Allow Faulk Time He Needs For A Decision; He’s Earned It

By Bryan Burwell
Updated: June 13, 2006

ST. LOUIS — Maybe if he were just another faceless man whose fleeting journey across the NFL landscape was over without a trace, it would make sense to escort Marshall Faulk out of pro football with an impatient exit.

In that make-believe world, Faulk would have click-clacked through his athletic life like it was one of the cart paths at Old Hickory Golf Club on Monday afternoon, with his golf spikes never leaving a mark on the hardened surface.

Though as we see him take his final uncertain steps toward an inevitable yet still undetermined retirement, we know that his 12-year romp through the NFL has left large footprints deeply imbedded into the panorama of football history.

There’s no doubt where he’s been and what he’s done.

This is what the Rams organization – and to a lesser extent its nervous fan base – must consider as The Greatest Ram deliberates his future. With Faulk’s 33-year-old, surgically repaired knees healing a bit too slowly for his tastes, new head coach Scott Linehan grows more than a little antsy about when Faulk will arrive at a definitive career decision.

Just as the Green Bay Packers felt like their living legend Brett Favre was holding them hostage most of the winter as he procrastinated over when to end his glorious career, Linehan and the Rams organization probably feel like they’re in a similar bind with Faulk.

Last weekend, Faulk failed to show up at minicamp because he’s not fully recovered from knee surgery in February, and he remained in limbo concerning whether he will be ready for the start of next month’s training camp and the 2006 regular season.

While Linehan’s sense of urgency is understandable, Faulk’s athletic greatness should afford him the rare luxury of his own timetable and save him the indignity of a cold and heartless retirement. The overwhelming worth of his career body of work earns him this unique privilege of career self-determination.

Or at least it should.

Not everyone deserves this sort of self-indulgence. But Faulk is not everybody.

He earned the right because he has been great since the day he arrived here. He’s earned it because he has never been a me-first prima donna. He deserves it because he has sacrificed his body without regard or regret. He earned the benefit because he was always the smartest man in the film room and on the playing field.

His name is littered across the pages of NFL history books in just about every meaningful statistical category that measures a running back’s star quality. He ranks fourth all-time in touchdowns (136), sixth in rushing TDs (100), ninth in career rushing yardage (12,279), fourth in total yards from scrimmage (19,154), sixth in combined net yards (19,160), second in receptions by a running back (767) and first in receiving yards by a running back (6,875).

But with Faulk it was always so much more than that. Faulk’s privilege was earned behind the scenes, when the cameras weren’t on him. It was earned when he was quietly acting like the ideal team leader and most valuable player in every sense of the word.

It was earned on all those countless days spent on the trainer’s table when every sensible man would have known that getting off the table, putting on his uniform and slamming into 300-pound defenders with bad intentions on their minds made no sense at all.

But there were important games to be played, and championships to be won. So he dragged himself out there when his arms may have felt like empty sleeves or his knees may have felt like lead weights, or the pain raced through his body like high voltage surges.

All of that happened long before Linehan arrived in St. Louis, so I wouldn’t expect him to necessarily share any kinship or everlasting obligation to The Greatest Ram for the toll that he willingly subjected his body to for the sake of the organization.

His impatience I can understand. But there are plenty of people in that building in Earth City who do know what Faulk has meant to the Rams. It’s up to them to give the new guy a history lesson, a dose of patience and some valued perspective.

Not everyone is worth it. But for all he’s done, Marshall Faulk surely is.