WATERTOWN - After getting home from Indianapolis, his emotions at not being in uniform for Super Bowl XLVI and the reality of his team’s loss still fresh, Kevin Faulk was talking with a friend when he looked at a picture of Troy Brown.
When Faulk was drafted by the Patriots out of Louisiana State in 1999, he immediately was drawn to Brown, the team’s versatile and selfless receiver.
And looking at the picture of Brown this week, it hit Faulk: If Brown could survive not being in uniform for his last game with New England, he could as well.
“Why not? I look up to him. Everything he’s done. And why couldn’t I do it?’’ Faulk said yesterday.
In an emotional interview at the NESN studios, Faulk sounded like a man whose playing days are done, but the 35-year-old running back and member of the Patriots’ 50th anniversary team stopped short of declaring himself retired, leaving the door open for a 14th NFL season.
This season was difficult for Faulk, starting on the eve of training camp when he was told he would begin the season on the physically unable to perform list. Faulk had torn the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee 10 months earlier, and team doctors determined he could use the extra time to rehab.
Faulk called it “stunning’’ news, and for the first two weeks of training camp he was just going through the motions, trying to motivate himself.
The difficult moments continued right through the Super Bowl.
Running backs coach Ivan Fears, the only position coach Faulk has had in his career, broke the news the morning of the game that he would be among the inactive players. Faulk was in uniform for the AFC Championship game two weeks earlier but didn’t play.
“That morning, when I got the word that I wasn’t going to dress . . . wow,’’ Faulk said. “I went in the room, cried a little bit, because 75 percent of me knew that this could be my last game playing, not playing, just dressing. If I dress, there could be that chance that I could play.
“So that really crushed me a whole lot. Went into my room, read my Bible, read so many different Scriptures, so many different chapters in the Bible, until it was time to go to the stadium. [I took] my exit physical after the game and the trainers give me a big hug and that’s when I knew, like ‘Wow, that might be it.’
“Going through that evening after the game and worrying about the loss and being like, wow, guys have another opportunity to come back next year and do it again. Mine is very slim, and it’s not by my choice this time.’’
Faulk is a free agent, having played the last couple of seasons on one-year contracts. It is believed he would not want to play for another franchise.
Faulk rededicated himself after his struggles early in camp, and began practicing as soon as league rules allowed. He was in uniform for the seventh game of the season, in Pittsburgh, and played 39 snaps - more than he or the coaching staff anticipated.
He reinjured his knee, and started second-guessing himself. But the season continued, so Faulk did what he’s long done, turned the focus from himself to the Patriots, doing what he could in practice and games and tutoring the younger backs.
When he pulled into his driveway Monday afternoon, Faulk was greeted by an old teammate and a good friend: Randy Moss.
The two talked for more than an hour, about the game, about things on the field, about things off the field.
A few weeks ago, Faulk told a reporter that he felt he’d get one last moment, one last time to make the big play, as he’d done so many times.
If he has played his last game, does he regret not getting that last play?
“If I say I regret, that means I regret everything that I did,’’ Faulk said. “That’s enough. God blessed me with 12, 13 years of playing the NFL. Just because my last year didn’t go the way I wanted it to go? Nah, I’m good. I did a whole lot, and I realized that through the course of the year.
“I think that’s another reason why I needed to come back [after ACL surgery], was to get a little bit of reflection of what I’ve done. Because I’ve never looked back. Never looked back at what we’ve done as a football team. Always thinking about what’s next, what’s ahead. You always get people talking about, ‘You won this, you won that’ - yes, I understand but I’m trying to do it again. That’s just the way my mind-set is. That’s how you are as an athlete, you want to try to get there again, and I think that’s another reason why I came back, to reflect as an athlete.’’
When asked how he’d like to be remembered by Patriots fans, Faulk said, “I want to be put in that same category as your Troy Browns, Tedy Bruschis, your Willie McGinests, Ty Laws - all of them. Those are the guys that when I came, those were the guys that everybody was looking up to.
“If you modeled yourself by those guys, you’d be in pretty good [stead]. And that was me. I wanted to find out: If I model myself by one of these guys, how far can I go? How far can my NFL career get? I’m finishing my 13th year, you never know, it could be 14, but that’s the thing that you look at.’’