Faulk's Finest Hour
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
By Nick Wagoner
Stuck in a dire situation, Marshall Faulk found himself in a form of football purgatory in 1998. After five years in Indianapolis, Faulk had reached his breaking point.
All of the struggles, all of the mistakes and most of all, all of the losses had finally caused Faulk to go to management and seek something better. Faulk didn’t ask much; it wasn’t about the money. He could have had plenty of that from the Colts.
What Faulk wanted was a chance to win. So when he received word on April 15, 1999, that he was being sent to the Rams for a second and fifth round selection in the upcoming NFL Draft, Faulk was less than thrilled.
“My thoughts when I first came to St. Louis weren’t good,” Faulk said. “I felt like I was in a bad situation and the situation in St. Louis wasn’t any better.”
Considering that in his five seasons in the league, the Rams had won 26 games or six less than the Colts in that same time frame. Of course, Indianapolis had gone 3-13 the two previous seasons and appeared headed nowhere.
But that didn’t mean Faulk was thrilled with his new home in St. Louis. As Faulk watches his No. 28 jersey raised to the rafters Thursday night, never to be worn by a Ram again, it’s hard not to imagine how he went from unhappy all-star to man of honor.
A MINI REVELATION
Entering the 1999 offseason, the Rams were faced with the task of overhauling a boring offense that scored so little that the scorekeeper at the Edward Jones Dome felt like the Maytag repairman.
To that end, the Rams aggressively pursued help on the line and at the skill positions. They signed Trent Green to play quarterback and Adam Timmerman at guard. They drafted young receiver Torry Holt out of North Carolina State and hired a young offensive-minded coordinator in the form of Mike Martz.
While those moves were a step in the right direction, none had the cache that would really draw the attention of landing a Pro Bowl running back such as Faulk. In the days leading to the draft, the Rams finally settled on a deal and Faulk became a Ram.
With Faulk in the fold, it appeared the Rams had the foundation for an explosive offensive but it remained to be seen how the pieces would come together. Of course, it would have been impossible for those pieces to fit if Faulk never entered the fray.
Faulk got to St. Louis without a new contract in hand and wasn’t even sure he wanted to be here. After careful consideration, Faulk decided to give the Rams a shot before he made a decision.
“I took my time and I thought about it and I think the best thing that I did was I decided to go to minicamp and I got a chance to be around the likes of Isaac Bruce, Trent Green, etc,” Faulk said. “I got an opportunity to see that this team was a team that was full of guys that had the same feeling of being all about the middle part of our career and we felt that why not us, right here, right now?”
Faulk got a new seven-year, $45.15 million contract on Aug. 4, 1999, and the Rams had their new offensive focal point.
“If you watched how we practiced and the things we got accomplished in practice, which was different than I had ever done before, you knew that you wanted to be a part of it,” Faulk said. “I knew right off the bat that something was going on here.”
A NEW LEVEL OF FUN
In his first year as an offensive coordinator, Martz had grand ideas for all of his new toys, including Faulk. Faulk had already established himself as one of the best dual threat backs in the league, combining tremendous running ability with the pass catching skills of a wide receiver.
The one thing Faulk hadn’t experienced, at least not at a high level, was winning. In Indianapolis, the play calling generally had Faulk’s name attached to every opportunity. In St. Louis, that all changed.
In the first five or so games, Faulk barely even touched the ball as he was asked to block for quarterback Kurt Warner so he could disperse the ball to the likes of Bruce, Holt and Az Hakim. Games such as his 11 touch, 44-yard effort in week three against Cincinnati would have angered him in Indianapolis.
But he paid no mind to something as trivial as that for the simple reason that the Rams were winning.
“I didn’t give it a thought,” Faulk said. “I had done enough thinking about me. It was time for me to move on and think about the bigger picture as in what am I going to take away from this game? You don’t take records, you take wins and losses and Super Bowls. You take money, everybody gets that, but everybody doesn’t get the opportunity to win a Super Bowl.”
Faulk soon got more involved in the offense and had a breakout game against Atlanta the following week. The fact that he was a piece to the puzzle rather than the entire puzzle was a welcome respite for someone who had been asked to carry the Colts’ banner almost on his own.
And Faulk’s presence was felt in more than just the stat lines. Warner’s job was easier with Faulk to hand off to or block for him. The offensive line didn’t have to hold blocks as long because of Faulk’s superior vision and jockstrap-forfeiting moves.
“He just made my job a lot easier,” left tackle Orlando Pace said. “As an offensive lineman you appreciated that because you don’t have to hold the guy as long and he understands your blocks so it was always a thrill to have him out there.”
By the time his first season in St. Louis was over, Faulk had earned the right to call himself a Super Bowl champion. He won the league’s Offensive Player of the Year honors for his 2,429 yards from scrimmage (a league record that still stands) and 12 touchdowns.
To this day, Faulk still calls that entire season his best memory of his time in football.
“That whole year in which we won the Super Bowl was by far one of the best things ever because no one knew,” Faulk said. “We would play teams where they didn’t know what was going on and they didn’t know because we didn’t know what was going to happen next. They didn’t know what we were going to do and neither did we. It was all uncharted water, guys just going out, giving it their all, competing and it was fun. The amount of fun we had I don’t know if teams have fun the way we had fun.”
In the next two seasons, Faulk cemented his legacy as one of the greatest running backs in league history. In 2000, Faulk posted a then-NFL record 26 touchdowns on his way to MVP honors. In 2001, he scored 21 times and posted 2,147 yards from scrimmage on his way to his third consecutive Offensive Player of the Year honor.
Faulk battled knee injuries in the next few years before stepping away from the game officially this year. All told, Faulk ranks ninth in career rushing yards, seventh in rushing touchdowns, fourth in yards from scrimmage and fourth in total touchdowns.
Although Faulk didn’t get to leave on his terms, he says he has no regrets.
“The Rams didn’t cut me, they didn’t let me go, they allowed me to make the decision that was best with my knee and my situation and that’s how it was,” Faulk said. “Thankfully I was given that by the Rams. A lot of organizations would kick you to the curb. I was given an opportunity to make the decision that was best for me.”
ONE OF THE BEST
Watching Faulk from his home in Las Vegas or as a young running back at Oregon State, Steven Jackson couldn’t help but admire the things Faulk was doing to change the way the position was played.
Jackson has become a top shelf NFL back in his own right, partially because of the way he watched Faulk work from a far and later when the two were together in St. Louis.
“I think Marshall is the very reason why the running back position has evolved,” Jackson said. “Being able to run, catch, block and become a franchise guy, he is the epitome of the new age running back and he has done unbelievable things. He was definitely a special gift to the NFL and to the position of being a running back.”
Quarterback Marc Bulger was little more than an afterthought as the backup to Warner in 2001 when he came to St. Louis.
By that time, the Greatest Show on Turf was on the back end of its’ terrific run, but Faulk was still cruising along as the best and most complete runner in the league.
While Bulger wasn’t able to be on the field with Faulk at his absolute prime, he had a front row seat for all of the fireworks Faulk provided.
“Watching Marshall was something to see,” Bulger said. “Every time he touched the ball you didn’t know what he was going to do.”
Long known for his ankle breaking cuts or Superman vision, Bulger says Faulk’s best attribute was his brain. As Bulger and Pace tell it, Faulk was like another quarterback on the field. Faulk knew at all times where every player on the field was supposed to be and what each player’s assignment on every play was.
For that reason and more, Bulger calls Faulk the best player he has ever played with. High praise considering he still works with the likes Bruce and Holt.
“There are Hall of Famers and then there are guys who you are talking might be the best of all time,” Bulger said. “But with Marshall there is a top three or four and he’s in that with Jim Brown and Walter Payton. I think Marshall is in the top three.”
FAULK IN THE FUTURE
For most of his NFL career, Faulk did freelance work for national television networks. He was a natural in front of the camera and could easily break down games and highlight films.
That made for a natural transition from the field to the studio and announcers booth in 2006. Faulk is even pulling double duty tonight as the analyst for the game on NFL Network.
“I am enjoying television so much,” Faulk said. “It is without a doubt one of the best decisions that I could have ever made.”
That doesn’t mean Faulk is married to a television career, though. His ability to evaluate talent and relationships throughout the league make him a natural candidate for a front office position.
Faulk won’t just blindly throw himself into a job..
“It’s the right time and the right situation,” Faulk said. “I am going to make sure that the right situation must present itself. I am not just going to take any old job.”
For now, Faulk is going to take it all in tomorrow night and enjoy his chance to be the first St. Louis Ram to have his number retired at the Edward Jones Dome. Faulk knows he is the first of what could be a large group including Bruce, Holt, Pace and Warner to see his number recorded for posterity.
While Faulk doesn’t know what emotions he will feel as tonight’s ceremony begins, he does acknowledge there will be an overwhelming sense accomplishment.
“I really don’t know what my feelings are,” Faulk said. “Getting my jersey retired is definitely a great honor. I will be the first St. Louis Ram to have his jersey retired and I am just not one for accolades and stuff like that, but this one is very special. I am happy to be getting it. I really don’t know exactly how I am going to feel until it happens to be honest with you.”
Much like he didn’t know how he would feel when he came to St. Louis, Faulk can rest easy knowing this one’s a sure thing.
Re: Faulk's Finest Hour
We all know the NFLN will have the game, they should cover Marshall big night, next stop HOF!
Re: Faulk's Finest Hour
Thanks Marshall, for being a Ram and part of the GSOT legacy.