DALLAS – Near the end of the FedEx Air & Ground Awards press conference at the Super Bowl Media Center on Wednesday, Arian Foster grabbed the microphone.
"There's only one more question, right?" the Texans' running back said to emcee Phil Simms. "I wanted to take the last question, if that's cool with the media."
Foster was seated onstage in front of dozens of spectators and next to Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles. To their left was Bart Starr, the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame quarterback who was MVP of Super Bowls I and II. Starr was there on behalf of Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
"It's not every day that you get to sit next to a legend of the game, so I'm very honored and I feel privileged to be here in this seat right now," Foster said, looking in Starr's direction. "I have to ask on behalf of my generation: From personal experience, what, if any, advice could you give to a young man trying to have success in the NFL as a person on and off the field?"
A few onlookers applauded, impressed by Foster's question. "That's a great question," Starr said, before beginning his answer by talking about the importance of "team" and hard work and preparation. He then summed it up with a single word.
"I personally believe that the strongest word in our vocabulary next to love… is the word 'attitude,'" Starr said. "Think about it for a moment. Every single thing that we do – every single thing that we do – if you think about it, is driven by attitude. And so I think you start with that word."
The message resonated strongly with Foster, who went from an undrafted practice squad player in 2009 to the NFL's leading rusher in 2010.
"It kind of reaffirmed what I already believe, and that's attitude carries us as far as we want to go as human beings," Foster said. "He just kind of reaffirmed that."
If anyone could be a torchbearer for the importance of attitude, it's Foster. Attitude – relentless, determined, chip-on-the-shoulder attitude – was the driving force behind his leap to stardom this season.
Foster observed as a rookie how All-Pro Texans receiver Andre Johnson worked on a daily basis, and he decided that he would carry himself the same way. Last offseason, he got up daily at 5:30 a.m. and worked out four times a day with his brother and trainer, Abdul Foster.
With that preparation as the foundation, Foster took hold of the Texans' starting running back job and didn't look back. Sixteen games and 1,616 rushing yards later, he's a first-team All-Pro and Pro Bowler.
And he's not changing his approach any time soon. Foster said that he'll approach this offseason the exact same way he did last offseason: "Like I'm fighting for a position."
"The reality of the situation is the NFL's a cut-throat business and they're trying to replace you every single day," he said. "Your job is to make sure they don't.
"A lot of people helped me get to where I'm at right now, and a lot of people are going to help me get further. That's the plan. The thing about it is you can't listen to criticism, whether it be positive or negative. You've just got to keep pushing to be great."
It's amazing that 'attitude' was one of the major red flags that draft analysts raised about Foster in 2009. After a disappointing senior season at Tennessee, Foster went from being a projected second-round pick as a junior to not being drafted at all.
Now, one of Foster's supposed weaknesses has turned into perhaps his greatest strength.
"I hate to say it because I know these guys take a lot of flak, but you know, the Mel Kipers and the Todd McShays, they're not always right," Foster said. "They can't always get it right. Their job is hard. They have thousands of college athletes to look through and rate. It's hard to judge another man's talent. But as soon as they have a drill at the combine that measures someone's heart, then I'll start listening to them.
"For anybody out there that's listening, if somebody says you can't, don't listen to them. Follow your dreams. Don't listen to the dream killers."