As an undrafted rookie, Joseph Fauria had to beat considerable odds to make the Detroit Lions roster. The former UCLA tight end had to take advantage of any opportunities, constantly be improving, and, of course, be ultra-prepared.
Surely, the Lions will forgive him for not being entirely prepared last Sunday.
Fauria ran out of touchdown dances.
How could he have known he'd had to come up with three of them? That's right, the 6-foot-7 Fauria was targeted three times, and reeled in each pass for a touchdown in a 31-17 victory over Cleveland. So, under pressure, he improvised.
"The first one was a new, fresh dance called the 'Gas Pedal,' where you're pumping the gas and turning around," Fauria said by phone this week.
"The second one, I didn't really plan on two touchdown dances, so instead of the dance I did a windmill dunk on the crossbar — pretty sick, if I do say so myself. And the third one, I was just ecstatic, I was really pumped up, so I did the 'Cabbage Patch' and threw up three fingers for my third touchdown."
Three touchdowns in one game was a new sensation for Fauria.
"Never happened before," he said. "It might have happened in flag football, but never in tackle football. It wasn't mind-blowing, because I knew I was capable. But it was still pretty awesome."
Fauria has just seven catches this season, but five of them are for touchdowns, and week by week he's dispelling the notion that he's too tall to effectively create separation from NFL defensive backs. There's a stigma to looking too much like an NBA power forward in a game in which cornerbacks and safeties can close so quickly and knock the ball away.
That's the main reason Fauria wasn't drafted, something he now wears as a badge of honor and plans to use as motivation throughout his career. He has NFL bloodlines. His uncle, Christian Fauria, played 13 years as a tight end with the Seahawks, Patriots, Redskins and Panthers, winning two Super Bowls with New England and finishing with 252 receptions and 22 touchdowns.
At 6 feet 4 and 250 pounds, Christian had a more classic tight-end build and was a better blocker, but Joseph has those same soft hands and an ability to use his body and pull down jump-ball passes as if he's vacuuming in rebounds.
"Joseph is beating people downfield, he's catching balls in coverage, he's winning the 50-50 balls," Christian said. "It's not like he's wide open.
"This is just the first chapter of his career, if that. He's just a rookie. But if he does everything right, this could work out great."
Growing up in Northridge, Joseph would play catch with his grandfather for hours every day, perfecting his over-the-shoulder catches. Then, he would line up across the street from his uncle Quinn, who had played football at Northern Arizona and would rocket bullet passes at him.
"He had a tighter spiral than Warren Moon, I swear," Joseph said. "He'd throw it at me, and I was pretty young, and I'd go inside crying and whining that my hands hurt. My hands would be all red, and he'd be like, 'Stop being a baby.' That's how I learned, slowly but surely, that I needed to ease the ball in and not fight it. That's how I developed my soft hands, really."
That's paying off for the Lions, who at 4-2 are tied with Chicago for first place in the NFC North. Detroit plays host to Cincinnati on Sunday, and Fauria has helped ease the sting of missing All-Pro receiver Calvin Johnson, who has been slowed by a knee injury.
Fauria has been a bit sheepish talking about the dances this week. He said he directs every ounce of his attention on the football part, and how he celebrates is just icing.
"Reporters come to my locker and want to talk dances, dances, dances, and I'm like, 'Yo, let's talk about the Bengals,'" he said. "I might have brought it on myself. It's a monster I created. But my main focus is getting to the end zone in the first place."
AFC West rivals Denver and Kansas City are 6-0, marking just the second time in league history that the same division has two undefeated teams this deep into the season.
In 1934, the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears, then members of the NFL's Western Division, each started 10-0. The Lions lost their last three games to finish 10-3. The Bears got all the way to 13-0 before losing to the New York Giants in the league championship game.
That stands to reason, seeing as Irsay fired Polian two years ago, and this week bemoaned the fact the Colts didn't win more Super Bowls with Manning at quarterback.
But Polian, now an ESPN analyst, isn't mincing words on the topic, disclosing on the network this week that he hasn't spoken with Irsay.
"My Lord, we won more games for 10 years than any team in the history of the league," Polian said on SportsCenter. "Eleven playoff appearances in 13 years so, you know, that's the definition of winning."
Oh, and something else: Polian has picked his side for Sunday's game.
"My heart would be with the Broncos all the way," he said.
Quite a footprint
When Manning was a rookie, his dad would come up to Indianapolis and speak to different types of civic groups. Archie Manning once told me that unlike in the South, where people would hang on his every word when he was telling a football story, people in Indianapolis would start to perk up only if he mentioned basketball.
Fifteen years later, that's all changed. Indianapolis is a football town, thanks in large part to Peyton. That's a pretty amazing feat.
All mixed up
Bum Phillips, beloved coach of the Houston Oilers, died Friday at age 90.
He was a man's man, a Texan to the core, and had a football mind as sharp as barbed wire. When it came to mixing drinks, though, he could be a bumpkin.
Once, he tried to make frozen margaritas at training camp. He had the mix, tequila, limes, a margarita machine … everything.
"I come in one night after we talked to the players and there's margarita stuff spilled all over the table," recalled Carl Mauck, one of Phillips' favorite Oilers, who later coached with him. "It was dripping and everything, a big sloppy mess."
Phillips shushed him, instructing his assistant coach to tell no one.
"I said, 'All right, Coach. What happened?'" Mauck recalled with a chuckle. "He said, 'How do you make those margaritas? I filled it up with the margarita stuff in there, then I put the glass on the table upside down … but how do you get the damn salt on the rim?'"