Marshall Williams Faulk was born on February 26, 1973, in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Click here for a complete listing of today's sports birthdays.) He was the last of six boys. Life was far from harmonious in the Faulk household. The family was poor, and Marshalls parents, Cecile and Roosevelt, argued often. They divorced after his fourth birthday.
Marshall never talked much about his father. Roosevelt died of cancer before Marshall finished high school. Cecile took custody of the kids after the divorce, but raising six boys on her own wasnt easy. She worked around the clock to feed and clothe her children. That left plenty of time for Marshall and his brothers to get into trouble.
There was lots of it lurking around in the Desire Street projects (also referred to as the Press Park Housing Development), the public housing facility just a Hail Mary pass from New Orleans French Quarter, where the Faulk family lived. Drug dealers did a thriving business there; shootings and stabbings were commonplace. In fact, one of Marshalls brothers served time for armed robbery, while a friend did a stretch for for grand larceny.
Marshall appeared to be headed down the wrong path as a child. A teachers worst nightmare, he was kicked out of three elementary schools for disciplinary problems, including once in the fourth grade when a girl accused him of punching her. The only place he showed real potential was on the football field. He often told his mother he would make it to the NFL.
Marshall joined his brothers whenever they gathered for pick-up football games on the hard-pan, gravelly field between their tenement houses. He preferred the challenge of competing against kids older, faster, and stronger than he was. Marshalls brothers never took it easy on him, but thats how the youngster wanted it. It helped him hone his natural speed and elusiveness.
Some years later Marshall gravitated to the playground at St. Roch School. Part of the attraction was coach Harold Sampson, who gave him his first lesson in the discipline required for success on the gridiron. Sampson also taught Marshall that the game could be great fun.
Around the same time, Marshall finally began to view school more seriously. His mother and brothers tried to keep him in line, but he attributes much of his change in attitude to his sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Porter. She kept a close eye on him, providing Cecile with weekly updates on his classroom behavior. Those reports determined whether he suited up for football games each weekend in the fall. Too many demerits, and Marshall rode the pine.
Football wasnt the only sport Marshall played. He was an outstanding outfielder, and a cat-quick guard on the basketball court who could light it up from long range. Marshall also ran track, excelling in sprints of all kinds. He attended sports camps each summer, including one run by Gramblings legendary football coach, Eddie Robinson, and another sponsored by LSU basketball coach Dale Brown.
Marshall entered George Washington Carver High School in the fall of 1987 and earned a spot as a backup running back on the varsity football team. His coach, Wayne Reese, saw tremendous potential in the freshman. Reese knew what it took to play past high school, having enjoyed a nice career as a halfback at Tennessee State nearly 20 years earlier. Led by quarterback Joe Gilliam, his Tigers went 11-0 in 1970 and won a bowl game.
Reese thought Marshall had the ability to develop into a special player. Since the youngster was still prone to problems in the classroom, the coach set a daily schedule for him that left little time for fooling around. Marshalls fondest memory of his freshman season was Carvers homecoming game. With his team up big in the fourth quarter, he was inserted in the lineup and promptly took a screen pass 52 yards for a touchdown.
Marshall spent much of his teenage years working odd jobs. He cut hair for $5 and served as a fry cook at the K Creole Kitchen on Bourbon Street. During the school year, he assisted the custodians at Carver early each morning, and he once hawked popcorn and soda at Saints games in the Superdome.
Marshall also bounced from one home to another. For a while he lived with one of his older brothers. He also moved in with a classmate at Carver for a short time.
Marshalls football career was almost derailed when his mom fell ill before his sophomore year at Carver. The 15-year-old decided to quit the team and find a job that offered more hours and higher wages. Reese went to Cecile to inform her what a drastic mistake her son was making. She agreed, and when her health improved she insisted Marshall stick with football.
Marshall matured into a star during his junior year at Carver. Reese used him everywhere on offense, including quarterback, tight end, running back, flanker, split end, and kicker. Marshall was best when lined up in the backfield. During his last two seasons, he rushed for 1,800 yards and scored 32 touchdowns.
Ironically, Marshall may have been most dangerous without the ball in his hands. As a cornerback, he could control half the field. Teams rarely threw the ball his way, knowing they would pay dearly if they did. In his senior year alone, Marshall intercepted 11 passes and returned six for touchdowns.
By the fall of the 1990, college coaches nationwide were in hot pursuit of Marshall. Powerhouses Nebraska, Miami, Texas A&M, and LSU all recruited him, but only as a defensive back. The only recruiter who talked to Marshall about playing halfback was Curtis Johnson of San Diego State. Marshall was determined to run the ball in college and committed to the Aztecs.
ON THE RISE
San Diego States bright, sunny campus seemed a million miles away from the dimly lit projects and seedy streets of New Orleans. The change in scenery did wonders for Marshall. He chose Public Administration as his major and hit the books harder than ever. His GPA for his first semester was a solid 3.1.
Away from the classroom, Marshall was determined to make the grade on the football field, where the Aztecs were facing a lot of question marks. Quarterback Dan McGwire, the younger brother of Oakland A’s star Mark, had moved on to the NFL. The only proven threat on offense was receiver Patrick Rowe, who entered the 1991 campaign with an NCAA record of nine straight games with at least 100 yards receiving. On defense, the Aztecs were even thinner, probably the worst unit in the Western Athletic Conference. Needless to say, coach Al Lugenbill was looking for an impact player.
Going into training camp, Marshall was one of eight tailbacks on Lugenbills roster. When practice began, he was the fifth-stringer. Every week in August, Marshall called back home to Reese to give him updates and discuss strategies for clawing his way up the depth chart. By the start of the campaign, he had been promoted to the second team, behind starter T.C. Wright.
Marshall burst upon the national scene in San Diegos State second game of the season, against Pacific. He entered the contest when Wright was forced to the sideline with an injury midway through the first quarter. Marshall went wild. In just over three periods, the freshman ran for 386 yards and seven touchdowns, as the Aztecs won 55-34. His rushing total broke the NCAA mark held by Indiana tailback Anthony Thompson and earned him Sports Illustrateds Offensive Player of the Week Award.
Despite that record-breaking performance, Marshall remained Wrights backup for the next two games. Lugenbill finally made him a starter in the fifth game of the season at Hawaii. From there Marshall became one of the most prolific first-year runners in NCAA history. A consensus All-America and the UPI Freshman of the Year, he finished the season with 1,429 yards and 21 touchdowns on the ground, establishing new standards for rushing average (158.8 yards per game), total TDs (23) and points (140). Included on his ’91 resume was a 154-yard outburst against Miami, the highest rushing total surrendered by the Hurricanes in a half-decade. Marshalls teammates voted him San Diego States MVP.
The Aztecs had a better year than most fans expected. Sophomore David Lowery won the quarterback job and performed well, ending the season ranked 20th in the nation in total offense. He combined with Marshall and Rowe to give San Diego State one of the countrys most explosive offenses. The Aztecs fashioned an 8-4-1 record and nailed down second place in the WAC. The team received a bid for the Freedom Bowltheir first postseason appearance since 1986and lost 28-17 to Tulsa.
Marshall was eager to start training in the offseason, but bruised ribs suffered during the 91 campaign slowed him down. He stayed on campus during the summer and worked as an intern at Latham and Watkins, a well respected law firm in San Diego.
By the fall, Marshall was back to full health, and coach Lugenbill installed him as San Diego States starting running back. Set on a career in the NFL, he purchased a $1.8 million policy through the NCAAs National Sports Underwriters (NSU) disability insurance program to provide for his family in the event of a debilitating injury. Marshall was the first sophomore ever insured through the NSU.
Going into the 1992 season, the Aztecs were considered to be the class of the WAC. Lowery was back at quarterback, the offensive line returned three starters, and All-WAC safety Damon Pieri led an experienced defense on the rise. Marshall, meanwhile, was being touted as a sleeper for the Heisman Trophy. That was hardly a surprise to Lugenbill and his staff (which included Sean Payton). In just one year, Marshall had impressed them with his encyclopedic knowledge of the teams one-back offense.
San Diego State got off to a slow start due in part to a brutal schedule. The teams first three games were against western powers USC, Brigham Young, and UCLA. The Aztecs actually played well enough on the road against the Trojans to win, but they could only muster a 31-31 tie when placekicker Andy Trakas missed a pair of field goals in the final minute. Marshall did his part with 220 yards rushing and three touchdowns. Less than a week later, the Aztecs gained some revenge against BYU with a 45-38 win. Marshall led the way with 299 yards rushing and three more scores. But San Diego State was blown out 35-7 by UCLA on the last Saturday in September. The loss sent the Aztecs reeling, and they were inconsistent the rest of the way, finishing a disappointing 5-5-1.
Marshall was one of the few bright spots. His best game came against Hawaii, as he recorded the second 300-yard performance of his career in a 52-28 victory. For the season, he topped the nation with 1,630 yards rushing, and added 15 touchdownseven though injuries late in the year kept him out of one game and hampered him in two others. In the process, Marshall joined Herschel Walker as only the second running back in NCAA history to rack up more than 3,000 rushing yards in his first two years. Voters for the Heisman Trophy were impressed, but not enough for the sophomore to steal the award away from quarterback Gino Torreta of Miami.
Rumors ran rampant prior to the 1993 NFL draft that Marshall was ready to jump to the pros. He denied the stories and started preparing for his junior season with the Aztecs. When time came to declare himself eligible for the draft, Marshall stuck to his word and gave it a polite pass.
Marshall was no longer going to sneak up on opponents. He was being mentioned as a bona fide Heisman candidate, which meant that the primary goal of every opponent would be stoping him first. Still, the high-flying Aztecs figured to put plenty of points on the board. Lowery was a year older and better at quarterback, while Darnay Scott had emerged as a deep threat at receiver.
As usual, most of the questions asked of Lugenbill focused on his defense. In as defensive coordinator was Del Wright, formerly the defensive line coach for Fresno State. He inherited a group long on veterans, but short on execution. The Aztecs had surrendered an average of 421 yards per game in 1992, which ranked 97th in the nation.
Marshall realized quickly that he was indeed a marked man. In San Diego States first three games, he gained just 340 yards on 73 carries. While most backs in the country would have killed for those numbers, they were not the kind of eye-popping stats that wow Heisman voters. In turn, Marshalls name steadily slipped down the list of contenders for the award.
The Aztecs, by contrast, were rebounding nicely from their lackluster 92 campaign. But their early success proved to be a smokescreen. San Diego States schedule got tougher as the year progressed, and the increased competition took its toll. The offensive line didnt adjust well when opposing defenses stacked the line of scrimmage to contain Marshall, and Lowery never fully exploited the single coverage Scott often received in the secondary. When the defense faltered, the Aztecs slumped to another .500 campaign, ending at 6-6-1.
Marshall picked up his pace in the second half of the year, including a 186-yard effort against New Mexico. By seasons end, he totalled 1,530 yards rushing and added 644 yards receiving on 47 catches. Third in in the country in all-purpose yardage and the nations second-leading scorer, he was named a consensus All-American for the third straight year. In the race for the Heisman Trophy, however, he finished a distant fourth to Charlie Ward of Florida State.
Though Marshalls numbers were down from the previous season, he gained the respect of those who lived and worked in the football world. NFL scouts loved his versatility. Unlike most college backs, Marshall showed the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. With one less thing to learn in the pros, he became an even more attractive prospect.
Marshall announced his intention to enter the NFL draft in 1994. He left behind an amazing legacy at San Diego State. In all, he set or tied 19 collegiate records. Seven times Marshall rushed for more than 200 yards, and twice he topped 300 yards. He ran for 4,589 yards (fourth best in NCAA history among three-year players) and scored 62 touchdowns (second all-time in NCAA history).
The months leading up to the draft were a time of transition for Marshall. He had every intention of completing his education and getting his degree, but there was little time for schoolwork. Several weeks before draft day, Marshall held a special workout for scouts. During the session, he produced a vertical leap of 37 inches and ran a 4.33 in the 40-yard dash. While those numbers helped project Marshall as a high first-round pick, NFL teams still had questions about him. Most concentrated on his size and durability. Marshalls attitude was also somewhat of a mystery. He was obviously thoughtful and intelligent, but there were concerns about his background and motivation.
It was clear that the Cincinnati Bengals would use the first selection on Ohio State defensive tackle Dan Wilkinson. The Indianapolis Colts, in desperate need of a running back, owned the next pick. The teams rushing game was awful. In fact, the Indianapolis attack had been the NFLs worst for each of the past three seasons. Marshalls combination of speed and explosiveness was too much to pass up, and the Colts grabbed him.
With Indianapolis, Marshall found himself in a familiar situation. The team, coming off a 4-12 season, needed to improve just about everywhere. Coach Ted Marchibroda had to make a decision at quarterback, where Jim Harbaugh, Don Majkowski, and Browning Neagle were all vying for playing time. The defense had the talent to be dominant, but it lacked depth. Marshall figured to play a major role if the Colts were going to turn things around. The strategy was to get the ball in his hands as often as possible and ask whoever happened to be dropping back in the pocket to minimize turnovers.
The first two Sundays
of the 1994 campaign encapsulated the entire year for Indianapolis.
rushed for 143 yards and three touchdowns in 45-21 win over Houston.
following week he burned Tampa Bay for 104 yards, but Indianapolis lost
24-10. That was the pattern all season long. Marchibrodas three-headed
quarterback robbed the offense of any consistency, and the defense
when Steve Emtman and Trev Alberts went down with injuries. Indianapolis
missed the playoffs for the seventh year in a row.
Still, there were reasons for optimism. The Colts finished at 8-8 and showed some youthful promise. Quentin Coryatt and Ray Buchanan were rising stars on defense. And there was no question about Marshall; he was a bona fide star. He rushed for 1,282 yards (the 10th-best effort by a rookie in NFL history) and caught 52 passes for 522 yards. In all he accounted for 40 percent of the Colts total offense. Marshall was named Associated Press Offensive Rookie of the Year and selected to the AFC Pro Bowl squad.
Indianapolis entered the 1995 campaign eager to snap its postseason jinx. Marchibroda settled on Harbaugh as his starting quarterback, and the defense embraced its youth movement, save a couple veterans like Tony Siragusa and Eugene Daniel. Marshall was again the focal point of the offense. He followed his rookie year with another excellent campaign. He again surpassed 1,000 yards on the ground and led the team in receptions. His 14 touchdowns were also a club high.
It was Harbaugh, however, who keyed the teams return to the playoffs. The veteran quarterback enjoyed the best year of his career, throwing for 17 touchdowns against only five interceptions. Time and again, he rallied the Colts to thrilling comeback victories. When Indianapolis won four of its last six games, the team broke the tape at 9-7, squeaking into the playoffs as a Wild Card.
In the postseason, Harbaugh led the Colts on an improbable run to the AFC Championship game. Unfortunately for Marshall, he experienced all the thrills from the sideline. In the first quarter of an opening-round 35-20 win in San Diego, he left the game with a wrist injury that kept him out of the action the rest of the way. Zach Crockett filled in for him against the Chargers and ran for 147 yards and two scores. Marshall watched from the bench the following week as the Colts upset the Chiefs 10-7 in Kansas City. The team ran out of miracles a week later in Pittsburgh in a 20-16 lossthough Harbaugh tried his best to pull one more rabbit out of his hat. On the games last play, he heaved a long pass that receiver Aaron Bailey cradled for a moment in the end zone before the ball dropped to the turf.
Despite their playoff dramatics in 95, Indianapolis canned Marchibroda prior to the 1996 season, replacing him with Lindy Infante, previously the teams offensive coordinator. The move backfired, as the Colts spiraled to new depths in the years that followed. In ’96, Infante shuttled players in and out of the lineup all year long, using a league-high 41 starters. The offense and defense never gelled under all the changes, and Harbaugh crashed back to earth after his near super season. Yet somehow the Colts managed to produce another record of 9-7 and made a second-straight appearance in the playoffs. They were blown out 42-14 by the Steelers in the first round.
Marshall was one of the reasons Indianapolis struggled. He dislocated the big toe on his right foot early in the season, and though he sat out three games, he never fully healed. For a while he wore a shoe a full-size bigger to lessen the pain of his injury. The third-year back was predictably a step slow the rest of the way, and his ability to make quick, decisive cuts was severely limited. His production dropped to just 587 yards rushing, and he averaged a meager three yards per carry.
Marshall bounced back in 1997 with a solid year. Though his toe injury nagged him for the first half of the campaign, he finished with 1,054 yards on the ground and 471 yards on 47 receptions. His 1,525 total yards from scrimmage ranked eighth in the NFL. He was especially productive down the stretch, running for 610 yards and four touchdowns during the last seven games of the year, three of which the Colts won.
were the teams only three victories of the season. Indianapolis was awful
in 1997. The team lost its first 10 games before beating the Green Bay Packers, 41-38.
The defense, which gave up 401 points, couldnt stop anyone on the ground.
Infante juggled his quarterbacks, replacing Harbaugh with Paul Justin
and Kelly Holcomb. Besides Marshall, the lone bright spot on the offense
was Marvin Harrison, who developed into a top receiver. While seven of
Indys defeats were by six points or less, moral victories were
not enough to save the jobs of Infante and GM Bill Tobin. Both were canned,
and ownership brought in Jim Mora and Bill Polian to turn things around.
The Colts started their rebuilding effort on the right foot by taking Peyton Manning with the first pick in the 1998 draft. On defense, Polian believed the front seven was steady, but he acquired cornerbacks Jeff Burris and Tyrone Poole to shore up the secondary. Heading into the season, Mora named Manning the starter and found a role for rookie receiver Jerome Pathon that complemented Harrison. But the coach wasnt stupid. To take pressure off Manning and keep the hometown fans interested, he instituted an offense that revolved around Marshall. Healthy from the opening bell, the 25 year old thrived under his increased workload.
Marshall amassed 2,227 yards from scrimmage, the sixth-highest total in NFL history. He set a team record with 86 receptions, finished second in the AFC with 1,319 yards rushing and scored 10 touchdowns. His personal highlight came against the Baltimore Ravens, when he ran for a career-high 192 yards. At seasons end, Marshall was voted to the Pro Bowl for the third time.
In spite of Marshalls efforts, the Colts struggled again. Though Manning didnt play like a typical rookie, he still make plenty of mistakes. When neither Burris nor Poole lived up to their advanced billing, Indianapolis could not keep opponents off the board and repeated its dismal 3-13 record.
MAKING HIS MARK
As the draft approached in the spring of 1999, Mora and Polian considered ways to improve the team. The defense needed difference-makers and depth, but the two most dynamic players available were Ricky Williams and Edgerrin Jamesa pair of running backs viewed as potential game-breakers. With the fourth pick, Mora and Polian figured one of the runners would still be on the board. They began talking to teams about Marshall. By dealing him, the duo thought they could pick up help on defense.
Some argue that the Colts had laid the groundwork months earlier to trade Marshall. Never one to make waves, Marshall was benched late in the ’98 campaign against the Seattle Seahawks after a misunderstanding over a team meeting. By this time, Indianapolis was publicly questioning its stars commitment to the club. His agent, Rocky Arceneaux, had approached management about renegotiating his contract. The incident in Seattle helped cast doubt over his attitude. While rumors that Marshall was a problem in the locker room wouldnt enhance his trade value, they certainly would ease fan backlash when he was shipped away. And so magically the rumors found their way into the papers.
Two days before the draft, Polian struck a deal with the Rams. Marshall was sent to St. Louis for picks in the 2nd and 5th rounds, numbers 36 and 138 overall. The Colts then took James with their top selection.
The trade to St. Louis took Marshall by surprise. But he eventually viewed the move as a fresh start and embraced his new surroundings. He liked the personnel, the staff, and the game plan. In August, Marshall signed a seven-year deal worth just over $45 million.
St. Louis coach Dick Vermeil saw Marshall as the perfect running back for offensive coordinator Mike Martzs high-octane attack. He was a threat both running the ball and catching it out of the backfield. The St. Louis staff soon learned that their new backs greatest assets were his desire to learn and his ability to process information on a high level.
Marshall had come to a realization midway through the 1998 campaign that he had developed into a selfish player. He decided to change his approach to the game. The St. Louis offense was extremely complicated, and Marshall wanted to understand his position inside-out. He rededicated himself to film study, spending hours early every morning and late every night watching game tape. Along the way, Marshall gathered a savant-like knowledge of football on both sides of the ball. To this day, Martz considers him the smartest player hes ever coached.
St. Louis 1999 season will go down as one of the NFLs biggest shockers for so many reasons. Vermeil, criticized just a year before for being out of touch with a new generation of players, was hailed as a genius for whipping the Rams into shape. After a preseason injury felled starting quarterback Trent Green, Kurt Warner stepped in and became the most famous former grocery store stock boy in history. Like Marshall, the ex-Arena Football League star could read the field and make decisions quicklygiving the offense that half-beat advantage it needed to succeed. On defense, the Rams didn't scare anyone, but they had an incredible knack for returning fumbles and interceptions for touchdowns.
The Rams rolled to wins in their first six games of the year. Three times Marshall rumbled for more than 100 yards. He also caught 31 passes. Martz called his number all the time, and Warnerwho was also logging a lot of time in the film roomwas happy to have such a talented and knowledgeable backfield mate. Following two losses to the Tennessee Titans and Detroit Lions, St. Louis rattled off seven consecutive wins before closing out the regular season with a loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. That left the Rams with a record of 13-3good for first place in the NFC Central and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
The Rams continued to roll in the postseason. First they manhandled the Minnesota Vikings in a 49-37 romp, and then inched past the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to advance to Super Bowl XXXIV against Tennessee. The matchup was compelling. The Titans had dealt the Rams one of their three losses during the regular season, a nail-biter decided on a missed field goal by Jeff Wilkins.
Tennessees plan for the Super Bowl was to stuff the Rams rushing game. By preventing Marshall from running wild, the Titans believed they could force Warner into mistakes, and then convert those turnovers into scores. The strategy worked in the first half. Marshall had no room to maneuver, and the Rams stalled every time they entered Tennessees red zone. Though St. Louis took a 9-0 lead into the locker room, its offense was unable to hit paydirt.
The contest heated up in the second half, as both teams put together long touchdown drives. Marshall made several key receptions, including a 52-yard catch and run. Tennessee tied the game at 16-16 on a field goal by Al Del Greco with just over two minutes left. When the Rams got the ball back, Warner called receiver Isaac Bruces number. Jevon Kearse, the Titans monster pass-rusher, hit the quarterback just as he released the ball, but Bruce adjusted on the fly to the underthrown pass and broke loose for a breathtaking 73-yard touchdown. Replays revealed a chip block Marshall put on Kearse, which gave Warner enough breathing room to get off the pass. When the Titans came up a yard short in their effort to knot the score, St. Louis held on for a memorable 23-16 victory.
The excitement of his first NFL championship capped a marvelous season for Marshall. Voted to the Pro Bowl for the fourth time. he gained 1,381 yards on the ground and caught 87 passes for 1,048 yards, making him only the second running back in NFL history to break the 1,000-yard barrier in rushing and receiving in the same season. (The other was San Franciscos Roger Craig in 1985.) In addition, his 2,429 yards from scrimmage eclipsed the NFL record set in 1997 by Barry Sanders.
Going into the 2000 season, the Rams felt confident about defending their title. The most significant change for the team was at head coach. Vermeil retired, but management quickly named Martz to replace him. Everywhere else St. Louis was virtually the same as the year before.
St. Louis got off to another roaring start, and then lost six of its last 10 games. The problem was the defense. The team gave up yardage and points, as it had the year before, but St. Louisthe Rams could not force the timely turnovers that had buoyed them on their Super Bowl run. They limped into the playoffs, where they were beaten 38-31 by the Saints. Marshall and his teammates left the field in disbelief.
Personally, Marshall had nothing to be ashamed of. He set an NFL record in 2000 with 26 touchdowns, including 18 on the ground. With the Rams floundering down the stretch, he hit paydirt 11 times in three games, just about getting the team into the playoffs on his own. He led the NFC with 2,189 combined yards, went to his fifth Pro Bowl and was named the NFLs Most Valuable Player.
As he did every offseason, Marshall returned home, scrutinized his performance, and then worked on what he determined was his biggest weakness. His focus in the spring and summer of 2001 was his pass routes. He felt he needed to be more precise in his patterns, running them like a wide receiver would.
The Rams also spent the offseason making improvements. Lovie Smith was brought in as defensive coordinator, and cornerback Aeneas Williams and safety Kim Herring were added to the secondary. St. Louis looked for more defensive help in the draft, taking tackle Damione Lewis, safety Adam Archuleta, and linebacker Tommy Polley with three of its first four picks.
When the ’01 season opened, the Rams were clearly a more balanced team. The defense had the ability to produce big stops in critical situations. The offense, meanwhile, remained dominant, particularly Marshall. Martz lined him up more often on the outside, where he exploited coverage mismatches against linebackers orand safeties.
St. Louis tore through the regular season, compiling a record of 14-2 and securing home-field advantage in the playoffs. Marshall was again the teams main threat. He ran for nearly 1,400 yardsaveraging more than five yards a carryand caught 83 passes, including a career-high nine for touchdowns.
In the postseason, the Rams demolished the Packers 45-17 before hosting the Eagles in the NFC Championship Game. Philadelphia led by four points at halftime, when Martz decided to change the game plan. Going to Marshall almost exclusively, St. Louis held the ball for 18 of the first 22 minutes in the second half. The grind-it-out style wore down the Eagles, giving Warner more time and options in the pocket. The Rams eventually slugged out a 29-24 victory. Marshall finished with 159 yards and two scores on the ground. All that stood between Marshall and a second Super Bowl ring was the surprising New England Patriots and their inexperienced quarterback, Tom Brady.
Most everyone viewed Super Bowl XXXVI as a monumental mismatch. As far as Rams fans were concerned, the game was in the bag. Of course, thats not how it played out. New England coach Bill Belichik devised a defensive strategy similar to the one the New York Giants used against the Buffalo Bills in 1990. The Patriots werent so much interested in shutting down the Rams as they were in punishing their skill players whenever they touched the ball. As the game opened, the New England defense brutalized the St. Louis backs and receivers, especially Marshall.
At halftime, the Patriots were up 14-3. Marshalls body was aching, and Warner had injured his throwing hand. Marshall knew that as soon as the Patriots figured this out, he would be in for a long second half. Somehow, the Rams managed to grind out a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns. The game was tied with less than two minutes left.
Marshall watched from the sidelines as the Patriots started deep in their own territory. He and his teammates believed that Brady would take a knee and send the game into overtime. That suited him fine—Marshall was tired and hurting, but was confident he could get the ball in scoring range. Adam Vinatieri’s 48-yard field goal ended that dream, and St. Louis found itself on the wrong end of one of pro football’s biggest upsets. Though Marshall’s numbers in the big game (76 yards rushing and 54 yards receiving) were less than spectacular, no one questioned his status as a big-game player.
As it turned out, Super Bowl XXXVI foreshadowed Marshall’s 2002 season. When he was in the lineup, he was spectacular. Marshall rushed for 910 yards and eight touchdowns. He also caught 74 passes, scoring twice on receptions out of the backfield. After St. Louis opened the campaign with five straight losses, he keyed a four-game winning streak that got the Rams back into the race in the NFC West. In the first three victories, he gained 519 yards on the ground, averaging better than six yards per carry, and hit paydirt four times. But injuries kept Marshall on the sidelines for two games in November, and when St. Louis dropped out of serious contention for a playoff berth, Martz used him sparingly down the stretch.
The Rams finished 7-9, victimized in part by a recurring thumb injury to Warner, who later was felled by a sore shoulder. Though youngster Marc Bulger filled in admirably, St. Louis struggled for consistency without its starting quarterback. The Rams encountered many of their problems on the road, where they went a dismal 1-7. The defense failed too often in crucial spots, and coaches around the league began to find ways to slow the potent St. Louis attack.
There were now as many questions about Marshall’s future as there were about his team. The most pressing concern for the Rams was at quarterback. They had to decide whether they would stick with Warner or turn to Bulger.
In Marshall’s case, 2002 was the first season he’d shown possible signs of aging. Were nine years of constant work finally taking their toll? It seemed so. He registered career lows in starts (10) and carries, and for the first time in four season his rushing average dipped below five yards. While he posted 80 receptions, his yards-per-catch (6.7) was also the lowest it had ever been. Still, he was voted to the Pro Bowl for the seventh time of his career
Going into the 2003 campaign, Marshall was one of several Rams with something to prove. Martz had yet to match the success of Vermeil. Warner had to demonstrate he was durable enough to last an entire season. Meanwhile, several free agents were brought in to bolster the team's weak areas. Right tackle Kyle Turley and center Dave Wohlbaugh were supposed to solidify the offensive line, and on defense Jason Sehorn was asked to switch from the corner to free safety.
Unfortunately neither Marshall nor Warner could not stay healthy. The QB went down with a concussion after the first week, a 23-13 loss to the Giants. Bulger took over for him and played extremely well. In fact, he earned a bid to the Pro Bowl. But the Rams became one-dimensional after Marshall suffered a pair of injuries—a broken right hand and torn cartilage in his right knee—that kept him on the sidelines for six weeks.
When he returned, St. Louis quickly developed into a Super Bowl contender. Marshall registered five 100-yard games and scored nine touchdowns. The Rams shot to the top of the NFC West, putting themselves in position for the conference’s #1 seed. But a loss to the Lions at home on the season’s final Sunday derailed the club.
Though St. Louis got a first-round bye, the team opened the postseason less than razor sharp against the surging Panthers. Carolina weathered an early offensive flurry, and then the contest settled into a nail-biter. The visitors eventually won 29-23 in OT on a 69-yard TD pass from Jake Delhomme to Steve Smith. While Marshall gained a total of 131 yards from scrimmage and hit paydirt once, for the most part the Panthers held him in check.
The St. Louis halfback faced an interesting point in his career. Injuries again shelved him for a significant amount of time in ‘03. The Rams certainly saw the writing on the wall, selecting running back Stephen Jackson in the first round of the draft.
For Marshall, the 2004 campaign opened with the feeling that he would eventually pass the torch to Jackson. Martz didn't want to overwhelm his talented rookie, nor did he want to take the ball out of Marshall's hands. The veteran started well enough, rushing for 128 yards in a 17-10 victory over the Arizona Cardinals. He had another big day three weeks later as the Rams handled the San Francisoc 49ers.
Marshall's top individual performance came in November against Seattle, as he ran for 139 yards and caught five passes in an important victory for St. Louis. That was it for personal highlights. Injuries forced him to the bench for the first two games in December—by then Jackson was getting the majority of the carries anyway. With the Rams angling for a Wild Card spot, Martz went with his more powerful option in the backfield. His gambit paid off. The team won its final two to make the playoffs at 8-8.
In St. Louis's opening-round
win over Seattle, Marshall flashed some of his old moves and quickness.
His numbers were modest—13 carries for 55 yards and a TD—but
he seemed to have a little extra giddy-up in his stride. This was not
the case a week later for Marshall or the Rams in Atlanta. The Falcons
steamrolled St. Louis, rushing for over 300 yards in a 47-17 laugher.
Clearly in the twilight of his career, Marshall had a lot to think about in the offseason. Though he enjoyed several impressive games in '04, his tank was running near empty. His main reason for returning in 2005 was to continue his mentoring of Jackson. The pupil was sometimes resistant to the idea of taking direct advice from the teacher, but just observing Marshall on the practice field and in the film room helped Jackson understand the difference between being a good NFL back and a great one. When Marshall took the field, nothing was left to chance.
In 2005, Marshall accepted the role as Jackson's backup. He played in all 16 games but only started one. He ran 65 times for 292 yards and caught 44 passes in what would be his final NFL campaign. The Rams used him in the middle of the field, saving him from the brutal hitting that takes place near the goal line. The Rams had a disappointing year, going 6–10.
Marshall reported to camp for another season in 2006, but it was soon apparent that his body would not allow him to compete. He opted for knee surgery and sat out the season. He worked for the NFL Network and proved to be an excellent analyst. Watching the brutality of pro football from a different perspective made him question whether it was worth returning to the game. Early in 2007, Marshall announced his retirement. He finished his career with 12,279 rushing yards and 767 pass receptions, and scored a total of 136 touchdowns. He was the first player to score 100 TDs on the ground and 30 through the air.
In the ensuing years, Marshall became one of the most popular and candid on-air personalities for the NFL Network. He gives fans a reason to tune in prior to kickoff by offering a player's perspective to the day’s games. In 2011, he was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. There was no debating his selection. In the end, Marshall proved to be both a student of the game and a master of it.
MARSHALL THE PLAYER
Unlike most of the backs who came into the NFL in the mid-90s, Marshall retained most of his speed and quickness, and his health remained good into his early 30s. Given how much he earned about the game, it is not unfair to say that he was better at 29 than he was in his supposed prime. He used his ability to start, stop, cut, and start again to set up defenders, and only a handful of tacklers could run him down in the open field.
Though Marshall was at his best when threatening the outside edges of a defense, he beefed up enough to run effectively between the tackles. Granted, this is not where he earned his living, but his knack for thinking his way around a football field made him as imposing as any all-purpose back who has ever played, regardless of where he was carrying the ball.
Not all of Marshall’s skills were out there for the world to see. He had a keen sense of the little things that can turn a small play into a big one, or prevent a disaster from occurring, and he knew every job on the offense well enough to sense when something had gone wrong. At least once or twice a game, he would break from his assignment mid-play and freelance to a spot where he was needed more, particularly when he smelled a blitz coming.
These contributions did not go unrecognized. Marshalls coaches and teammates valued him for the player he was. So did the voters for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
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