IRVING, Texas – Miles Austin has two footballs in his house on display.
One is from his kickoff return for a touchdown against Seattle in the 2006 playoffs. The other is from his touchdown catch in overtime that beat Kansas City on Oct. 11, 2009.
At least he thinks it’s that football. It’s the one somebody gave him in the postgame haze.
“That would be pretty cool if it was,” Austin said. “It might be.”
Austin finished that game in Kansas City with 10 catches for 250 yards -- a Dallas Cowboys record -- and two touchdowns in the first start of his career. He started that day only because Roy Williams suffered bruised ribs the previous week.
On Sunday, Austin will return to Arrowhead Stadium for the first time since his introduction to the football world.
“People bring it up more than I think about it,” Austin said. “Don’t get me wrong, it was an amazing feeling. I felt like for me personally it was a great way to be able to start and make a splash for the first time offensively. But at the end of the day you realize that my job’s not to talk about what I’ve been doing but to continue to do my best. You kind of snap back into reality on the plane ride home.”
Except the amazing feeling didn’t really end when the Cowboys landed at home because they had a bye the next week.
“It might’ve lasted one or two extra days,” Austin said.
Jason Garrett called Austin’s game one of the best days he has had in football, Super Bowls included. Garrett’s father, Jim, a longtime Cowboys scout, got to know Austin when the receiver played at Monmouth University in New Jersey. He helped tutor him more than a few times. Austin was still a raw receiver when Jason Garrett arrived in 2007, but Garrett saw the potential.
It took time, in part because of injuries, but Austin exploded that day.
“When a guy like that who comes from where he comes from and goes about it the way he does has that kind of success when he gets his opportunity, to this day I still kind of feel the thing down the back of the back of my neck,” Garrett said. “It’s what this thing is all about. He goes about it the right way. He’s a pleasure to coach. It was a great day for him. It was a great day for our team.”
And it could have been better. A 22-yard touchdown pass was just out of his reach in the corner of the end zone in the first quarter, and another potential touchdown was poked away in the second quarter by Brandon Carr, who is now Austin's teammate in Dallas.
“I don’t want to call it nervousness, but I was anxious to play,” Austin said. “I didn’t play enough up to then to be completely comfortable with always going back to the huddle. … The fact that I was starting and at least in the starting two, there was a feeling that you’re always going to be back in there the next play. That was a little different.”
Austin nearly won the game with 2:16 left in regulation with a 59-yard touchdown catch and run that gave the Cowboys a 20-13 lead. But the Chiefs tied it with 24 seconds to play.
On the Cowboys’ second possession of overtime they faced a second-and-15 from their 40-yard line after a penalty. Austin caught another short pass and then outraced the defense to the end zone, looking up at the video board as he ran with a smile on his face.
“To be honest, I smile all the time when I run,” Austin said. “I’m just breathing out of my mouth. I look like this all the time. People say, ‘Man, you smile a lot.’ Nah, I just breathe out of my mouth all the time.”
He didn’t get tackled until he got to the end zone … by his own teammates.
“That was a good time,” Austin said.
Austin started the final nine games in 2009, and finished with 81 catches for 1,320 yards and 11 touchdowns to earn the first of his two Pro Bowl appearances. He became the first player to reach 250 receiving yards in his first start and the third with more than 200 with Anquan Boldin (217 in 2003) and Mark Duper (202 in 1983).
Austin followed up his performance in Kansas City two weeks later with six catches for 171 yards and two scores against Atlanta. He had three more 100-yard games that season and two others with at least 90 yards.
Before his breakout season, the only affirmation he received came from defenders like Terence Newman in practice.
“I mean, it’s not like you’re going to ask someone how you are,” Austin said, “It gave me confidence to work harder.”
But he doesn’t look at the Kansas City game as the day he proved he play.
“That thing, ‘I know I can play,’ that’s every week you have to prove you can play,” Austin said. “You have to prove yourself to your own teammates, to yourself, to the organization.”
Four years ago, Austin's great-uncle, his mother’s brother and sister and cousins were at the game, making the drive from Nebraska. On Sunday, his uncle and some cousins will be back in the stands.
“I’m not going to say it feels like yesterday,” said Austin, who has never watched a replay of the game, “but it doesn’t feel like it’s been crazy long either.”