A famous clip from the NFL Films library captures St. Louis Rams coach Dick Vermeil celebrating a Marshall Faulk touchdown run. Vermeil turns to an assistant and says: We didnt block anybody on that play.
And if you take a closer look, you will see Vermeil is telling the truth. The Rams really didnt block anybody; Faulk did it all on his own. He stutter-stepped through the line, cut past the linebacker, faked the safety off his feet and outran the last defender to the end zone.
You watch it two or three times, slowing it down to examine it frame by frame, trying to figure out how he does it. Finally, you give up. Faulk cant explain it either.
I dont know how to put it into words, Faulk told interviewers at Super Bowl XXXVI. You have it. I think I have it. I trust it and I play with it. I dont think it is something you can teach anyone. Its just what I have. Its within me.
Faulks remarkable instincts helped him to a great NFL career and on Sunday he will take his place alongside the games immortals. He is one of seven men being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
Faulk and Deion Sanders both were elected to the Hall in their first year of eligibility. They are joined in the Class of 2011 by Shannon Sharpe (tight end, Denver), Richard Dent (defensive end, Chicago, briefly the Eagles), Les Richter (linebacker, Los Angeles Rams), Chris Hanburger (linebacker, Washington) and Ed Sabol (founder, NFL Films).
Faulks credentials are impeccable. He ranks fourth all-time in combined yards from scrimmage (19,154). He is seventh in rushing touchdowns (100) and total touchdowns (136). He was the first player ever to gain at least 2,000 yards from scrimmage in four consecutive years. He had 80 or more receptions five years in a row.
Faulk wasnt very big (5-10, 210 pounds) but he played huge. When he wasnt carrying the ball from scrimmage or catching it downfield, he was picking up the blitz. That was what endeared him to his teammates in Indianapolis and St. Louis; he really was a team player.
A player of his stature, invariably in professional sports, has a certain amount of selfishness and that lower lip starts to hang if he is not getting the ball, former Rams coach Mike Martz said in a 2000 interview. But thats not Marshall at all. Hes the most unselfish professional athlete Ive ever been around.
Like Eagles coach Andy Reid, Martz would occasionally get into a pass-pass-pass mode and forget about running the ball. Faulk never complained. He just waited for the coach to come to his senses.
In the 2002 NFC championship game, the Eagles had the favored Rams on the ropes. Martz was calling pass after pass and the Eagles blitz was getting to quarterback Kurt Warner. In the second half, Martz started giving the ball to Faulk and thats when the Rams took control of the game.
Faulk scored two second half touchdowns as the Rams won the game, 29-24. Even when the Eagles knew Faulk was coming, they could not stop him. He finished with 159 yards rushing as the Rams moved on to the Super Bowl.
Faulk had that special gift for avoiding tacklers call it instinct, call it vision, whatever but he did not take anything for granted. He spent hours studying tape. He knew the assignments for every player on offense. He knew where every blocker was supposed to be. He knew every pass route. He knew it all.
Wilbert Montgomery, the former Eagles great, was the Rams backfield coach. He marveled over Faulks attention to detail. Faulk had to learn multiple roles in the St. Louis offense. He lined up at wide receiver and slot receiver as well as running back. Montgomery said Faulk never blew an assignment.
Hes what coaches call a grinder, Montgomery said. Great players arent usually grinders. They have so much God-given ability, they dont have to spend that study time. Marshall does it, thats what puts him in a class above everyone else.
Montgomery said it was not uncommon for him to arrive at the office and find Faulk already there, coffee in hand, watching film. The coach would leave for a meeting and return an hour later to find several sheets of paper on his desk with diagrams of plays that Faulk drew up for the next game.
Ive always been hungry to learn about the game, to be one step ahead of the next person, Faulk said in accepting the Bert Bell Award from the Maxwell Football Club as the Most Valuable Player of the 2000 season. I hate to mess up. I dont think there is room for error in football.
Its a high impact game and peoples lives are on the line out there so to speak. I want to make sure Im prepared. I want to make sure Im ready.
When I think of Marshall, the first thing that comes to mind is how mentally strong and aware he is, Warner said. Ive never been around a player at that position whos that talented but also understands the game as well as he does.
Faulk was a special player, indeed. Now he is a Hall of Famer.