Fauria is tied for second in the NFC in touchdowns with five. But if you play fantasy football, you don’t have him, and neither does anyone else in your league. That’s how out of nowhere Joseph’s success has been in 2013. He’s proven to have the best hands of anyone on the Lions not named Calvin Johnson, so it’s almost kind of sad that his feet are getting all of the attention this week.
So far, Joseph has done a different touchdown celebration every time he’s scored, and it’s usually a dance. Deadspin called him “the NFL’s most entertaining rookie” even though one of his touchdown dances last weekend left fans confused. “It’s called a gas pedal,” Joseph told the Detroit Free Press. “I probably didn’t do it as well as I probably could’ve, but I was just really happy. That happens sometimes.”
Detroit, a city that needs something to cheer for almost as badly as Cleveland does, has an NFL team rooted in historic failure and sadness. Even their weird team colors, silver and “Honolulu blue,” which look good on approximately no one, feel like a sick joke intended to make sad people look terrible. Amidst this milieu of tragedy and low expectations, Joseph is helping the people of Detroit feel like waking up on Sunday mornings again. “We’ve inherited hope—the gift of forgetting,” as Wislawa Szymborska wrote in Notes From a Nonexistent Himalayan Expedition. “You’ll see how we give birth among the ruins.”
The word is already out. Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake became Joseph Fauria fans all the way back in week three, after Joseph performed *NSync’s “Bye Bye Bye” dance in the end zone against Washington. “Nice moves!” Joey Fatone tweeted at Joseph. “We were going nuts,” said Fallon. “We all saw it on Twitter and we were going crazy.”
The week earlier, Jimmy Fallon performed an “evolution of the touchdown dance” skit with Timberlake, and offered to pay the $10,000 “unsportsmanlike conduct” fine of any NFL player who imitated the dance in an actual game. Fallon felt that Joseph’s *NSync moves qualified, and when it turns out that Joseph wasn’t fined by the league for his dancing, Fallon instead donated the $10,000 to the Michigan chapter of Make-a-Wish in Joseph Fauria’s name.
In this context, it’s easy to forget that Joseph is just happy to be playing in the NFL at all. He was once the Next Big Thing; after transferring to UCLA from Notre Dame, pro scouts looked at his 6’7”, 255-pound frame and saw a great NFL tight end in the mold of Tony Gonzalez or Antonio Gates. Entering 2012, he was predicted by some to be a first or second round pick in the NFL draft, which would’ve meant a multimillion-dollar contract and a guaranteed shot at a starting job.
Instead, these scouting reports started rolling in:
Fauria is an impressive red-zone threat due to his height and ability to box defenders out, but he is fairly unimpressive after the catch in the middle of the field. He also has more than his fair share of struggles as a run blocker. (from NFL.com)
Joseph Fauria is not being mentioned in the same breath as some of the top TEs in this draft class…[he] must be more consistent with his level of competitiveness. (from SI.com)
Like Arian Foster, Joseph wasn’t picked by anyone at all when the NFL draft finally rolled around. Detroit had two tight ends already and had even drafted a third, but they agreed to sign Joseph as an undrafted free agent, giving him a shot to make the practice squad. Now, seven weeks into the season, he’s the team leader in touchdowns.
Joseph credits his success to his “single mom, [who] worked her butt off to get me where I am now.” His talent, self-motivation, and attitude sure haven’t hurt either. He’s frank, upbeat, and funny, and while his personal taste in music runs from Drake and Kid Cudi to Jack Johnson, he seems to be willing to dance in public to anything. His enthusiasm and energy are rubbing off on a restive but resurgent NFL franchise that’s never once made a Super Bowl in its history.
“He’s just a happy kid,” Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford said, when asked about Joseph on Mitch Albom’s radio show. “He’s happy to be playing in the league, happy to be scoring touchdowns, and he’s having fun celebrating. I’m happy for him.”