Back at home, Faulk not staying put

A Superdome vendor as teen, he returns there as running Ram

Super Bowl, Patriots Vs. Rams

January 30, 2002|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

NEW ORLEANS - He runs with a magician's touch. One second Marshall Faulk is right here. The next he is over there, headed in another direction.

And that's just his interview style.

The mercurial Faulk dazzled his media audience when the St. Louis Rams took their turn in the Superdome yesterday, as the countdown to Super Bowl XXXVI and the New England Patriots began in earnest.

What did he learn from his experience in Super Bowl XXXIV two years ago?

"When you're up on the stage, smile and answer the questions you want to answer and try to have fun with it," the NFL's best running back said.

Faulk, 28, smiled and laughed a lot, and talked about growing up in his hometown of New Orleans. In his teen years, Faulk was a popcorn vendor in this very Superdome and a fry cook in a restaurant. But he drew the line, apparently, at washing dishes.

"I've done a little bit of everything," he said. "I wasn't a dishwasher, but I was a fry cook. They asked me to be a dishwasher, and I left."

When? "That day."

There are places Faulk will go, and there are places he won't. He protects his privacy as well as the football he carries.

On growing up in the Big Easy: "Always good memories, whether they are tough or not. All memories are good memories. I look at them like that. You learn something from everything."

Asked about the hardship of growing up in the projects of New Orleans, though, and Faulk did a nifty reverse spin and headed off in the direction of another question. That's one place he won't go.

Then there is San Diego State, his college of choice after a versatile career at Carver High as a cornerback, quarterback, running back and wide receiver. It's classic Faulk, changing direction on a dime and a vision.

"I grew up in all-black housing projects and went to an all-black high school," he said. "I went to all-black schools all of my life, and then I went to the melting pot of the world. I went to a school where there was everything. It was a little different, but I was open-minded.

"I wanted to go far enough away to where I understood that where I was good, I was going to be successful doing something."

When it comes to football, Faulk is the epitome of success. In three years at San Diego State, he rushed for 4,589 yards, scored 62 touchdowns and was a three-time consensus All-American. In eight NFL seasons, he has rushed for 9,442 yards, scored 110 touchdowns and been named to six Pro Bowls.

First at Indianapolis, then in St. Louis after a 1999 trade, Faulk has seemingly reinvented the position. He is tough enough to run inside, as he did in the second half on Sunday to lift the Rams past the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC championship game. And he is quick enough to go outside and play flanker for one of the NFL's all-time great offenses.

"Watching him on tape or television does not do him justice," said Rams coach Mike Martz. "You almost have to see him in person to believe it. He has such a great stop and go and change of direction ability. He can come to a dead stop and jump into full gear within two or three steps, it seems. He is remarkable at seeing and being aware of holes, and being able to get through before it closes up. ...

"The other aspect of it is that he is probably one of the most unselfish players you will see in this league. He is a terrific pass blocker and we have asked him to be a lead blocker occasionally for [tight end] Ernie Conwell, and yet, he is a remarkable receiver. He probably has the best hands on the football team. He's the whole package. I don't know if there has ever been anybody like him."

Faulk is passing milestones now. He passed Hall of Fame running back Eric Dickerson this season for the Rams' team touchdown record with 59. He broke a tie with Barry Sanders for ninth place in career touchdowns with 110. He moved past Hall of Famer Jim Brown into 10th place on the career list of total yards from scrimmage with 14,889.

But don't ask him to consider his place in history.

"I really don't think about my place in history or where I'm at right now or where I'm going," he said. "I think about that's coming up on Sunday."

Patriots middle linebacker Tedy Bruschi is coming up on Sunday, and he had this impression of Faulk yesterday: "Sometimes it seems like he's on another level than the defenses that are playing him."

Faulk is a cerebral running back who gained a keen understanding of the game even in high school. He learned at an early age what it is that gives him pleasure, and what it is that he's good at.

"I like having the ball in my hands," he said, "and people chasing me."

Super Bowl

St. Louis Rams (16-2) vs. New England Patriots (13-5) What: Super Bowl XXXVI

Where: Superdome, New Orleans

When: Sunday, 6:20 p.m.

TV: Chs. 45, 5

Line: Rams by 14

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