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



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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Toronto FC hoping to make MLS Cup run having spent much of 2020 far from home



On a recent Thursday in Hartford, Conn., Toronto FC goalkeeper Quentin Westberg pondered the dichotomy of wanting to reach MLS Cup on Dec. 12, but also desiring to see his family again. Meanwhile, Jim Liston, the team’s director of sports science, was planning a trip to Lowe’s to buy 15 garbage cans so players could have an ice bath after training. As for manager Greg Vanney, he was fretting about his team’s health and the lack of practice time their schedule was affording.

Such is the life of a team as it attempts to not only navigate its way through the COVID-19 pandemic, but has been forced to do it away from home.

Due to travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada, TFC — like the league’s other two Canadian teams, Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps — set up a “home” base in the U.S. for the remainder of the season; Toronto were stationed in Hartford. (Vancouver Whitecaps took roost in Portland, ground-sharing with Timbers, while Montreal Impact split use of New York Red Bulls’ facilities in Harrison, N.J.) This was on top of nearly every team spending nearly a month inside a bubble back in July at the MLS is Back Tournament outside Orlando, Florida.

The Reds spent about seven weeks back in Toronto as they played a series of matches against Canadian teams. In mid-September, the remainder of the regular season — and the temporary move to Hartford — beckoned. The vagabond nature of the campaign is what led Liston to joke that he was willing to discuss “whatever five seasons” the team has been through so far. But for Vanney and the players, the campaign has required a special kind of focus.

“A lot of what we’ve done here, and what we try to preach here is just control the controllables, and don’t get too drawn into the things you can’t,” Vanney told ESPN. “Roll with it, and make the best out of whatever the situation is.”

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Toronto has largely succeeded in spite of its odyssey. While there was disappointment at missing out on the Supporters’ Shield to the Philadelphia Union, TFC went 7-3-2 during its Hartford sojourn and finished with the second-best record in the league. But the challenges have still been immense. Simply being out of one’s home environment is difficult enough, but the time spent away from family and loved ones weighs heavy on the psyche, even as Vanney has given players the occasional trip back to Toronto — under quarantine — to reconnect with loved ones.

“It’s just very different, very challenging and emotionally exhausting,” Westberg said of his experience while based in Hartford.

Westberg has arguably had it tougher than most. The TFC goalkeeper is married with four children, including a baby girl who was born in June. For that reason, Westberg and his wife, Ania, made the decision at the end of September that it would be better for her and their kids to head back to his native France so they could be surrounded by family. Westberg called it “the least bad decision,” but there are difficulties nonetheless.

“I’m a very even person, and this year has challenged me a lot,” he said. “I’m still pretty even, but I keep a lot to myself and for sure there’s some difficult days, seeing your family [struggle] from your absence.”

The inability to be home has affected the players and staff in other ways. In Toronto, there are ways of disengaging from the game. Being with friends, loved ones or even in familiar surroundings can be the best medicine in terms of forgetting a bad game or training session. But in Hartford, at the team’s hotel, that escape is nearly impossible even as players try to distract themselves by reading or taking online classes.

“You don’t really unplug,” Westberg said. “You FaceTime family, or this or that, but it’s too short. You’re 100 percent focused on your soccer, and your whole day basically relies on being ready for whatever soccer activity that you have next, whether it’s practice or game. It’s good for your physique, it’s optimal for the way you eat and the way you [train]. But mentally, you’re not as fresh as your body.”

That isn’t to say there are only negatives to the separation. There is also an us-against-the-world mentality that Toronto has adopted, given that their players and personnel are experiencing the season in a way that is vastly different than most other teams. The team staff has done what it can to make their surroundings a home away from home, whether it’s personalizing the locker rooms at Rentschler Field or having hotel staff brand the surroundings in TFC colors. The hotel went so far as to bring in a barista who could consistently give the players their coffee fix. Supporters groups have even sent down banners in a bid to convey the fact that the players are remembered.

The care that TFC takes for players has extended to families back home, with the club supplying meals to loved ones three times a week.

On the logistical side, Liston made sure that one of the gyms used at MLS is Back was brought to TFC’s hotel in Hartford, and he remarked that the food at the hotel is “arguably the best we’ve ever had on the road.”

There have also been efforts to create new routines. Assistant coach Jason Bent, aka DJ Soops, has been in charge of the pregame music selection for the past 18 months — no easy feat for a squad that has a considerable international presence. In Hartford, Bent has set aside Thursday nights to spin music in one area of the hotel. He’ll even go live on Instagram or Twitch for those who prefer to relax in their rooms.

“[We] opened it to players and staff and basically anyone that’s part of our bubble to come relax, listen to music and just enjoy each other’s company,” Bent said. “I enjoy making people happy so if it’s helping everyone even in the slightest, I have no problem arranging the set and spinning.”

For Vanney, the pandemic and operating outside of the team’s home market has meant any number of challenges. He said the team has used three different training facilities in Hartford, with varying field conditions. He recognizes that the trips home are vital for the mental health of his players and staff, but any breaks also mean less time spent on the practice field. The compressed schedule, which at times involved games every three or four days, has had an impact as well. Even the best-laid plans in terms of squad rotation were impacted as minor injuries began popping up.

“We end up with a lot of guys in different positions because they need special kinds of treatment or care to help them get fit and back to health,” Vanney said. “So it ends up being a lot of different things kind of going on all at once, and that’s been the challenge of it.”

Recovery from matches has been complicated by the fact that TFC doesn’t have access to the same level of facilities that it does at home — hence Liston’s emergency trip to Lowe’s to fashion impromptu ice baths for the players. Then there are the different ways the players occupy themselves on the road as compared to home, especially amid the pandemic.

“There’s really no life outside of the hotel,” Liston said. “[At home], you may go walk the dog in the afternoon or go for a walk with your wife or friend or girlfriend or family and you’re out and about. The recommendation [here] is to kind of stay put. So you’ve got a really active population and pro athletes, who we’re asking them to be sedentary the rest of the time, kind of stay in the hotel from a COVID and safety standpoint. That’s not optimal for recovery either.”

There are also the creature comforts of home that are no longer available on the road, which can impact sleep.

“Sleep is the number one tool for recovery, and that’s definitely been a challenge,” Liston said. “We do well-being questionnaires and the scores on quality of sleep, and hours of sleep, just drop.”



Tom Barlow and Brian White seal Toronto’s fate in a 2-1 win for New York Red Bulls. Watch MLS on ESPN+.

Another change has been same-day travel, which has drawn mixed reactions from the TFC players and staff. Vanney and Westberg are generally in favor, saying it reminds them of when they each played in France. Flying back the same night also means a training day isn’t lost. Liston has a different perspective in that he prefers arriving the day before, and then leaving the same day.

“I think [same-day travel] makes for a really long day,” he said. “And there’s definitely a negative impact on performance, taking three bus rides and a plane ride before your game. You’re getting home — it can be 12:30, but it could also be 1:30 in the morning, and that’s where you know our well-being scores and sleep hours and quality just disappear. When you have so many games in succession, you can’t make up the sleep.”

With the playoffs set to begin for TFC on Nov. 24, the end is in sight, even as it makes for a complex — and even conflicting — set of emotions.

“This is the tricky part. I miss them a lot,” Westberg said of his family. “But in a way I want to see them as [late] as possible in December, because obviously, there’s this idea that we want to do well in the playoffs and we want to keep going. TFC has a history of setting high standards and high expectations. It’s a heavy load to carry but also an exciting one.”

Win or lose, it’s a season they’ll never forget.


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Bettman: NHL is mulling temporary realignment



The NHL is considering a temporary realignment of its teams for the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, according to commissioner Gary Bettman.

Bettman said Tuesday that restrictions on travel across the Canadian border, as well as “limitations in terms of quarantining when you go from certain states to other states” within the United States, could mean the NHL creates a more regionalized alignment for its upcoming season.

“As it relates to the travel issue, which is obviously the great unknown, we may have to temporarily realign to deal with geography, because having some of our teams travel from Florida to California may not make sense. It may be that we’re better off — particularly if we’re playing a reduced schedule, which we’re contemplating — keeping it geographically centric and more divisional-based; and realigning, again on a temporary basis, to deal with the travel issues,” Bettman said during a 2020 Paley International Council Summit panel with fellow commissioners Adam Silver of the NBA and Rob Manfred of MLB.

The NHL board of governors has a meeting scheduled for Thursday which will provide a progress report and possible recommendations for a season format, based on talks between the league and the NHL Players’ Association. The target date for starting next season remains Jan. 1.

Bettman said the league is considering a few scheduling options for the 2020-21 season. Something that’s off the table: playing the entire season in the kind of bubbles the NHL had in Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta, to complete last season. But Bettman said teams opening in their own arenas is a possibility, along with a modified bubble.

“We are exploring the possibility of playing in our own buildings without fans [or] fans where you can, which is going to be an arena-by-arena issue. But we’re also exploring the possibility of a hub. You’ll come in. You’ll play for 10 to 12 days. You’ll play a bunch of games without traveling. You’ll go back, go home for a week, be with your family. We’ll have our testing protocols and all the other things you need,” he said.

Bettman also indicated that the NHL is exploring “a hybrid, where some teams are in a bubble, some teams play at home and you move in and out.”

The NBA’s board of governors unanimously approved a deal with the players’ union that sets the stage for a season that will open on Dec. 22 and with a reduced schedule of 72 games. Silver said that the commissioners are in communication on COVID-19-related issues, especially the NBA and the NHL, since the two leagues’ teams share arenas and, in some cases, team owners.

Silver said he senses that the NBA will have fans in many of its buildings this season.

“We’re probably going to start one way, where we’re maybe a little bit more conservative than many of the jurisdictions allow,” he said. “What we’ve said to our teams is that we’ll continue to work with public health authorities. Arena issues are different than outdoor stadium issues. There will be certain standards for air filtration and air circulation. There may be a different standard for a suite than there will be for fans spaced in seats.”

Silver said there will be standardized protocols that are consistent from arena to arena, such as proximity between players and fans: “In certain cases, for seats near the floor, we’re going to be putting in testing programs, where fans will certify that they’ve been tested — some within 48 hours, some within day of game.” While Silver supported a continued expansion of the NBA postseason through its play-in tournament, Bettman said that he’s not in favor of expanded playoffs or “playing with the fundamentals of the game.” The NHL had 24 teams in its postseason last summer.


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The Battleground States Where We’ve Seen Some Movement In The Polls



With apologies to The Raconteurs, the presidential race continues to be “steady as she goes,” with little sign of tightening despite a plethora of new polls. FiveThirtyEight’s presidential forecast gives Joe Biden an 89 in 100 shot at winning the election, while President Trump has just an 11 in 100 chance. This makes Biden the favorite, but still leaves open a narrow path to victory for Trump, for whom a reelection win would be surprising — but not utterly shocking.

At the same time, we also have fewer polls from live-caller surveys, which have historically been more accurate and have shown slightly better numbers for Biden, than polls that use other methodologies, such as polls conducted primarily online or through automated telephone calls. Nevertheless, while the overall picture has shifted only a little in recent days, a few battleground states have seen at least some movement in their polls, which has slightly altered the odds Biden or Trump wins in each of those places.

What election stories need to get more coverage | FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast


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