In an NFL locker room, there’s an unwritten rule: The guys on offense don’t publicly comment on the defense, and vice versa. You keep to your side of the ball.
But in the last 20 years in Foxborough, there’s been a short list of players who garnered enough respect among their teammates that they were allowed to occasionally cut across those lines. The list includes (but is not limited to) the likes of Junior Seau, Vince Wilfork, Tom Brady, and Devin McCourty. And Kevin Faulk.
In his 13 seasons with the Patriots, Faulk developed into one of the most respected players in the locker room, a true leader who earned his pedigree with a level of smarts, toughness, determination, and dependability that was unrivaled through the days of New England’s first dynasty.
“Kevin, we love you,” Brady said when the running back was inducted into the Patriots Hall of Fame in 2016. “You’re an amazing person, you’re an amazing teammate, and as great a player as Kevin was, he was a better friend.
“That’s my guy.”
Faulk will be honored for his accomplishments at The Tradition Wednesday at TD Garden, alongside other local legends including Dennis Eckersley, Doc Rivers, and Briana Scurry at The Sports Museum’s 22nd annual gala.
The Louisiana native said the honor is up there with any he’s received over the course of his career.
“It’s one of those awards, especially when you see some of the guys who have gotten the award before, it’s a real honor,” he said.
Faulk rushed for 3,607 yards and added 3,701 receiving yards in his career, becoming just one of just six players this century to eclipse 3,000 yards in both categories, joining Tiki Barber, Marshall Faulk, Michael Pittman, LaDainian Tomlinson, and Brian Westbrook.
A part of three Super Bowl championship teams, Faulk retired following the 2011 season as the fifth-leading rusher in franchise history and 13th in receiving yards. He tops the franchise list for most catches and receiving yards for a running back.
“Kevin Faulk was the consummate Patriot,” said Bill Belichick. “Smart, tough, versatile, and clutch, Kevin had tremendous leadership among his teammates and the ultimate trust from his coaches. He set a championship-level standard for the pass-catching-back position in our offense.”
Faulk, a second-round pick out of LSU in 1999, had ball-security issues at the start of his career, and the 5-foot-8-inch, 202-pounder was occasionally miscast as a between-the-tackles runner. But with the arrival of Belichick and Brady, he carved out a niche as one of the most dependable pass catchers on the team, assuming the role of third-down back.
He created the blueprint for the prototypical third-down back in the framework of the New England offense, a role that would endure for 20 years. It included working as a security blanket when the quarterback needed a checkdown, perfecting the art of blitz pickup, and tossing in a little punt- or kick-return work when needed.
That road map was followed by the likes of Danny Woodhead, Shane Vereen, Dion Lewis, and James White.
Faulk, who will be presented at The Tradition by former Patriots running backs coach Ivan Fears, credits Fears for helping him develop as a player and a person.
“I never want to speak bad about anyone who didn’t play the game, but as a running back, it’s just easier to be able to relate to someone who played the position, but with someone like Ivan, it was different,” Faulk said. “He was just so consistent.
“He got me through situations with my father when I was playing. When my dad passed, he was one of the first people I called. But he was always there.”
The running back room traditionally is one of the smallest on the team, and that has led to lasting bonds between Faulk and many former teammates.
“I still keep in contact with pretty much all the guys I played with,” he said. “I was the guy who talked to everyone. ‘What do you need? How can I help?’
“These days, I’m still in touch with all of them. I talked to Antowain Smith and Corey Dillon the other day. I just got a text from BenJarvus Green-Ellis. I still talk to Laurence Maroney, Shane Vereen, J.R. [Redmond], Patrick Pass. It was Heath Evans’s birthday the other day, and we connected.”
Faulk is a fan of current lead back Rhamondre Stevenson, praising him for his versatility and skill set.
“He’s so versatile,” Faulk said. “He’s smart enough, but he’s also just so versatile. They trust him on third down, which is really unique for a guy that size. You can see why they like him — he’s one of those guys who can play all three downs, and be effective while he’s doing it.”
Ultimately for Faulk, this week’s honor is another confirmation that while he claims Louisiana as his home, he has more than earned his bona fides as a Massachusetts guy.
“I had a lot of joy in my 13 years playing there, when I grew from being a young man into a father and football player,” he said. “Coming from Louisiana, a different culture, after 13 years, I feel like this honor really means I’ve got my Massachusetts stripes.”