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With the announcement of Kevin Faulk's retirement today comes the end of one of the All-Time Great Patriots careers.
I should probably start this article with a warning.
To everyone reading right now - I'm about to get nauseatingly sappy. This is going to read like an over-the-top eulogy given by the idiotic black sheep of the family for a dead brother that he didn't even know. I'm very aware that Kevin Faulk isn't dead. But this is a pretty huge deal for me, so if the notion of a grown man blubbering like an idiot over someone he has never even met isn't something you find appealing, I advise you to stop reading now.
Today is a very sad day for me.
Kevin Faulk officially announced his retirement today. We all knew it was coming, and to be honest it probably should have happened a year ago, but I guess it didn't really sink in for me until today. Faulk was the last Patriot drafted during the Pete Carrol Era and was the longest tenured player on the team. He was also without a doubt the team's physical, emotional, and spiritual leader and one of the men that everyone looked to when they needed to know how to do something right. With his ceremony today comes an end to a career built on maximum effort, perserverence, a constant quest for self-betterment, and fierce loyalty.
Kevin Faulk is my all-time favorite Patriot and it isn't even close. And if I had to guess, I'd say that he will continue to be my all-time favorite Patriot until they bury me in my #33 jersey when I die of a McRib-induced heart attack at age 45. I'd put Faulk right up there next to Troy Brown in terms of what he has done for this franchise and who has always and without question put the best interests of the team before his own. It's very rare to see a player spend his entire NFL career with one team, and it's even rarer for a player to choose retirement over even considering playing anywhere else. In many ways, Faulk represents the last of a very rare breed of player - one who understands that the NFL is a business, but before anything else, it is a passion.
The number of first downs he generated, the number of blocks he threw, the number of times he protected Tom Brady as he went on to make a spectacular play, the number of UNBELIEVABLE catches he - a running back - made, the number of times he proved without a shadow of a doubt what it means to be the ultimate teammate and consummate professional... Faulk is simply cut from a different cloth and it was an absolute honor to cheer for him these past 11 plus years. You know that if it were up to him, he would never stop playing; he'd be out there on the field throwing every last ounce of his soul into his play until his legs fell off, and then he would find a way to make a play using only his arms.
I know I joke a lot about my unhealthy obsession with the New England Patriots. I reference how I'm way too into it, I take it way too seriously, and that it isn't normal for someone to be this obsessed with what is ultimately just a game. And while it is fairly funny when I step back and take a good long look at myself, it's also true. I'm absolutely way too into this team. It isn't normal. It may someday end up having a negative impact on my life. But you know what? That's OK.
Because I love it. Patriots football is one of the most important things in my life. Even at it's worst, watching and cheering for the Patriots makes me unbelievably happy, and I'm never going to stop. I don't know when I moved on from being just a fan and graduated into that murky netherrealm of zealot, but until my fandom stops becoming a passion and starts becoming a detriment, I'm going to keep on doing what I'm doing. And I'm fairly certain that, in some way that I don't entirely understand, Kevin Faulk is the reason.
He's one of those guys whose name isn't going to ring a lot of bells in 20 years; his play was never flashy, he wasn't a walking highlight reel, and so much of what he did for this team occurred away from the ball and wasn't even caught on camera. However, what I do know is that there are a large number of individuals who will hear someone mention Faulk's name in 2032 and will almost instinctively say "one of the All-Time Great Patriots" afterwards. I will be at his induction into the Patriots Hall of Fame come hell or high water, and when his name gets called I'm probably going to start sobbing like a toddler and I don't care who knows it.
As much as it saddens me to hear that Faulk's time in the NFL has come to an end, I have this funny feeling that he is about to make an absolutely seamless transition from player to coach and mentor, and it heartens me believe and that we aren't done seeing his face on the Patriots sidelines just yet. Still, knowing that I'll never again see #33 and his trademark elbow pads lining up next to Tom Brady, ready to do everything anyone could ever ask of him and more, I can't help but feel like there's going to be something missing out there for a little while.
I wish that there was more I could do, or say, that would represent a better tribute to Faulk, but I can't. I really wanted to come up with a Top 5 or Top 10 Greatest Kevin Faulk Moments, but I found myself at a loss. There were no one-handed grabs over Derelle Revis. There was no 12 tackle-breaking, 90 yard touchdown runs. There were no records broken. There was just 11 years of making the plays he needed to make, converting 3rd down after 3rd down, and more often than not throwing the block that gave Tommy B the extra 2 seconds he needed to break another NFL Record.
At the end of it all, there are just too many great Kevin Faulk moments to even try to make any kind of list. Instead, I invite all of you to share your own personal Faulk highlights in the comments section. How many great Kevin Faulk plays started with a fantastic block, a break up the sideline on a wheel route, and a first down conversion after making a great catch? My hope is that there will be some moments listed below that I had completely forgotten.
I'm not sure how much clout the term "Greatest 3rd Down Back of All Time" has in the football world, but you'd be hard pressed to find anyone better than Faulk.
Kevin, from the very bottom of each piece of my heart - thank you. Thank you so very, very much.