In appreciation of Patriots RB Kevin Faulk, who officially retired today

Patriots RB Kevin Faulk retired officially today (Patriots twitpic)

Today, in a ceremony at the Patriots Hall of Fame, RB Kevin Faulk officially retired. It was no surprise. The 36-year-old former second-round draft pick of the Patriots wasn’t on a roster and contributed only in the role of elder statesman last year.

And so, in what sounded like a fantastically classy ceremony, Faulk announced his career was over. The only player to precede Bill Belichick was calling it quits. Considering how many people were in attendance (as in, most of the organization), Faulk didn’t get the last word.

”It’s truly been an honor to have the opportunity to coach you and to be on the team with you,” Belichick told Faulk, according to the Boston Herald. ”He’s the ultimate team player.”

You can read some tidbits here and see some snapshots from the Patriots twitter account. Faulk was an incredible player. A former bell cow at LSU, he morphed into the prime example of a third-down back right when sub defenses became all the rage. In essence, he was a starter who was labeled as a third-down back, and no one back was on the field more during many of his 13 seasons.

But that’s not what I want to talk about. That’s not what I will remember.

Fast, explosive, secure, dependable, Faulk was all those things. It’s not a coincidence that back in 2009, on fourth-and-2 against the Colts when the Patriots had to have it, the ball went from QB Tom Brady to Faulk. The fact that he was inches short changes nothing about its meaning. It’s that he was who they trusted.

All of this is what will almost certainly make Faulk a member of the Patriots Hall of Fame at some point. Again, that’s not why I’m writing. I grew to really like Faulk as a guy, just one of my favorite people to talk to about non-football stuff. A great person. Again, not why I’m writing.

For me, I will always remember Faulk — having covered him for three  years. There are the two big things about Faulk that are ingrained in my mind:

1. No one was more accountable to the media, to fans, to his fellow players, to coaches. After fourth-and-2, the worst moment of most players’ careers, Faulk was at his locker to meet a media horde to explain why he came up inches short in the biggest moment of the season. He did so in tears. Eight minutes later, another wave of reporters came by, and Faulk addressed the same topic with them. Tears were still coming, he was still discussing it. If there was ever a moment to find private peace, it was this. And Faulk met the public. The team had melted down, and he stood tall, earning eternal respect.

When everything was going wrong, he was at his locker to discuss. From what I’m told, during SpyGate madness in 2007, he was a regular in the locker room. When he tore his ACL, two days later he was at his locker to talk about it. Respect goes to those who show up, to paraphrase a line from the West Wing. Faulk always did. He knew the impact that had on his younger players. He knew the impact that had on the team to be accountable. He knew someone needed to stand up. It was always him. That is how character is built and shared. That’s what being a leader is all about.

2. You learn a lot about a player when they are injured. Faulk tore his ACL in 2010 two games into the season. His career was waning, he may not have had another year left. So how did he respond? By basically becoming a coach. He stuck around the team. He taught the players the Patriots brought in to take his job, namely RB Stevan Ridley.  He’d already made his money. His season was over. He was under no obligation to do anything but rehab and try to get back. Instead, Faulk did more.

He was always round, always teaching. Preparing for a second career? Maybe. But he was mostly interested in preparing the team to win. If Ridley looks like a stud now (ball-security issues aside), you can thank Faulk for some of that. He was instrumental. He was in meetings, they watched film, Faulk had everyone over at his house. He was their team parent, and the impact was widespread.

And so, on days like today, I’m appreciative that I got to cover a guy like Faulk.

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