He Marshalled all his talents
By Lori Shontz
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Saturday, Jul. 22 2006
How did he do it? Rams running back Marshall Faulk has never been one for
explaining. During his 12-year NFL career, he has routinely declined to talk
about his family, his life growing up in the Desire Street housing project in
New Orleans and even his on-field accomplishments.
But on Christmas Eve 2000, just after rushing for 220 yards and three
touchdowns against his hometown Saints and setting a then-NFL season record
with 26 touchdowns, Faulk let down his guard a bit.
"You dream about a lot of things when you grow up as a kid, and mine was to get
out of my neighborhood and to make it in life, and you never know how far your
determination and your drive is going to take you," he told reporters. "But
you've just got to ... keep pushing. When things happen bad, close your eyes
and just keep pushing. That's basically what I've done, and I'm here right now."
It appears Faulk's days of pushing himself on the football field are nearing an
end. Rams coach Scott Linehan announced Friday that Faulk will miss this season
after having knee surgery this week. His NFL career might be over.
But his legacy is secure. Former Rams coach Mike Martz once said everyone
called him "Canton" because "that's where he's going to end up," and certainly
Faulk doesn't need to rush for another yard or catch one more pass to secure a
place in the Hall of Fame.
In a three-year period from 1999 to 2001, Faulk was the star running back for
the NFL's best offense. He was voted the NFL's Offensive Player of the Year in
all three seasons, won the 2000 MVP and finished second to teammate Kurt Warner
in the 1999 and 2001 MVP balloting. Not coincidentally, the Rams went to the
Super Bowl twice in that span, winning in 2000.
"Whenever you talk about who the best was, you've got to include a lot of
names," former Rams coach Dick Vermeil said last week. "But whenever you're
talking about one of the finest to ever play, you have to talk about Marshall
Faulk within that conversation."
That's because Faulk did it all.
He had the speed to outrun just about any defender; he once said he hasn't been
caught from behind since his freshman year of high school. He could use his
power to churn out yards; in the fourth quarter, if the Rams needed to run down
the clock, he could carry the ball 10 times in a row, consistently making first
Style and substance
Faulk's combination of athletic ability and intelligence - coaches said he
understood the offense better than anyone - enabled him to find holes that no
one else knew existed. Vermeil remembers Faulk scoring a touchdown once even
though none of his teammates threw a block. "We went back and looked at the
film, and nobody could figure out how in the heck he did it," Vermeil said.
"But he did it."
Faulk's career numbers are gaudy. Only five players in NFL history have gained
more than his 19,190 combined net yards. He is ninth on the NFL's career
rushing list with 12,279 yards, and 16th on its career receiving list with
6,875 yards. (No running back has gained more receiving yards.) He has scored
136 touchdowns, 100 rushing. He became the first NFL player to amass more than
2,000 yards in four consecutive seasons.
And he did everything with style.
"When Faulk is in his rhythm, the result is like jazz," Post-Dispatch columnist
Bernie Miklasz wrote in 1999. "You could loop the sounds of John Coltrane,
Miles Davis and Charlie Parker onto a video of Faulk running with the football,
and his moves would fit the riffs. It is hard to explain his style. You just
watch it and appreciate the artist at work."
Faulk performed some equally impressive feats off the field. He went from
selling popcorn at the Superdome to playing in a Super Bowl there. He
transformed himself from what his high school coach, Wayne Reese, has called "a
basic Ninth Ward thug" to a multimillionaire who returns to his former
neighborhood - now devastated not just by gangs and drugs, but by Hurricane
Katrina - to assist by providing both financial support and a role model for
struggling young men.
The Marshall Faulk Foundation has provided support to many local charities, and
his Rams 28 Club has encouraged and rewarded children at seven local community
centers to work hard in school, help at home and do projects at the center.
"I think he felt like his whole life he was trying to run from drugs, run from
gangs and guns, and trying to stay clean," said Jennifer Weber, executive
director of the Marshall Faulk Foundation. "He just was surrounded by it, and
he didn't like it. I think it was a no-brainer for him - I'm going to help
inner-city kids like myself. I'm going to show them there's a way out."
The only blip in his public image came in 2003, when the mother of three of his
children accused him of domestic battery, and the case went to trial. After
several days of sometimes lurid testimony, Faulk was cleared after the jury
deliberated for less than two hours.
Moving to Rams
The Rams desperately needed a running back when they acquired Faulk on April
15, 1999 in a trade with the Indianapolis Colts, who had chosen him second
overall in the 1994 NFL draft. The Rams' leading rusher in 1998 was June
Henley, with 313 yards.
The Rams gave up only second- and fifth-round draft picks, and then used their
first-round pick to acquire wide receiver Torry Holt.
"We felt we were getting better the first two years I was there, but it didn't
show on the scoreboard," Vermeil said. "We did feel a lot of things were coming
together. When he got here, he brought a level of credibility to the
organization, a statement that we were committed to winning."
At the time, Faulk said he thought the Rams got him cheaply, considering he had
played in three Pro Bowls, amassed four 1,000-yard rushing seasons and had been
ranked No. 3 on the NFL reception list. "I think I'm worth more, I really feel
and believe that I am," he told reporters. "But that's what happens. If you can
get anything cheaper or less the price, you do it. That's the American way."
Faulk held out for the beginning of training camp before signing a $45.15
million dollar contract. He proved himself worth the money in his first Rams
season, breaking the NFL's single-season record for yards from scrimmage with
2,429. The previous record holder? Barry Sanders.
The NFL named Warner its MVP; he received 33 votes to eight apiece for Faulk
and his former teammate, Colts quarterback Peyton Manning. But the Rams voted
Faulk as their team MVP, and Faulk was named the NFL's Offensive Player of the
Year over Warner.
After the announcement, Vermeil said, "He turns the boost-up in our engine
beyond league rules."
In recent seasons, numerous knee surgeries and the usual passage of time began
to take its toll on Faulk. The Rams drafted Steven Jackson in 2004, although
Faulk continued to start. But in 2005, Faulk restructured his contract, taking
a pay cut to save the Rams $3.5 million of cap room in 2005 and 2006.
"You're just got to be honest with yourself and decide where you're at and
where you want to be," Faulk told reporters. "I probably can't do all the
things that I used to be able to do, just because it's Father Time. It happens.
"With what we're trying to get accomplished, I'd not only be cheating myself,
I'd be cheating my teammates if I continued to make the money that I was making
and wasn't producing or putting out to the level of payment that I was
receiving. That's just me."
Nothing in recent seasons has diminished Faulk's legacy. Those who saw him play
probably probably remember him as Warner described him in October 2000, after
Faulk turned in yet another dazzling performance.
"You sit back and shake your head," Warner told the Post-Dispatch. "The guy's
amazing. We say it every week, and every week he comes out and does more things
that you can't believe he can do."
Re: He Marshalled all his talents
Very nice article. I love these stories about players that come from very difficult beginnings. They have the talent and the attitude to rise above it all, but they don't forget the past and where they came from.
A lot of times I think that we pay the players way too much for what they do, since they are just playing a game, but stories, like this one, make me believe that some of the money is being used for a greater good.
Marshall Faulk is a great player and a great man. I have been a fan of his from as far back as his Colts days.
Re: He Marshalled all his talents
It's still sinking in that I won't see #28 on a football field for the first time since 1991, when I was awed by a San Diego State backup running back who ran for an NCAA record 386 yards and 7 touchdowns, in his very first game as a freshman no less.
Re: He Marshalled all his talents
yes he is a great man and player ... these type of men only come around only so often , not very often do you see a player like this come into the league ... most all are very good or they would not be in NFL but from time too time you see one who really stands out ... I have seen many players come and go since 1958 and Marshall's is one of best to ever play the game ...