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Eagles WR Travis Fulgham’s globe-trotting, odds-defying rise to the NFL

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The ball left quarterback Carson Wentz‘s hand and began sailing down the left sideline late in the Philadelphia Eagles‘ Week 4 matchup against the San Francisco 49ers, and Alonzo Fulgham said that’s when he stopped breathing.

A Boston native, he’s the kind of rabid sports fan who used to watch the Celtics and New England Patriots with the lights off, by himself, when a game was coming down to the wire. Now here he was, watching his son, Travis Fulgham, streak down the field, chasing after a pass that would decide the game.

“I didn’t start breathing until he caught it,” Alonzo said. “When he did his Fred Astaire [touchdown celebration] down the sideline, I just went berserk. …I’m just happy they didn’t call 911 on me. That’s how loud it was.”

A similar scene was transpiring in Washington, about 40 miles southeast of Alonzo’s Northern Virginia home, where Travis’ mother, Celeste, and sister Jacqueline were watching from Jacqueline’s apartment. The windows were open and all the yelling startled the neighbors until they realized they were cheers.

“I lost my voice,” Celeste said. “I still don’t have my voice back fully.”

“Oh my God,” Alonzo added. “Talk about a storybook ending for this kid, you know?”

Or, maybe it was just the beginning. Fulgham followed that game-winning TD grab against the Niners with a 10-catch, 152-yard performance against the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday that has the city of Philadelphia buzzing and NFL devotees scrambling to learn his story.

What they’re finding is that it’s unlike many others.

Travis, 25, came late to football because football wasn’t available to him when he was a boy. With both of his parents in the Foreign Service, he spent much of his young life overseas, traversing from Jordan to Egypt to South Africa to India. He played cricket and soccer and basketball and he swam, but it wasn’t until he returned to the United States for high school that he was introduced to football at the age of 16.

A similar sequence has repeated in the years since, as he climbed the ranks from high school to Old Dominion, where he was a walk-on, to the NFL, where he’s on his third team less than two years into his pro career: Travis comes in under the radar, grows suddenly, then flashes brightly and seemingly out of nowhere.

It has happened again, this time on the game’s biggest stage, fueling a growing thought that the Eagles might have found themselves a gem.

“He showed last week that it was no fluke. He’s a big-time player,” Wentz said. “We’ve seen what he’s done in practice now for a while and how he’s kind of come along within our offense and our system. With the injuries and everything going around, he was the next guy up and we looked out there and said, ‘We’re confident in this guy to get it done’ and he’s been making play after play. I think he has a bright future ahead of him.”

An international way of life

Travis got his first diplomatic passport when he was 6 months old. Celeste still laughs at the memory of sitting him on her lap and trying to get him to look toward the camera for a usable take.

She and Alonzo met through the Peace Corps. A “hot, steamy romance” ensued, Celeste said, and they married months later. But their story reads more like an action novel. In the late 1980s, they moved to Swaziland in South Africa during the final years of apartheid. Alonzo then joined the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), becoming the first African-American acting administrator in the agency’s history. He worked alongside the military in Afghanistan in an effort to help reconstruct a country that had been isolated for a quarter-century.

Celeste also joined the USAID. Working from Jordan, she directed the contracting office for Iraq during the height of the Iraq War. Prior to that, she was the director of the contracting office in South Africa that started the Presidential Emergency Program for AIDS Relief — the flagship HIV/AIDS program for the U.S. government internationally, which is credited with saving millions of lives.

Alonzo and Celeste divorced following their assignment in Jordan. Travis was about 2 years old at the time. Alonzo went to Eastern Europe, while Celeste and the children moved to Egypt, then South Africa, back to Jordan and finally, India. During the summers, Travis and Jacqueline would go wherever Alonzo was posted, including Serbia, Montenegro, Georgia and Azerbaijan.

“One of the ways it shaped him is he actually thought that was the norm,” Celeste said of Travis’ world-touring upbringing. “He was moving to different countries with different religions with different languages, totally different cultures. And he didn’t know otherwise.”

Adapting to the football culture

Travis returned to the United States for his high school years to focus on academics and athletics. He lived with Alonzo in Virginia while attending Massanutten Military Academy. His passion was basketball, but he was approached to play football by one of the coaches during LSAT prep. Alonzo objected out of concern for Travis’ health, but while Alonzo was away on a trip overseas, Celeste signed the permission slip.

“So she is responsible for Travis being the star he is today,” Alonzo said with a laugh.

Travis made all-state as a wide receiver his first year. But it was a small, independent school with not much of a football reputation. To have a chance to make it to the next level, he transferred to Broad Run, a public high school in Ashburn, Virginia, where he quickly earned a starting role.

With such little information available to schools given his truncated high school career, Travis didn’t receive any scholarship offers. So he walked on at Old Dominion and earned a scholarship by the fall. He showed great promise, catching eight touchdowns his redshirt sophomore season, but it wasn’t until he was a senior that it all clicked into gear, and he erupted for 63 catches, 1,083 yards (17.2 avg.) and nine scores.

“Being so cultured and being around so many different things that I know a lot of kids his age hadn’t been around, I think it took him some time to actually find himself as a football player,” said John Allen, Travis’ wide receivers coach at Old Dominion.

“A lot of times you hear the stories about the young man that didn’t come from anything, had to really pull himself up, really had to work themselves out of situations with a single parent home. Travis didn’t have any of that. Really, Travis had the world in the palm of his hands if he wanted to. And to find himself as a football player, to find the drive and the passion that he had within, to finally bring that out and show people that, ‘Yo, football is really important to me. I really love this game,’ that’s what was fun to watch. And I think that’s what he found within himself.”

‘A long year’ rewarded

The Eagles had a mid-round grade on the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Fulgham entering the 2019 NFL draft, coach Doug Pederson said, but with five overall picks that year, the stars didn’t align. He was taken instead by the Detroit Lions in the sixth round.

Celeste hosted a small get-together on the third day of the draft. Travis went upstairs to play Xbox to distract himself. That’s when he got the call from Lions general manager Bob Quinn, unbeknownst to the rest of the family.

“He came downstairs and he came around the backside of my chair and gave me this bear hug from behind,” Celeste said. “And I just thought it was one of those, like, ‘It’s a long day.’ We just started the sixth round. I reached around and patted him and right as I did that, his face came on the screen. We lost our minds!”

But, with the Lions loaded at receiver — Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones and Danny Amendola each had over 60 catches that season — Travis was waived that September and placed on the Lions’ practice squad. After a brief call-up later during the 2019 season, he was waived again in August 2020. The Green Bay Packers claimed him, only to release him nine days later. Seven of those nine days were spent in a hotel away from the team in following the league’s COVID-19 protocols.

The Eagles grabbed him off waivers on Aug. 20 then waived him Sept. 3, marking the third time he had been cut that summer.

“It’s definitely been a long year for me, long offseason,” Fulgham said. “But I came here to Philly and they gave me an opportunity.”

Signed to Philadelphia’s practice squad, he started opening eyes during training camp.

“From his first week coming into camp I would literally sit on the sideline — I didn’t even know he came from Detroit until I was talking to [Darius] Slay one day — and I was like, ‘Bro, this No. 13 … this dude right here, he always catches the ball. And every time he catches it, he’s off the ground,'” Eagles defensive back Jalen Mills said. “Whether it was digs, out-routes, go balls, he was catching it at the highest point and that’s hard to cover.”

With four of the original top five receivers injured, he was promoted to the Eagles’ active roster prior to the San Francisco game on Oct. 3, and has been setting off fireworks ever since.

“Obviously, Travis has made a case to continue to play and play at a high level,” Pederson said.

With limited fans allowed in the stands for last week’s Eagles-Steelers matchup, Alonzo and Celeste got to watch Travis’ breakout game in person. Once again, they were unable to contain themselves.

“It’s great that no one knows who I am,” Celeste said, “because it was one of those situations like, ‘That’s Travis Fulgham’s mom? Oh my god, she has lost her mind.'”

“It was great, man. It was poetic,” added Alonzo. “All I can say is he’s doing what he expects himself to do. He’s always believed that he belonged out there. I think he showed the whole league on Sunday that he’s someone to pay attention to.”

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Kershaw lifts L.A. to edge of WS title, feels ‘good’

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ARLINGTON, Texas — As Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts strolled to the mound with two outs in the top of the sixth inning, a chorus of boos rained down from the crowd at Globe Life Field. Even though this was Game 5 of Major League Baseball’s first neutral-site World Series, Dodgers fans have overrun the stadium, and they let their feelings be known: They did not want Roberts to remove Clayton Kershaw from the game.

Roberts did not abide, and as Kershaw strode off the mound, it was to a sound too often unfamiliar to him in October: cheers. If ever there was a postseason to huzzah the Dodgers’ left-hander, of course, this is it, and his plenty-solid performance in Game 5 laid the foundation for the Dodgers’ 4-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday.

The win, on the heels of the Dodgers’ brutal Game 4 loss a day earlier, gave L.A. a 3-2 advantage in the series and put them one victory shy of their first championship since 1988. They can lock up a title in Game 6 on Tuesday night.

“It feels pretty good,” Kershaw said of walking off the mound to a standing ovation. “Anytime you can have success in the postseason, it just means so much — that is what you work for, that is what you play for this month. I know what the other end of that feels like too. I will definitely take it when I can get it.”

If this was Kershaw’s last appearance in the 2020 postseason — there’s always a potential Game 7 relief appearance looming — there’s a good argument that it’s his finest playoffs yet. His shakiness in Game 5 evened out in the middle innings — he even foiled the first attempted straight steal of home in a World Series game since 1982 — and by the time Roberts yanked him, Kershaw had retired eight batters in a row to gussy up a final line of 5⅔ innings, 5 hits, 2 runs, 2 walks and 6 strikeouts. In total, he has thrown 30⅔ innings in these playoffs, allowed 23 hits, walked 5 and struck out 37 with a 2.93 ERA and four wins.

Though the jeers that greeted Roberts on his way to the mound were even worse as he returned to the dugout, his maneuvering in Game 5 worked far better than his bungling the day prior — even if it placed the Dodgers in one particularly hairy situation. Dustin May, the fireballer who replaced Kershaw, struck out Rays cleanup hitter Manuel Margot on a 101.5 mph fastball to end the sixth and threw another scoreless 1⅓ innings afterward.

He exited with a runner on first when Rays manager Kevin Cash pinch hit left-handed hitter Ji-Man Choi, which prompted Roberts to go to lefty Victor Gonzalez. Cash immediately pinch hit right-hander Mike Brosseau, who mashes lefties, and he walked. Up stepped Randy Arozarena, the Rays’ best hitter and a right-hander as well.

On the first pitch, Gonzalez induced a fly out. Brandon Lowe floated a ball to center field for the third out. The Dodgers had escaped, and Blake Treinen — not Kenley Jansen, who blew Game 4 — came on in the ninth and recorded the save.

“We stuck with the plan so credit to Doc for that one,” Kershaw said of Roberts. “DMay came in and threw the ball awesome, Victor same way and Blake, too. Unbelievable job by those guys tonight, which was huge.”

The Dodgers had played nine innings of clean baseball less than 20 hours after their two-error debacle with two outs and two strikes in the ninth inning allowed Arozarena to pound home plate for the winning run and Brett Phillips to airplane into the outfield after dropping the single that led to the chaotic series of events evening the series.

Mookie Betts ripped a leadoff double off Rays starter Tyler Glasnow, Corey Seager plated him with a single and Cody Bellinger‘s two-out infield single scored him, giving the Dodgers a 2-0 advantage. Joc Pederson‘s home run in the second extended it to 3-0 — the same lead he had and frittered away in Game 5 of the 2017 World Series.

World Series Game 5s, in fact, had been a bugaboo for Kershaw. The Boston Red Sox tarred him with four runs in four innings of the 2018 World Series, and he was beginning to bend in the third inning Sunday. Kevin Kiermaier singled, Yandy Diaz tripled him in and Arozarena drove him in to cut the lead to 3-2.

“I didn’t have my stuff like I did in Game 1,” Kershaw said. “My slider wasn’t there as good as it was, so fortunate to get through there.”

The key moment came an inning later. Margot drew a leadoff walk, stole second and advanced to third on a bad throw. Hunter Renfroe walked. With runners on the corners, Joey Wendle popped out and Willy Adames struck out. With Kiermaier at the plate and down 0-1, Margot dashed for home. Kershaw recognized it in time and threw to catcher Austin Barnes, who slapped a tag with Margot’s fingertips inches from home plate.

From there, Kershaw cruised, passing Justin Verlander for the most strikeouts all time in the postseason with 206. Kershaw, circa 2020, is more craftsman than conqueror, and though this wasn’t the coronation he wanted nor the dominant start he desired, it was plenty good — something well worth cheering.

“Kersh, a lot of credit goes to him for what we’ve been able to do in this World Series,” Treinen said. “There’s a tough narrative on him. He’s a phenomenal pitcher on the biggest stage.”

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Rams out to prove Week 6 clunker was a fluke versus Bears

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THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — Missed tackles. Dropped passes. False starts. Errant kicks.

The Los Angeles Rams‘ second loss of the season, a 24-16 clunker against the San Francisco 49ers, featured every miscue.

“We had a lot of uncharacteristic things, we had a lot of our players that we count on not come through in some situations that they typically do,” Rams coach Sean McVay said, while also shouldering some of the blame. “It’s a great learning opportunity for us.”

The Rams are 4-2 overall and 0-1 in the NFC West, far from any need to panic, but they must quickly fix issues that plagued them against their division rival before they take on the Chicago Bears (5-1) at SoFi Stadium on Monday Night Football.

The offense, which entered Week 6 averaging 27.2 points per game, must return to establishing its dominance on the ground behind a trio of healthy running backs, Darrell Henderson, Cam Akers and Malcolm Brown, while quarterback Jared Goff and wide receiver Cooper Kupp must renew their connection through the air.

“It was just some uncharacteristic stuff for me,” said Goff, who passed for a season-low 198 yards and had a pass intercepted in the end zone against the 49ers. “Missing guys open there early. It’s something that I’ve never done in my life and don’t expect to ever repeat.”

However, even when on target, Goff’s receivers performed few favors. Kupp, who has caught 31 passes for 374 yards and two touchdowns, found himself turned around on a throw over the middle, then later dropped a pass in the end zone.

Even veteran Andrew Whitworth stumbled into multiple mistakes, as the sturdy left tackle twice was penalized for false starts.

“It’s one of those things that you’ve had a couple games where your execution is not as good as it should be,” said Whitworth, also referring to a Week 3 loss to the Buffalo Bills. “Just all the little details, and for some reason sometimes, you’re just off.”

The defense, which has been sporadically struck by tackling issues this season, must solve the problem for good while finding a way to pressure Bears quarterback Nick Foles after they were unable to disrupt 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.

“We got punched in the mouth this past week,” said linebacker Micah Kiser, who fell victim to brutal stiff arm from 49ers running back Raheem Mostert. “We’re just ready to get that taste out of our mouth and get back to work. That’s all you can really do.”

Defensive tackle Aaron Donald leads the NFL with 7.5 sacks, but did not take down Garoppolo, as the 49ers spread the ball quickly to the perimeter.

“We just wasn’t playing our ball,” Donald said. “We just didn’t play good as a team.”

Donald has not gone back-to-back weeks without a sack since Weeks 4 and 5 in 2019, and could be extra motivated to take down Foles, who he has yet to sack in his career.

And finally, there’s special teams, where rookie kicker Samuel Sloman connected on a season-long 42-yard field goal Sunday but otherwise continued to struggle connecting on extra points (15-of-18) and executing strategically placed kickoffs.

On Tuesday, a day after McVay expressed frustration with Sloman’s development saying, “He’s got to improve,” the Rams signed veteran kicker Kai Forbath from the Bears’ practice squad.

Forbath last kicked in an NFL game last season, when he appeared in the final three games with the Dallas Cowboys and converted 10 of 10 field goal attempts, including a 50-yarder.

Despite the underwhelming performance that plagued every phase last Sunday, McVay is continuing to express optimism about the Rams’ capabilities moving forward.

“The thing that I do genuinely believe is when you look at, ‘Okay, where did we fall short, are these things we’re capable of doing or are we just physically outmatched?'” McVay asked, rhetorically. “No, we’re capable of executing and playing better football, being a cleaner operation.”

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Bucs look more like legit contenders each week

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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers cleared one major hurdle this season in getting their first signature win against the Green Bay Packers last week, playing one of their best games in the past decade. The next hurdle: how they handle winning on a weekly basis with a growing target on their backs as they’ve emerged as a favorite in the NFC. They handled business against the Las Vegas Raiders, who had an extra week to prepare, with a 45-20 win on the road.

Tom Brady threw for 369 yards and four touchdowns — he now has 559 passing TDs, surpassing Drew Brees (558) for the career TD passes mark. This wasn’t an error-free performance for the Bucs. They started off sluggish as a defense. Their second-half struggles that plagued them earlier in the year resurfaced in the third quarter, before a three-TD scoring explosion in the fourth. The Bucs improve their record to 5-2 to maintain their NFC South lead.

QB breakdown: Brady didn’t need his defense to get things going like he did when the Bucs were down 10-0 last week. Against the Raiders’ single-high safety looks in the first half, he had a ton of success on crossing routes with tight end Rob Gronkowski, producing gains of 26 and 28 yards. After a QB sneak for a TD in the first quarter, Brady hit Gronkowski in the corner of the left end zone on a back-shoulder fade, just like they did last week, to make it 14-10. Then just before halftime with :25 remaining, Brady fired a missile to Scotty Miller for a 33-yard touchdown to make it 21-10.

In total, Brady completed 33 of 45 passes for 369 yards and four touchdowns with a fifth on the ground and no interceptions. He was not sacked once, and the Bucs’ red zone numbers were back on track after flopping against the Bears, going 4-of-5 in that department.

Promising trend: Coming off the Bucs’ 11-penalty performance against the Bears in Week 5, Bruce Arians told his players, “You have to get the job done or you won’t be the one doing the job,” inside linebacker Devin White said. It appears they’ve taken it to heart. After delivering a zero-penalty performance for just the second time in franchise history last week against the Green Bay Packers, the Bucs followed that up with just four penalties against the Raiders this week.

A pair of those penalties were costly, though. An offsides penalty on Shaq Barrett negated what would have been a Mike Edwards interception in the third quarter. Then on the very next play, Sean Murphy-Bunting was slapped with a holding call, setting up a 44-yard reception by Nelson Agholor and a 1-yard touchdown strike to Darren Waller to make it a one-score game.

Biggest concern: Pro Bowl wide receiver Mike Evans hasn’t been able to fully practice with an ankle injury he suffered in Week 4 and was targeted three times with just one catch. If he’s that hurt — which it appears he is — there’s no reason to play him against the 1-6 Giants next week when a rematch with New Orleans could decide the NFC South in two weeks. In fact, he was still playing when the Bucs had a two-TD lead, which is baffling.

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