Miles Austin didn’t come out of nowhere. He came from Monmouth University, arriving at Valley Ranch in 2006 as an undrafted rookie free agent full of potential.
But few outside the Cowboys’ locker room knew Austin’s name until Oct. 11, 2009, in his 42nd career game and his first career start.
“We just had this conversation today,” said newly signed guard Brian Waters, who was playing for the Kansas City Chiefs that day. “I told him, ‘We didn’t know who you were.’ We were all looking at each other like, ‘Who in the world is 19?’ We had no idea who this guy is, but he hit us for 250 and 10 catches.”
Austin’s welcome-to-the-NFL moment came in Kansas City, taking him four years to become an overnight star.
Austin caught only 23 passes for 435 yards and four touchdowns in his first 41 games over three-plus seasons. But with Roy Williams home nursing sore ribs, Austin saved his best for first. His 250 yards broke Bob Hayes’ 43-year-old, single-game team record by 4 yards.
“Miles got his name from 2009,” said Cowboys cornerback Brandon Carr, who was with the Chiefs then. “He showed up and took over the game. Those games kind of spark players’ careers, and that was a catalyst for him to get to where he is right now.”
Austin has never taken himself back to that day, which is 84 yards more than he has had in a single game since. He has never watched a full replay of the 26-20 victory over the Chiefs when he scored a 59-yard touchdown with 2:16 remaining and a 60-yard touchdown in overtime.
On Sunday, though, Austin returns to Arrowhead Stadium for the first time.
“It was a moment at some point, but at the end of the day, we’re here now four years later,” he said.
Austin, 29, is a different receiver now, in a different place.
Although he has had only three 100-yard games the past two seasons and is viewed as the team’s No. 2 wideout behind Dez Bryant, Austin is a better receiver now than he was then.
“I feel like just more years of running routes, learning coverages, blocking and working more in the slot,” Austin said. “You just get to develop different parts of your game over the years, and there’s still way more to go. I’m not doing everything right as it is. But you realize you can get better at a lot more things.”
Austin had a team-leading 10 catches for 72 yards in Sunday’s victory over the Giants as New York appeared intent on keeping Bryant from beating them. Instead, Austin and Jason Witten did.
“I’ve never looked at him as a No. 2,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “If you say you’re going to cover him less than another guy, he’s going to gash you. I don’t know what a No. 1 or a No. 2 is, but I know you better honor his abilities and make sure you know where he is.”
The Chiefs had no idea who Austin was, much less where he was, during their 2009 game.
After the Cowboys’ victory at Arrowhead, Austin found himself at the bottom of a dog pile. He claims that being at the bottom of the pile isn’t nearly as bad “when it’s your team rather than the other guys.”
When Austin climbed back onto his feet that day, his anonymity was gone. He had arrived.
“He just needed his opportunity, and once he got it he ran with it,” Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo said.