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Jon Kendle is Director of Archives and Football Information at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. His biweekly columns tell unique and interesting stories starting from the league’s founding in downtown Canton in 1920 to the present day.
The National Football League kicked off its 2021 season two weekends ago with a slate of incredible games and even more amazing individual performances.
Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey had one of those outstanding performances. He recorded nine receptions and 187 scrimmage yards (98 rushing, 89 receiving) in the Panthers’ 19-14 win over the New York Jets.
It was McCaffrey’s seventh career game with at least 75 rushing yards and 75 receiving yards. He surpassed Pro Football Hall of Famer Walter Payton (six games) for the third-most such games in the Super Bowl era. Only Pro Football Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk (11 games) and Priest Holmes (nine) sit higher on the career list.
Faulk exploded onto the NFL scene after being selected second overall by the Indianapolis Colts during the 1994 NFL Draft. He rushed for 143 yards and scored three TDs in his debut versus the Houston Oilers on Sept. 4, 1994. Big games were the norm for him as he won Rookie of the Year honors.
That season, Faulk had 31 carries of 10-plus yards (18 runs in which he gained more than 15 yards; 12 times he raced for 20 or more yards; and five times in which his gain stretched 30-plus yards). He capped the memorable year by being the only rookie voted to the Pro Bowl and was named Player of the Game after setting the Pro Bowl record with 180 yards rushing on only 13 carries.
“I think of him as a man before a player, and what tremendous character and integrity he brought to the game. You knew when you were facing him that he was going to give you 110% of what he had,” said Ray Lewis, Baltimore Ravens linebacker and Pro Football Hall of Famer. “He never cheated the game; you knew it was a fight every time out against him. Marshall wasn’t the biggest or the fastest, but Faulk was Faulk. He ran with such grace and power.
“I consider it a privilege to have played against him. He was the best running back I have seen in the NFL in a long time.”
In 1999, Faulk was traded to the St. Louis Rams after five seasons and over 8,000 yards from scrimmage with the Colts. He picked up where he left off and went on to establish the single-season record for yards from scrimmage.
His total of 2,429 yards broke the mark held by Hall of Famer Barry Sanders, who amassed 2,358 in 1997. Faulk surpassed Sanders’ record on his 326th touch, which was 42 fewer touches than Sanders totaled during his record-setting year.
Faulk played 99 regular-season games with the Rams from 1999-2005 and hit the century mark in rushing 27 times. The Rams went a perfect 27-0 in those games.
St. Louis was also 4-0 in each of the games Faulk racked up 100 yards receiving. In total, Faulk had eight 100-yard receiving games during his Hall of Fame career. Three of them came during his last season, 1998, with Indianapolis.
His lone 200-yard receiving day occurred in his record-setting season. He had 12 catches for 204 yards and one touchdown (48 yards) in the Rams’ 34-12 win over the Chicago Bears on Dec. 26, 1999.
The bulk of his yardage came in the second quarter when he caught eight Kurt Warner passes for 152 yards. Faulk's receiving yardage total that day was the most by a running back in a game in the Super Bowl era and second most all-time behind Kansas City Chiefs running back Curtis McClinton, who gained 213 yards on five receptions against the Denver Broncos on Dec. 19, 1965.
“I played the game a long time, and Marshall did something I’ve never seen another running back do. He was a coach out there,” Hall of Fame defensive lineman Michael Strahan said. “The ‘Greatest Show' would break the huddle, and all of their players would be lining up. Faulk would be standing in the backfield, directing traffic. He’s making adjustments in the pass protection, he’s getting the players lined up properly, he’s telling Kurt (Warner) what to look out for, he’s calling out changes to the offensive line.
“I've never seen a running back do that – take over the offense and get everything in place. I’d holler, ‘Hey, No. 28, if you want to be a coach, take the uniform off and go put on some slacks and a golf shirt and go stand on the sideline and coach.’ Marshall was just an amazing player in every way.”
From 1999 through 2005 with St. Louis, Faulk accumulated 6,959 rushing yards on 1,447 carries with 58 touchdowns. He added 470 receptions for 4,071 yards and 27 TDs as a major receiving threat. Looking at those numbers, it is evident Faulk was an integral ingredient of the Rams’ wide-open offense that forever will be known as “The Greatest Show on Turf.”
His career totals and ability to raise his team to the highest levels of excellence make him a Pro Football Hall of Famer.