Faulk keeps all at arm's length

Football: The spectacular moves of the Rams running back leave many would-be tacklers grabbing air

those looking for insight into his character often end up the same way

Super Bowl XXXIV

January 27, 2000|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA -- If there's one word to describe Marshall Faulk, it would be elusive.

He's hard to corral on and off the football field.

On the field, his skills amaze even his peers.

"He's obviously the closest thing to Barry Sanders, if not better," said Eddie George, his counterpart with the Tennessee Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV. "Myself, I'm just a power back. He's not only a run threat to take it 80, he can also catch it out of the backfield and be a great receiver."

St. Louis' off-season trade for Faulk is one of the main reasons the Rams have gone from perennial loser to Super Bowl team in one year.

Off the field, though, Faulk is even more elusive.

He grew up on the mean streets of New Orleans, but he's not eager to provide many details.

"It was tough, but no tougher than any other housing project or areas where people lived," Faulk said. "I learned a lot of things. It was an experience. I can't explain it to you. It prepared me for other obstacles in my life that I had to overcome."

On how he survived his environment, he said: "Not always did I walk that straight line. I'm not going to say that I'm an angel, but I did make some right decisions along the way that got me where I am today."

That's about as much detail as he's willing to provide, and it's easy in the flood of media questions at the Super Bowl to go on to other matters.

But even when there's more time to discuss his past, he's not eager to do it.

A St. Louis reporter recently spent 17 days trying to get a one-on-one interview. The session lasted 15 minutes. Faulk declined to provide the phone numbers for his mother or his five brothers.

One theory about why he's so reticent with reporters is that he's never gotten over a profile that appeared in Sports Illustrated in 1995, when he was in his second year with the Indianapolis Colts and had let a writer tag around with him for 10 days in the off-season.

The portrait wasn't particularly flattering. It said he had trouble controlling his spending habits -- having purchased 11 cars and three homes -- had a brother jailed for robbery and had a troubled relationship with his father and had not attended his funeral.

When Faulk was ready to quit high school to get a job, his football coach, Wayne Reese, got him work at the school as a custodian.

"I made a little money, and I learned something, too. I learned that when I grew up, I didn't want to work a normal job," Faulk said.

He went to San Diego State because it was the one school that offered him a chance to play running back instead of defensive back after performing in obscurity in high school.

"He went to a black school coached by a black coach," Reese was quoted as saying in the SI article. "Had he been coached by a white coach at a private school, Marshall Faulk would have been a household name in the city."

For Faulk, college was a way out, and he never looked back.

If Faulk wanted to tell his story, it would probably be an inspirational one of beating the odds and overcoming a tough childhood.

One of his high school teachers recently told a St. Louis reporter that he was a "skinny little something" who had several "nutrition-related diseases" that led him to be hospitalized. Faulk's version was that high blood pressure runs in the family.

However many obstacles he had to overcome, it didn't take him long to make his mark at San Diego State.

He was supposed to be redshirted his freshman year, but he got a chance to play when the starter got hurt in the second game and made sensational debut by rushing for 386 yards and seven touchdowns in 37 carries against Pacific.

He became the first freshman to lead the nation in rushing (158.8 yards a game) and scoring (15.6 a game). His three-season total of 4,589 yards was the most ever. He scored 57 touchdowns and rushed for 100 yards in 23 of 32 collegiate games.

He left school after three years, was drafted in the first round by the Colts, received a $5.1 million signing bonus and started spending. But not all on himself.

He bought uniforms for all the teams at his high school, along with other equipment, and paid $250,000 for an addition to the football offices at San Diego State.

He rushed for 5,320 yards in five years with the Colts, but the team was a loser the last two years, and the Colts knew they had a chance to draft Edgerrin James. They figured Faulk would be a holdout, so they traded him to the Rams for draft picks in the second and fifth rounds.

It was the deal of the year when he signed after a brief holdout.

"I expected Marshall Faulk to make an outstanding contribution and be a difference in us being a good football team and being a playoff team," coach Dick Vermeil said. "I didn't anticipate him being as good as he really is. I underestimated his value and talents."

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