Playing the Madden NFL video game against a close friend years ago, I remember his habit of allowing kickoffs to bounce into the end zone, expecting the same touchback rules that apply to punts. With every new recovery for touchdowns, he would angrily toss the controller out of embarrassment.
Against the San Francisco 49ers in 1990, Chuck Noll had Barry Foster line up for a kick return.
Guess what happened?
Noll, due to a lack of trust in Foster, limited his touches for the rest of the campaign. An injury in 1992 kept Foster on the sidelines even longer.
The Steelers brought in Bill Cowher, and he saw potential in the running back that perhaps Noll did not fully realize, and "The Chin" made Foster the primary running back in the Steelers' offensive attack. Predicated on running the ball and controlling the clock, Foster's bruising season was perfect for the Pittsburgh offense, helping to catapult the Steelers from the NFL's lackluster to its elite.
With more than 1,600 yards and 11 touchdowns, Foster put together a career year in 1992. The Steelers finished 11-5, and despite an upsetting playoff loss against the Bills, the "Cowher Power" era started without a hitch. The team found its physical identity and rekindled the winning spirit Steelers Nation had grown accustomed to in years prior.
In that 1992 season, Foster set a team record with 12 games of at least 100 yards rushing, tying the all-time NFL mark for a single season.
To say Barry was considered among the best backs in football without using his last name could cause fans to confuse him with another great runner of the time. That said, Foster was certainly among the NFL's elite halfbacks, a key cog in a Steelers machine that returned to the playoffs in 1993.
Yet, the team stumbled from 6-3 to 9-7, largely due to an injury to the bruising runner. With more than 700 yards in nine games, Foster's season came to an end during a 23-0 blowout of the defending AFC champion Buffalo Bills.
Having been on pace for another great season, the Steelers entered 1994 with high hopes. Foster was returning healthy and had all the potential for another record-breaking season. The Steelers' defense was rapidly rising to the best in football, and they were dubbed "The Steel Trap," a new-age moniker for the dominant unit.
Despite a disappointing ending, the Steelers met expectations in 1994.
Foster ran for more than 800 yards in 11 games, limited due to injuries once again, but he was healthy for the playoffs. In a final triumphant performance, Foster ran for 133 yards in a 29-9 demolition of arch-rival Cleveland, the third win of the campaign by Pittsburgh over the Browns.
A week later, Steelers fans' final memories of the running back came without glory. Trailing 17-13, the final play of the game was an unsuccessful pass attempt to Foster in the end zone, knocked down by Dennis Gibson.
Steelers fans were shocked to see Foster leave for Carolina prior to the 1995 season. They must have been equally surprised when the expansion Panthers cut the running back after he failed the team physical. Foster would sign with the Bengals, but he retired before playing a game.
As quickly as his powerful running began, it was over. For three seasons, including one record-setting year, Foster ran the Steelers to victory. He was largely regarded as the team's best offensive weapon since Franco Harris.
But instead of continuing a promising career, fans hear Foster's name and often reply, "Oh yeah, I remember that guy!"
These are words that are not used for Steelers legends like Harris and Bettis.
With every opportunity to entrench himself as an all-time icon in a football hotbed, Foster retired young, leaving many to wonder what a glorious career he could have had with a bit more focus and long-term commitment to the organization that made him a brief household name.
For a flash, Foster infused a level of excitement into the Steel City it had been missing. Now, after a career that left everyone desiring more, there are only six words left to be said:
"Oh yeah, I remember that guy."