Hard at work

Jason Cole

PHOENIX – The best touchdown Mike Martz remembers involving Marshall Faulk is one that Faulk didn't score.

In fact, Faulk didn't even touch the ball.

In the third game of the 1999 season, Faulk's first with the St. Louis Rams, Martz called for a deep pass by quarterback Kurt Warner. San Francisco's defense had a good idea what was coming and subsequently called for a weak-side blitz.

Faulk was responsible to block on the strong side. As he scanned the formation in the seconds before the snap, he saw a problem. Between the weak-side blitz and a move that the 49ers' defensive line was about to run, Warner was about to be dead meat.

So Faulk adjusted and made the block. No instruction required.

As Faulk came to the sideline, Martz asked about the play.

"He said it was something he had seen in film earlier in the week that bothered him and as he saw it in the game, he knew the guy who was supposed to get the blitzer wasn't going to have a good chance," said Martz, the Rams' offensive coordinator that year before eventually being promoted to head coach. "He changed it on his own."

During Faulk's 12-year career, which officially ended Monday when he announced his retirement at the NFL owners meetings, Faulk changed a lot of things. The record books were among them. The history of the Rams, who won their only Super Bowl title with Faulk as the star, was another.

Perhaps more important, Faulk changed the perception of a running back's capabilities. With a combination of speed, receiving ability and a physical willingness, Faulk changed the boundaries of traditional thought.

"When I got into this league, people said, 'You can't ask the running back to pick up both the strong-side and the weak-side blitz. Running backs couldn't run deep comebacks,' " Martz said. "He destroyed all of that thinking. He was not just so extremely talented, (but) he understood the game. He felt that if he knew everything about what was happening on the field, he could perform at his highest level.

"You had to make sure you were on top of what you were talking about. He wanted to make sure it made sense to him, so he would ask you all the time to explain it."

Faulk finished his career with 12,279 rushing yards, including seven seasons of more than 1,000 yards, and had 6,875 receiving yards. He added 136 touchdowns, including a then-record 26 in 2000. On statistics alone, he was one of the greatest all-purpose backs in the history of the game. However, stats are only part of the equation.

Traditionally, running backs in wide-open or one-back offenses were supposed to be power runners, making up for the lack of a fullback with extra girth. Be it in the Joe Gibbs offense which Martz used as the foundation for his attack in St. Louis or in the four-receiver formations made popular by the run-and-shoot attack, running backs were supposed to be beefy.

"The running back had to be the sixth blocker to pick up the blitz," said Titans coach Jeff Fisher, whose team narrowly lost to the Rams in Super Bowl XXXIV. "Marshall was an extremely good blocker in those situations. He would put his helmet on your chin."

Give Faulk the ball and everything else would change.

"We played them twice that season," said Fisher, recalling the 1999 campaign. "The first time we played, Gregg Williams was our defensive coordinator. He came up with a seven-defensive back scheme with two guys assigned to Marshall on every play. You had to make sure you found him and accounted for him."

That worked in the regular season when Tennessee beat St. Louis 24-21. By the Super Bowl, the Titans were in deep trouble. By the second half, Tennessee was without both of its regular starting safeties (Blaine Bishop and Perry Phenix) because of injuries. Faulk broke free for a critical 52-yard gain.

It was one of many plays that Faulk not only lived for but worked hard for as well.

"I was taught early in my life that you had to pay attention to all the details to have great success," Faulk said. "I tried to live by that all the time, whether I had the ball or whether I was blocking so somebody else could get it."