Despite a sizeable signing bonus and generous salary, Austin and Brooke approached the football season with cautious optimism. They knew that anything could happen—for better or worse. “You can be a good football player and still be cut,” Austin’s dad says. “In our family we always say that NFL stands for Not for Long.” In addition to the pressure of playing in the pros, Austin found himself in the unique position of receiving passes from a living legend—starting quarterback Peyton Manning, who is considered one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. “Peyton Manning is football,” Austin says. “He demands perfection, and sometimes he would ride me pretty good during the season. He truly understands what it means to maximize your potential. . . . I don’t know if the Colts would be the Colts without Peyton Manning.”
Austin pushed himself to stem the learning curve, bringing plenty of his own horsepower to the team. In fact, last season Austin led all NFL rookies in receiving touchdowns (seven) and tied for most receptions (60), finishing the 2009 season with the fourth-most catches by a rookie in franchise history.
“Austin wanted some headphones that were kind of pricey, so I said, ‘Let’s make a deal. When you score a touchdown, we’ll go get them,”’ Brooke recalls. “And then he scored his first touchdown, and the whole family was crying. The next week he got another touchdown, and then in one game he got two. We did not expect this.”
Austin adds, “Last season was like a dream, winning game after game, the pinnacle being the AFC [American Football Conference] championship. It was the best game of my life.” In that critical game against the New York Jets, Austin caught seven passes for a total of 123 yards, including a touchdown. His outstanding performance helped clinch the Colts’ place in the Super Bowl, where they would battle the New Orleans Saints one week later.
Austin describes playing in the Super Bowl as a surreal experience. “I was dazed. I don’t think I had recovered from the AFC championship yet. But the moment that I stepped on the field, there was definitely a different energy going on than anything I’ve ever been a part of. It doesn’t feel real sometimes.”
The Colts suffered a heartbreaking defeat, with a final score of 31–17, but still Austin recognizes and appreciates the magnitude of what he was able to accomplish. “It would have been better if we would have won, but to say that I’ve been able to play in the Super Bowl—there are guys who have played in the NFL for ten years who can’t say that. When people look back at this year and how the Colts got to the Super Bowl, I can honestly say that I had something to do with that.”
He adds, “Once I hit the field, it hit me—this is what I’ve worked every single day for. We could quit right now and say we’ve done it all. It is definitely something I’ll always remember.”