FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Bob Kraft — the owner of sports' only real current dynasty — stands lingering on the side of a dark stadium tunnel. When you are the 206th Richest Man in America, you don't have to wait for much.
But Bob Kraft will wait for Arian Foster.
When the Houston Texans' lifeline running back is done with a brief interview scrum not far from an idling team bus, he'll be brought over to Kraft for a brief moment. The New England Patriots owner doesn't have much to say with his team headed to its second straight AFC Championship, the seventh AFC title game overall for the Pats of the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick era.
But he has a few words for the Texans No. 23.
"You're a heck of player," Kraft tells Foster, grabbing the running back lightly on the arm. When Foster sends some kind words back at the owner, Kraft hits him with it again.
"You're a heck of a player."
What else is there to say? For the second straight year in the NFL's divisional round, arguably the best weekend of football of the year, Arian Foster shows he's a star of stars. He often looks like the single most talented player on the field in this weird Twilight Zone 51 degree mid-January New England evening.
And he still watches his team fall down by 25 points before rallying to lose 41-28.
Shortly after Kraft's moment with him, Foster is gone, back on the bus, staring straight at another long road.
Foster is borderline spectacular. Just like he was on that lost afternoon in Baltimore that ended another promising Texans run last January. He'll rack up 153 total yards (90 rushing, 63 receiving) and two touchdowns on 29 touches against a Belichick team hell bent on stopping him first, second and foremost.
"Upset that we lost," Foster says simply when asked his feelings. He's been pulled off the bus for this interview session and he still seems to be struggling to wrap his head around another season's end.
In many ways, Foster is testing the limits of what NFL running backs are capable of doing in the playoffs, typically quarterbacks' time these days. His 165.8 yards from scrimmage postseason average is the highest of all time (albeit through only four career playoff games). His 515 rushing yards in the first four playoff games of his career ties for the most all time.
You just have to hope the Texans do not end up wasting him.
It's too early to say they are. Foster is hardly mired in a Barry Sanders situation. But the clock will be ticking louder than ever on him and the Texans next season. Owner Bob McNair says the Texans are "very close" and that very well may be true. But sports history is littered with teams who've come close — only to see their window slam much earlier than they ever expected. With a resounding thud and screeches of what-if dismay.
"We all made a pact as players. It was winning the Super Bowl or nothing . . . "
You never know which opportunity is going to have turned out to have been your very best opportunity.
"I feel bad," Andre Johnson, the longest tenured Texan, says. "Especially when you look back and see we totally messed up."
Johnson is talking about the chance for homefield advantage throughout the playoffs — the No. 1 seed in the AFC that was Houston's for the taking, only requiring a 1-1 finish to the regular season. And he's not done lamenting.
"You don't get many shots," Johnson says. "It took nine years (for me) to get two shots."
A Playoff Repeat
Almost to a man, these Texans promised themselves things would be different when they walked off that field in Baltimore as hard luck, so-close losers last January. But here they are almost to the day a year later, getting blown away and dismissed with even more force in the same playoff round.
"It is really frustrating because we've been here before and you just don't want to get back to where you've been before," second-year defensive end J.J. Watt says.
"We all made a pact as players," defensive end Antonio Smith says. "It was winning the Super Bowl or nothing . . . I feel like we all let each other down."
Foster is hardly mired in a Barry Sanders situation. But the clock will be ticking louder than ever on him and the Texans next season.
The Texans need to become a team that picks each other up. That's what the Patriots do. Again and again.
It almost becomes lost in the game as Brady and New England pile up the points, but this is a Patriots team that loses the most dangerous tight end in football (Rob Gronkowski) and a valuable receiving back (Danny Woodhead) to injuries in the first few minutes of the game.
"We had a whole plan built for (The Gronk) and Woody," Brady says. "We run the first series of the game and all those plans change. I think a little of it was like, 'What are we going to do now?' "
So what do the Patriots do? They drop 41 points on the Texans. Yeah, they really look crippled.
The Texans of Gary Kubiak and Matt Schaub need to become this creative. They have one of the most unique weapons in football at their disposal in the 26-year-old Foster.
But that clock is ticking.
"We feel like we can play with any team in the league," Foster says.
It's time to start beating any team. The very best teams. When it matters most.
Bob Kraft recognizes greatness when he sees it. He knows you cannot squander it too. Hopefully, the Texans are catching on.
Shortly after Kraft's moment with him, Foster is gone, back on the bus, staring straight at another long road. Nothing's guaranteed. Not even for a star of stars.