Kevin Faulk distinguished himself as a franchise Hall of Famer over the course of his career with the Patriots. (Elsa/Getty Images)
1. I’m going to be honest here: I’m probably incapable of writing unemotionally about Kevin Faulk. I know that’s probably considered a violation of some sort of journalistic code, but when it comes to stuff like this, I don’t really care. I’ve covered the team since 2001, and I got the chance to know him a little when he was a player, and I had the great fortune to sit next to him as a broadcast partner for a year, and he was always good company who treated me (and whoever he was working with) with respect. So if you’re looking tor a straightforward analytical look at the newest member of the Patriots Hall of Fame, you’re probably in the wrong place. (You’re also in the wrong place if you’re looking to rehash the Bill Parcells/Patriots Hall of Fame debate. Let’s all agree to meet back here next spring to talk about that again.) What I can tell you is that Faulk is eminently deserving of this honor, and I was proud to be one of the people who backed him at the Hall of Fame committee meeting. Look up the numbers if you want here, but just know that Faulk did a little bit of everything over the course of his career: feature back, third-down back, return man, direct-snap specialist. An eminently reliable, consistent and dependable performer who went to five Super Bowls and played a role in three wins, he probably would have won the award, even if he didn’t stroll out the second night of the NFL draft with a Tom Brady jersey on. (Our poll had him leading before that night.) After that, Mike Vrabel and Raymond Clayborn didn’t stand a chance.
2. Faulk was never the face-of-the-franchise, elite-level superstar type like the quarterback. And he was never the emotional centerpiece like Tedy Bruschi or Troy Brown. Instead, he occupied a weird little in-between spot in the hearts of fans, an undersized back who manage to reboot his career on three different occasions during his time with the Patriots. One of only a few players who ultimately survived the purge when Bill Belichick took over in 2000, as his career continued, he soon became one of the most well-respected guys in the New England locker room, managing to garner the admiration of players on both sides of the football. Most of the time, offensive guys stick with offensive guys and defensive guys stick with defensive guys. Only occasionally, there comes along a guy who is able to get both sides to defer to his leadership skills. Junior Seau was like that. Vince Wilfork was like that. Faulk was like that. There was, of course, one bad decision. If he had one mulligan, I suspect he would have left the weed at home in 2008 instead of bringing it with him to the Lil’ Wayne concert. That got him banned for a game, arguably the only thing he ever did that reflected negatively on the organization. But there was more than enough good to make up for that.
3. It’s easy to forget how many big plays he was responsible for, particularly over the second half of his career. And there was no one else who was capable of executing the direct snap and coming away with something big better than Faulk. (Google “Kevin Faulk” and “direct snap” and you get more than 3,000 results.) Super Bowl XXXVIII against the Panthers. The 2006 divisional playoffs against the Chargers. In big moments, he was always able to come up with a big performance. Built to run gadget plays, he was one of only two guys to throw a pass to Tom Brady.
4. There were few people who were tapped into the mind of the quarterback better than Faulk. On one morning in 2009, I approached him in the locker room to ask him about Brady. Brady and Faulk spent more time together on the New England roster than any offensive player — they were teammates for 12 seasons. If anyone could give an additional level of insight into Brady’s psyche, it was Faulk. Earlier in the year, Faulk had pulled a struggling Brady aside and expressed some concern. “You doing all right?” Faulk asked Brady two days before a September game against the Falcons. “I’ve played with you for a long time, and there’s just something that’s a little different now.”
I asked him about the conversation, and Faulk paused for a moment and smiled. He looked down to the other end of the locker room at the sizable crowd around Brady. He told me: “When you’re around someone for such a long period of time, you tend to take notice — you want to know. You’re concerned about it because you’ve been around him for so long. You’ve been friends for so long. You’re more than teammates in this locker room.”
(Just spitballing here, but if the quarterback ends up having to sit for the first four games of the regular season, the one thing that will grate at him as much as the suspension itself is the fact that he won’t be able to be at Gillette when Faulk is honored at halftime of the regular-season opener. The two had a bromance long before Julian Edelman came along, one that does far beyond Faulk’s now-famous decision to wear Brady’s jersey at the draft. While Brady will find some way to make sure Faulk is honored, from this perspective, it’ll be tough for him not to be able to be there the day his “brother from another mother” is honored at halftime.)
5. Faulk got respect because he gave respect. He was one of the well-established veterans in the New England locker room who had permission to speak freely with the media. Of course, Faulk was on the program, but when the cameras were turned off and the pads and pens were put away, you could approach him and ask him a specific question during the week, and he’d give you a thoughtful, substantive answer that made you a better reporter: What did I see out there? What were you guys trying to do? Where did the execution break down? He would never give away state secrets, but Faulk (along with the likes of Rodney Harrison and Richard Seymour) would be open to chatting with a reporter who was simply looking to understand more about the game.
Ultimately, that respect was a two-way street. The most notable time came in the wake of 4th and 2 against the Colts. After Faulk came up short of the sticks that night in Indy, the media (naturally) rushed to his locker after the game looking for answers. Sitting at his locker, still in full pads, Faulk had his head down. After a few moments, he looked up at us and asked us for a minute to collect his thoughts. On deadline, we acquiesced. After a few moments, he provided us with everything we needed. He was forthright, direct and accountable after a brutal, gut-punch of a loss. It was one of many reasons why it was a pleasure to cover him for a sizable portion of his playing career, and why it was an honor to support him as a Hall of Fame candidate.